Can Joel Embiid Turn Sixers’ Rapidly Sinking Season Around?

Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers, NBA Trade Rumors
NBA Analysis Network

Before 2021 NBA MVP finalist Joel Embiid tested positive for COVID-19, the Philadelphia 76ers held the best record in the Eastern Conference. It appeared as though mostly everything was clicking and the team was going to have the luxury of waiting out the Ben Simmons ongoing holdout.

Embiid ended up being sidelined for more than the required 10-day period in part of the NBA’s safety and health protocols. The results were troubling for the 76ers while their superstar was sidelined. In fact, Philadelphia has a poor 3-7 record in the 10 games Embiid did not play this season.

”I really thought I wasn’t going to make it,” Embiid said, via ”It was that bad. So, I’m just thankful to be sitting here. I’m just glad I got over it.”

In his return to the Sixers’ lineup on Saturday night, Embiid displayed what the team has been missing — finishing with a staggering 42 points, 14 rebounds, and three assists in over 45 minutes of action. However, it wasn’t quite enough to get by the Minnesota Timberwolves as the Sixers lost 121-120 in double overtime.

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Embiid’s impact was evident against the Timberwolves and it’s clear why Philadelphia is 7-3 when he plays. The Philadelphia 76ers have a clear-cut top option to give the ball to in the post and out in space in isolation — commanding the respect of the defensive unit by drawing double teams and general help rotations.

”Joel was phenomenal tonight, but we still lost the game,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. ”Give him credit. He’s obviously been working out.”

Without Embiid, Tobias Harris doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of a top option. He can get to a spot in order to get to a turnaround jumper or shoot over the top turning middle, but he doesn’t play with enough force or with the enough of a facilitator’s mindset to set the tone for a highly successful unit.

Tyrese Maxey had stepped up in a major way while Embiid was sidelined and will continue to be a pivotal backcourt presence while the Ben Simmons trade talks continue. Maxey is now averaging up to 18.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.9 assists while doing so with staggering efficiency.

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With a variety of dead-eye shooters like Seth Curry and Georges Niang in the supporting cast, Joel Embiid has plenty to work with around him even before a trade with Simmons takes place. Can he lead a resurgence back toward the top of the Eastern Conference, though?

”It’s good to have Embiid back,” Tobias Harris said. ”We missed him for sure.”