Joel Embiid’s hand injury is a tough blow to the Philadelphia 76ers made softer by the offseason signing that prepared them for this moment.
Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers has had a stake in the conversation for the best big man in the game over the last several years, but rarely if ever was he able to maintain a consistent bill of health.
The All-Star center would have to sit out for both spurts and prolonged stretches. The interior for the 76ers would be left exposed without any suitable backup plan available and the results speak for themselves with a modest 23-22 record in the 45 games he’s missed since 2017-18.
Al Horford wasn’t the floor-spacer or shot creator Philly desperately need after giving $180 million to Tobias Harris, but the allure of insurance for Embiid’s inevitable injury — or at the very least to reduce his minutes without decimating their nightly chances at a victory– was too attractive to pass up.
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It was a thought-process easy to understand once Horford inked a $100 million deal, but difficult to fully grasp amid the day-in, day-out where his role fluctuates on the same wavelength as Embiid’s health.
One day he’s asked to guard more out on the perimeter and space the court as the power forward. The next, Horford is protecting the basket with more scoring responsibilities on his shoulders.
A recent 11-game stretch saw the five-time All-Star shooting just 38.7 percent from the field and 28.6 from beyond the arc. The experiment wasn’t quite living up to expectations, but a perception change may be on the horizon.
According to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, Embiid is without a timetable to return following a torn radial collateral ligament in the fourth metacarpal in his left hand. He’ll be re-evaluated in one to two weeks following surgery, but his absence could stretch quite a bit.
And just like that, Horford’s presence is a welcome sight for a Sixers team trying to climb back up the standings from fifth in the Eastern Conference.
He’ll defend all five positions and protect the rim, attack mismatches and create wider driving lanes for his teammates operating from the center spot.
Against the Boston Celtics, Horford’s skills were on full display in the form of 17 points — his most in over a month — on 7-of-11 shooting with eight rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two 3-pointers.
The sample size is incredibly small, but Philly’s 113.5 offensive rating against the Cs would tie for the No. 2 mark in the league. And their defensive rating of 103.2 would also rank second at that end.
It’s hardly coincidental that Horford had the team’s highest net rating in the victory despite posting just the fifth-highest usage rate. His game is in the details, ones that are easier to see when he’s out of the shadows.
Despite the suggestions of some truly chaotic Twitter folks, Embiid isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. He is what makes an NBA championship a realistic goal in Philadelphia, a force that can change the game at both ends in ways few can.
He’ll eventually make his way back to the lineup and force Horford back into space he’s still getting comfortable in.
Until then, Horford must thrive as an individual while keeping the Sixers afloat and possibly push them up the standings. It’s what he was brought in to do, and now more than ever is the best time to get it done.