One year ago, we were wondering if Joel Embiid would ever overcome his injury problems and become the dominant force he flashed so many times two years ago. He had minutes restrictions, never played a back-to-back, and would rest during random games throughout the year. This frustrated the “if he can play, let him play” crowd, who eventually had their wish granted when Embiid played his first back-to-back on February 2nd and 3rd of this calendar year. Embiid went on to miss just one game from February until the end of March, when Markelle Fultz’s shoulder broke his face in a game against the Knicks on March 28th, resulting in 10 missed games, including the first two games of their first-round playoff series against the Heat.
That injury was undoubtedly a fluke and had no relation to the problematic knee or foot injuries of the past, so we cannot blame the Sixers for lacking caution in that situation. This year, however, the Sixers’ organization is playing with fire.
Embiid has played 25 of 25 games this season. That includes five back-to-backs, a number that would be a relief to hear at this time last year, but is also a number that is borderline insane considering the context.
Joel Embiid was drafted in 2014. He missed his first year with a broken navicular bone in his foot. He missed his second year after having complications with the healing process of the foot injury. His first real season ended after just 31 games due to a meniscus tear in his left knee, an injury that the Sixers selfishly and irresponsibly let Embiid play on because the game was on national television.
It took four years for Joel Embiid to be treated like a normal NBA player, and now the Sixers are treating him like he’s an iron man.
Embiid currently ranks third in total minutes in the NBA at 856 minutes, although it should be noted that he has played at least one more game than every other team in the league. Even with that considered, he’s just 3.5 minutes shy of Anthony Davis’s league-leading 37.5 minutes per game average. As mentioned, the schedule has been brutal with five back-to-backs through 25 games and the most games played of any team in the league at this point, and Embiid has not sat once.
A possible explanation for this could be the amount of close games the Sixers have played and the amount of blown leads they have had. It’s resulted in Embiid needing to close out games because otherwise the team’s 17-8 record could look significantly worse.
However, consider this.
Maybe if Embiid sat a game or two, he would not continue to come out flat in the second half of games, which has been Superman’s one kryptonite in this possible MVP season.
Here’s the breakdown of how rest affects Embiid:
On zero days rest, he shoots 40% from the field, has an offensive rating of just 105 and a defensive rating of 107. On one day of rest, Embiid shoots 49% from the field, his offensive rating skyrockets to 118(!) and his defensive rating drops to 104. On two days rest, Embiid shoots 48% from the field, his offensive rating falls down a little to 113, but his defensive rating drops to 98(!!!).
To put into perspective how much better Embiid is with any semblance of rest – Embiid’s 118 offensive rating is higher than the career offensive ratings of Michael Jordan, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James. His 98 defensive rating in games with two days of rest is better than the career ratings of four-time Defensive Player of the Year winner Dikembe Mutombo and three-time winner Dwight Howard.
There is no doubt in my mind Joel Embiid has no interest in sitting out if he’s able to play, especially considering he posted on his Instagram story in April how he was “sick and tired of being babied,” but Philly’s front office needs to step up and manage their prized possession with a little more care than they have thus far. If it’s obvious that Joel Embiid is getting winded by the end of games in December, what will his stamina be like when they get to the playoffs? Imagine if Embiid struggles with his endurance in the Eastern Conference Finals all because they made him play essentially meaningless regular season games against teams like the Knicks or Cavaliers?
Will it be worth it?