Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid’s play will define the Sixers’ postseason fate

(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

With Ben Simmons out indefinitely, the Philadelphia 76ers’ playoff fate now rests solely in the hands of ‘the best player in the world’, Joel Embiid.

Joel Embiid is the best basketball player in the world – at least, according to the Philadelphia 76ers‘ three-time All-Star center Joel Embiid.

When playing at the top of his game, there isn’t a player who can score on Embiid in the paint, or stop him from getting two-plus-one over and over and over. Need proof? Check out the 2020 NBA All-Star game, or the Sixers’ big win over the Atlanta Hawks. Embiid can be the best player on a championship team and the best center in the NBA, if he isn’t already (he is).

And yet, people continue to wonder if the 76ers can win with their current roster. If Ben Simmons and Embiid can coexist together long-term. It’s honestly exhausting for fans in the 215 who want to just sit back and enjoy some good old fashion basketball. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that if the Sixers would hypothetically decide to build around one of their two franchise players it should be Simmons, not Embiid.

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Well, in a cruel twist of fate I’ve personally covered ad nauseam, Embiid is going to have a chance to prove his worth – and keep his team’s playoff hopes alive – without Simmons for the foreseeable future.

After fearing the worst after a first-quarter exit against the Milwaukee Bucks, Woj and Shams confirmed in unison that Simmons will be out for at least two weeks with a ‘nerve impingement in lower back’. To make matters worse, Woj elaborated with his response, stating that “Doctors are hopeful treatment can drive improvement, but Sixers are preparing to play without him.”


Now make no mistake, the 76ers aren’t in a good position to weather Simmons’ absence. They have one other point guard on their roster in Raul Neto and he seldom plays. I like Alec Burks, love Josh Richardson, and think Shake Milton has the potential to be a good player down the line, but none are Chris Paul, by Brett Brown‘s own admission.

No, without Simmons on the court, the Sixers are going to have to have to get creative. They’re going to have to have to move around the ball. And most importantly of all, they’re going to have to ride or die on the strength of Embiid.

Without Embiid, the team really doesn’t have much of a choice.

I like Tobias Harris, more than most I’d imagine, but he’s yet to prove that he can win games. After a decade in the league, I doubt Harris is ever going to be able to take a quarter, let alone a game, and prove that he’s a worthy successor to Jimmy Butler‘s 2018-19 closership.

Embiid, on the other hand, can. He’s done it before. Heck, he scored 22 points in the fourth quarter of the Sixers-Hawks game alone. Without Simmons in the fray, Brown can fully commit to running an offense around Embiid’s talents.

I’m talking post ups. I’m talking isolations. Heck, no longer paired up with a point guard unwilling to shoot even a midrange J, Brown could incorporate more pick and rolls pairing Embiid with Burks, Milton, and Richardson as the roll man. That could be outright lethal.

Barring a godsend surprise buyout from some mystery point guard hidden away on a bad team, though for the life of me I can’t imagine who that would be, the Sixers aren’t getting any reinforcements this late into the regular season. They also aren’t going to radically change things up too far, as Simmons is expected to come back at some point down the road. No, if the 76ers are going to win, and win enough to remain within striking range of the fourth seed, they will need to throw things back to 2016, Embiid’s rookie season, when he flashed brilliance over a 31-game stretch.

Embiid ran free. He attacked the basket, took a ton of open shots, and made opposing teams pay despite being paired up with the dynamic trio of T.J. McConnell, Jerryd Bayless, and Sergio Rodriguez. And for his part, Brown abandoned some of the run-and-shoot offensive philosophy he established over the opening years of ‘The Process’. With Simmons no longer forcing Brown to walk a tight rope to keep his two stars happy, he can put the ball back into Embiid’s hands and let him go to work.

Fortunately, seven of the team’s next 10 games are against teams with losing records. If the team can just win those seven games, it will go a long way to securing that fourth seed. Heck, seven wins out of 10, five of which are on the road, is actually higher than the team’s current .62 winning percentage.

The Al Horford-Joel Embiid lineup is unfortunately back. dark. Next

Look, it’s never easy to win games without a max contract player, let alone one who will be out indefinitely. Factor in the Philadelphia 76ers’ woefully managed point guard depth and it’s not hard to feel hopeless about this latest stretch in an otherwise underwhelming season. But don’t get too down, because we still have Joel Embiid. He’s the best player in the world when he wants to be. This next stretch of games will give him the perfect opportunity to prove that on his own terms.