The Joel Embiid injury changes the entire complexion of the Sixers' season, and Ben Simmons will be counted on to spell Philadelphia more than any other player on the roster. Andrew Sharp and Ben Simmons of the Open Floor podcast discuss Simmons's importance to the final stage of the Sixers' stretch run and consider whether this stretch will affect the Rookie of the Year race.
Check out the full episode here and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. (The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity).
Ben Golliver: We need Joel Embiid back in the playoffs so everyone send him the positive energy. Everyone should lay off Markelle Fultz and we'll see where it shakes out. I think if you're him the one benefit of having missed previous seasons and all those long-term injuries like you're talking about is that it does reshape your focus in terms of this rehab. Because he is probably thinking in his own mind, 'Oh, only 2–4 weeks? That's nothing. I'll be fine. I'll be back in two.'
That's probably how he's looking at it because he's been through worse, and I'm certain that he's glad that he's avoided any leg injuries this season. That's got to be somewhere in the back of his mind every time he goes back on the court. I think it'll be very interesting to see how the Sixers respond in this short-term, though. Their key guys are still pretty young and inexperienced and not having that safety blanket back there they could look choppy here in the next couple games in the short-term.
Andrew Sharp: One more note on the Sixers: Whatever Embiid's timeline is, those games without Embiid, they are going to become the most popular underdog in America, and it's the one thing that I noticed watching the Fultz return. That's a Monday night game against the Nuggets, who are as relevant as any team in the NBA this year, and those fans were wild. The Sixers game for the last four or five months have been as crazy as any atmosphere in the league, and it's all going to get kicked up a notch with or without Embiid in the playoffs.
Golliver: I've got a question for you on this subject: Will this final stretch here determine the Rookie of the Year race? Will how Ben Simmons responds to this injury without having Joel Embiid, where he has to go out there and all of his flaws and all of his strengths are going to be on full display. Will his response decide who wins Rookie of the Year?
Sharp: That's a really great point, actually. I hadn't thought about it that way, but, look, you mentioned it, some of the numbers in terms of Embiid's on-off impact, and particularly as that impact relates to Simmons, some of those numbers are pretty staggering. And it's always been sort of the hole in Simmons's resume for Rookie of the Year, and now he sort of has a chance to go ahead and prove everybody wrong.
I don't know what he has to do to answer those questions, but it's definitely something to watch. And I'm sure the entire state of Utah is going to be watching these Sixers games ready to pounce if Philly struggles.
Golliver: That's what I'm saying. They have about eight games left. If they go 3–5 over those final eight, don't you think the Utah chorus is going to be, 'Well, look guys, come on. The reason why they were winning was Embiid, not Simmons. Simmons might have good all-around numbers, but is it translating to wins?'
That's really part of their argument about Donovan Mitchell, right? It's that he was so essential to their winning when Rudy Gobert wasn't out there, he kind of kept them afloat and then he's been huge late in games to kind of help them win. If Simmons isn't able to have at least some sort of counterargument to that, I can see that gaining a lot of traction with people running to Team Mitchell and not looking back.
Sharp: And to me that would be unfortunate and annoying because, to be clear and to step into my role as Sixers troll, I was ready to vote for Donovan Mitchell as Rookie of the Year regardless and I don't want to use these 10 meaningless games as part of the argument. I'm sure others will, but I was ready to vote for Donovan Mitchell before all this and I was ready for the Wizards to beat a healthy Sixers team in the playoffs and it was going to be awesome. And I hope we still get that chance. We'll see what happens.