The Philadelphia 76ers’ radical rebuilding plan took a big blow, but also became clearer over the weekend.
The 76ers announced Joel Embiid, the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, will get a bone graft on his fractured foot and likely miss the 2015-16 season.
Embiid missed his entire rookie year after fracturing his foot and undergoing surgery before the draft.
For the Sixers this is a big blow — Embiid was thought to be the top talent before injuring his foot prior to the draft. He slid to No. 3, where the Sixers took him in hopes of building a dynamic front-court duo with Nerlens Noel. Embiid will turn 22 this season without a single minute of NBA experience under his belt and recurring foot problems.
However, Embiid’s injury also clarifies the Sixers’ decision to draft a third center, Jahlil Okafor, in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Two weeks before the draft there was a report that there was a chance Embiid could miss all of this coming season. When the Sixers went on the clock with the No. 3 pick in the draft and point guard D’Angelo Russell was off the board, they took the best player available in Okafor.
At the time, it seemed like a strange fit — how would the Sixers fit three seven-footers with limited range on offence into the fast-paced, small-ball NBA?
Now, the fit seems less problematic. At some point it seems the Sixers will have to move one of Noel, Embiid, or Okafor. All three coexisting on one team would create too much of a logjam and keep at least one player from fully developing.
Though Embiid may recover from surgery, get back on the court, and have a productive career, it seems more and more clear that the selection of Okafor, who has already shown promise in Summer League, was insurance for Embiid. Okafor has a polished skill set on offence and may be a more natural fit next to Noel, a defensive presence with an unpolished offensive game.
Similarly, the Sixers could also split time at center between Okafor and Noel when they’re not playing together, allowing for more traditional lineups or small-ball lineups.
Unfortunately for Embiid, after two years of sitting out with injuries, his development will be well behind Noel’s and Okafor’s. When the Sixers took Okafor at the draft, they weren’t just taking the best player available, they were grabbing another big man in case Embiid couldn’t play this season or in the future.
Though losing Embiid for another season and facing the possibility that injuries may limit his potential has to hurt the Sixers, it does make their rebuilding plan a little more clear. They don’t have to worry about the awkward three-center fit with Noel, Okafor, and Embiid, and can now target other positions in the draft and free agency.
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