Last season, Joel Embiid averaged 33.1 points, 1.7 blocks, 1.0 steals, 4.2 assists and 10.2 rebounds on a per-game basis, which was enough for him to win the NBA Most Valuable Player Award. Statistically speaking, though, that was apparently just an appetizer.
In the current 2023-24 campaign, he’s bested all of those marks, averaging 35.3 points, 1.8 blocks, 1.1 steals. 5.7 assists and 11.3 rebounds per-game. Dessert arrived two weeks ago in the form of a 70-point game that propelled Embiid to MVP-favorite status in most betting books.
Joel Embiid Scores 70 to Boost Odds of Being Back-to-Back MVPBut there could be a fly in the ointment for the Philly big man
Unfortunately for his team, the Philadelphia 76ers, it appears that’s where his regular-season stat line will stay — with no chance of an MVP repeat. According to multiple reports, Embiid is set to miss “extended time” with a torn meniscus in his left knee that requires reparative surgery. Candidates for NBA awards must play in 65 games across the regular season to qualify, a new rule put in place partly to demotivate teams from resting their stars as part of “load management” strategies. Embiid has only played in 34 games this season, and with sports injury specialists saying a return to the court prior to the playoffs is unlikely, the star forward probably won’t capture a second-straight MVP crown.
More importantly, the injury deals a massive blow to the championship title hopes of Sixers fans, who are among the most beleaguered in the NBA. As a Slate article from two years ago put it, not only has the franchise been championship-less for over 40 years, but more recently it has “veered into a far more bizarre direction, a byzantine, snake-bitten era of soap opera–worthy drama and unbelievable plot twists, all of which have conspired to produce a run of near-supernatural misery.” And that was written prior this Embiid injury and before the departure of lightning-rod backcourt man James Harden, who was traded away from the organization at the beginning of this season, after calling President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey “a liar.”
Harden was fined $100,000 by the Sixers and demanded a trade. Given Harden’s history of being a team blower-upper, the Sixers should’ve seen that coming. But this Embiid news is something different and should inspire more sympathy.
After Philadelphia drafted Embiid, he missed the first two full seasons with the club due to a foot injury. In each of the first five seasons he did play, Embiid would have failed to reach the award-qualifying threshold instituted this year of 65 games played, as more injuries turned up. But with his health having improved over the past few years, the Sixers have been title contenders, a completely foreign feeling to fans of the team under the age of about 25. Those Philly faithful endured “The Process,” which saw the Sixers tank season after season to obtain top draft picks (most of which, for one reason or another, didn’t work out). They watched one of those picks, Ben Simmons, win Rookie of the Year, then a few years later demand a trade of his own, which paved the way for the Harden mess. And they’ve watched their team make the playoffs with high hopes only to see them ousted, in sometimes brutal fashion, always by the end of the second round.
Embiid has been the lone bright spot, his consistent high-level play giving the Sixers a chance to compete with the NBA’s best teams. If he comes back at all this year, it’ll be to a squad likely in the lower half of the Eastern Conference’s playoff bracket, with no home-court advantage. And the “ifs” will only multiply going into next season, when he’ll be coming off another extended absence, and when he turns 30.
“Because seemingly everything that happens to this team is soaked in a sick and circuitous irony,” as Slate wrote two years ago, the Embiid injury means there’s a possibility that Sixers fans might see “The Process” start all over again very soon. If that comes to pass, the crosstown baseball club really better step up its game.