2013-2018: The Sixers Rookie Curse
You would think that rookies would be the most immune to injuries. After all, they are usually younger than the average NBA player and, coming from the college game, where the schedule is lighter, have less wear and tear on the body to cause a breakdown.
However, the 76ers have had what can only be called a run of bad luck, or a curse, with its first rounders.
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From 2014 to 2018, the highest selected player in that years NBA draft that the Sixers had on its roster (several were drafted by other teams but traded to the Sixers) either never played at all their rookie season or saw it come to a premature end.
Now a couple of them, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, were drafted by general manager Sam Hinkie with pre-existing injuries. Since winning was not a priority, Hinkie was content to let them sit out their rookie year (Embiid ended up not playing his first two).
However, to have your best young player hurt in his first season for five years in a row is pretty crazy.
Here is the year-by-year list of players, type of injury and how many games they played in their first NBA season:
2013: Nerlens Noel (torn ACL) – 0 games
2014: Joel Embiid (stress fracture in foot) – 0 games
2015: Jahlil Okafor (knee injury)- 53 games
2016: Ben Simmons (broken bone in foot)- 0 games
2017: Markelle Fultz (bad shoulder) – 14 games
2018: Zhaire Smith (broken bone in foot, allergy) – 6 games
So the Sixers got out of their first rounders in their rookie year a total of 83 games, a full NBA season for one player, but this was five. And these were all highly-rated players. None of them went below sixth in the draft except for Smith.
Okafor played much more than anyone else but his injury lingered longer than others. Whether he could pass a physical might have played a role in the inability of general manager Bryan Colangelo to trade him for a decent price.
To have a team’s top rookie deal with a severe injury in his rookie season five years in a row is unheard of in sports, except with the Sixers of course.
So far, 2019 No. 1 pick Matisse Thybulle is healthy but training camp (where Simmons broke his foot in the final practice) and a long season are still looming.
Sixers fans have their fingers crossed that Thybulle will finally break the curse.