Philadelphia 76ers fans were distraught when they heard Ben Simmons was injured, but him being out for the entire season wasn’t all that bad after all.
During training camp leading up to the 2016-17 NBA season, there was a lot of hope for the Philadelphia 76ers. They had just seen their top overall pick, Ben Simmons, play in summer league, and Joel Embiid looked like he would be healthy to debut on opening night.
Then, things went very wrong, very quickly. Of course, Sixers fans have been used to misfortune over the last several years, so maybe they should have seen this coming. But it also felt like things were finally going to begin looking up.
One fateful practice day of training camp, Ben Simmons stepped on Shawn Long‘s foot and rolled his ankle. Everything looked routine, but precautionary scans revealed that Simmons had suffered a fracture in the fifth metatarsal of his foot, more commonly known as a Jones Fracture. His season debut would be delayed for at least the first three months of the season due to the surgery recovery.
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Fans were distraught. The flood of goodness that came from the draft was now delayed, and it seemed like the Sixers little world was coming crashing down.
Looking back on that injury, however, it really wasn’t all that bad, and in a way, it can be viewed as an overall positive for the Sixers for a variety of reasons.
Looking at this season as a whole, it’s clear that it was a giant step in the right direction. The Sixers were one win away from tripling their wins from the year before, and were involved in plenty of games down the stretch that last year we would have seen them fall out of in the third quarter, if not earlier.
We also saw the incredible emergence of Joel Embiid in his delayed rookie season. Embiid missed the first two years of his career, so fans had essentially no idea what to expect from him, and the Sixers staff — and even Embiid — probably had no idea either. He did everything in huge way, though, averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. Although he played just 31 games, he still is one of the leading candidates for the Rookie of the Year award.
Embiid’s domination may not have been completely possible without the Simmons injury. While it would have been absolutely incredible to see Simmons and Embiid on the floor together this past season, that would have been a dynamic that Embiid and Simmons would have had to work through for the first several games (if not longer) to see how it could be most effective. One of the reasons Embiid saw so much success right off of the bat is because he was given the ball and told to just go. The Sixers offense was essentially this: run down the court, give Embiid the ball, and let him do something that took our breath away. If you throw Ben Simmons into that, and tell Embiid — a player who had not yet developed the strongest sense of awareness — that he needs to fit in seamlessly there, I’m not sure it works right off the bat. There’s a learning curve.
The same could be said for players like Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. While over the long-term, TLC would have been able to adjust and probably benefit greatly from Simmons’ passing ability, him being able to break out a little on his own was good.
And of course, there’s Dario Saric, the third rookie, and the Sixers player probably most likely at this point to win Rookie of the Year. Saric might not have seen as much time on the court if Simmons was healthy this year, and Saric’s season was huge.
Of course, all three of these players — and anyone else on the roster, for that matter — will need to figure out how to play effectively with Simmons next season. That said, three of the most important players on the team were rookies and allowing them to have their season without a fourth rookie, and a very game-changing rookie at that, was a benefit to Simmons’ injury.
Additionally, we can look at the injury as a positive for the same reason that Embiid’s injury ended up being a positive. A redshirted NBA season is something that can be effective for players. Embiid is the most recent person to effectively have a redshirt season, but Blake Griffin comes to mind as another wildly successful rookie who had missed his first true season. Griffin won Rookie of the Year in his delayed first season.
Embiid, in his time off, was able to work with NBA coaches without the distraction of having to play in games. They solely were able to work on his craft and his mechanics as a player.
Of course, since his injury was lower body, they were a bit limited, but they used that to their advantage, working heavily on his shot.
This ended up working incredibly well, as Embiid was nearing 50 percent from beyond the arc in the first 10 games he played, and by the end of his run this season he was shooting 36.7 percent on more than 3 attempts per game.
The biggest knock on Simmons when he was drafted was that he didn’t have a jump-shot. Well, a foot injury opens the door for the team to work on that, and hopefully, they were able to do just that. They also have the entire summer to get things nailed down there as well.
Had Simmons been completely healthy this season, there’s no guarantee the team would have had the time with a hefty 82-game schedule to really work closely with him on things like his shot.