The Philadelphia 76ers will have to charge toward the postseason without their All-Star center, Joel Embiid.
During Wednesday night’s game against the New York Knicks, Embiid collided with Markelle Fultz and suffered a fractured orbital bone in his left eye, along with experiencing concussion-like symptoms. A source told Basketball Insiders that Embiid underwent surgery to repair the fracture Saturday afternoon. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski later reported that Embiid could return in two weeks following the surgery.
While losing Embiid, for the time being, is a crushing blow the Sixers and their 45-30 record, it’s not the end of the world for the team that’s surprised many with their winning ways this season.
From now until the end of the regular season, the Sixers will face just two winning teams — the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks. The other remaining opponents all possess losing records.
Currently holding the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, and a half game back on the Cavs for the third seed, Philadelphia has the advantage well in hand to keep itself in a favorable position heading into the playoffs despite the uncertainty surrounding Embiid.
In their first test without the Cameroonian star, the Sixers handled the basement dwelling Atlanta Hawks with relative ease. Ben Simmons managed a triple-double in just 27 minutes of playing time, Ersan Ilyasova chipped in 21 points and 16 rebounds off the bench, and Philadelphia eventually reached their ninth straight win when the score went final 101-91.
Following Embiid’s injury, a lot of focus shifted toward the Sixers’ inability to be effective on the court in his absence. This is true for the most part. Without Embiid, the Sixers are 4-8 this season. However, Friday’s contest against the Hawks was the first game Embiid missed since the All-Star break.
In that time, Simmons is averaging over 10 assists per game and committing under three turnovers. If there was a rookie wall coming for him, he’s run right through it. Over that same time frame, Philadelphia has managed to add not only the veteran likes of Ilyasova, but Marco Belinelli as well. These two luxuries off of the bench provide necessary scoring that was severely lacking in the games Embiid missed earlier in the season.
During the month of March, sharpshooter Robert Covington regained his shooting stroke, connecting on 40 percent of his three-point attempts. Dario Saric saw 46 percent of his shots from downtown reach the bottom of the net in that same timeframe as well. The Sixers are in the midst of hitting their stride, and since Christmas have the third-best record in the NBA at 30-12.
Even more impressive, the Sixers are 26-11 at home, winning 19 of their last 20 games at the Wells Fargo Center. South Philly home court advantage has become incredibly apparent for this young Sixers team, and their main course of action as the regular season winds down is holding steady on a top-four seed while they await the return of Embiid.
Although Philadelphia is just a half game behind Cleveland for the third seed, the Indiana Pacers are hot on the Sixers’ trail in the fifth seed, where the two teams are also separated by a half game.
This is where the Sixers’ remaining schedule may help them the most. Of the six games remaining for the Pacers, four are against teams with winning records: the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors and Toronto (the latter two taking place on back-to-back nights).
That’s a tough stretch of four games in five days for Indiana, despite their talent and the success they’ve had this season.
Expecting Philadelphia to win out would be a tall task to request even with Embiid in the lineup, so dropping a few games to winning teams without their best player would be an excusable offense. But as the Sixers showed Friday night in Atlanta, their roster is still plenty capable of disposing of the bad teams that meet them on the hardwood.
What may wind up being the key for the Sixers in their time without Embiid, however, is the last second re-addition of Markelle Fultz.
After missing nearly five months on the basketball court with a shoulder injury and an evaporated jump shot, Fultz returned to action on Monday against the Denver Nuggets. His re-debut yielded 10 points, eight assists, and four rebounds in just 14 minutes of action.
Since then, Fultz has put together two more solid performances, with his most efficient shooting night coming against the Hawks where he made four his eight attempts and displayed a pretty shooting stroke reminiscent of his days in Summer League play. However, Fultz played just 19 minutes in the game, his most since returning.
Brett Brown spoke before the Knicks game about wanting to gradually award Fultz not only more time on the court, but more responsibility as well. If the former No. 1 overall pick wants to get his best foot forward for the postseason, lengthening his leash now that the team is without their go-to scorer may be the best opportunity to do so.
The 76ers’ impressive season is thanks in large part to what Embiid was able to accomplish on the court, and without him, they may not be in such a favorable position to still secure home court for the postseason while he recovers from surgery.
But that option is still very much alive, and should be the only focus for Philadelphia over the next 12 days.
NBA Draft Night Trades
David Yapkowitz breaks down the trades that took place during the 2018 NBA Draft.
Another NBA Draft has come and gone. With rumors swirling all week about possible pick/player movement, the night remained relatively uneventful. There were a few trades that occurred, however. Here’s a quick breakdown of the movement that happened on draft night.
1. Atlanta Hawks/Dallas Mavericks
The Hawks and Mavericks completed the first trade of the night early on in the draft. Leading up to the draft, there were questions about how high Luka Doncic was going to be drafted. It was widely assumed that he wouldn’t slip past Dallas at No. 5. The Mavericks weren’t going to take that chance as the Hawks drafted Doncic with the intention of trading him to Dallas for Trae Young.
Both teams ultimately get what they need. It’s been reported that the Hawks might move on from Dennis Schroder this summer and they’ll need a point guard to replace him. Young is an explosive scorer who will fit in nicely with Atlanta’s rebuild. He can score from anywhere on the court and he’s a great playmaker as well.
For the Mavericks, they get a guy to add to their own young core with Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes. Doncic has the size to play next to Smith in the backcourt. He’s quite possibly the best playmaker in the draft with a solid offensive game as well.
2. Charlotte Hornets/Los Angeles Clippers
The Hornets and Clippers consummated the second move the night by swapping their own draft picks. The Hornets took Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with the 11th pick and then immediately traded him to the Clippers for Miles Bridges, whom Los Angeles selected at No. 12.
For the Hornets, they get a guy who can play both forward positions. Bridges is more of a small forward but in small ball lineups, he can slide over to the four. Offensively he is at his best when he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the rim. He’s a decent shooter too.
The Clippers get a point guard who was rumored to climbing up many draft boards as the night approached. Gilgeous-Alexander is a solid pick for them provided both Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic’ injury history. He can also play off the ball if need be. He’s got the physical tools to be a very good defender at the NBA level. It’s not at all far-fetched to imagine him as the future long-term starting point guard for the Clippers.
The Hornets also got two future second-round picks from the Clippers.
3. Philadelphia 76ers/Phoenix Suns
The Sixers and the Suns had the next move of draft night, also swapping their picks. The Sixers selected hometown hero Mikal Bridges with the No. 10 pick and later traded him to the Suns for the No. 16 pick, Zhaire Smith.
Bridges made a lot of sense for the Sixers. Not only is he a local guy, but his mother works for the team as well. He was a talented player who fit their team. He gave a post-draft press conference raving about being a Sixer all the while he had been traded already. But such is life in the NBA. Instead, Phoenix gets a guy that’s ready to contribute in the NBA right away. He’s the prototypical 3&D type guy.
For the Sixers, Zhaire Smith is another guy who was steadily climbing the boards in the days leading up to the draft. He’s a very athletic prospect with good defensive instincts. He probably won’t play much right away, but he does have the potential to end up being one of the better rotation players in this draft.
The Sixers also get a 2021 first-round pick from the Suns via the Miami Heat. It’s highly likely this ends up being a lottery pick and thus giving the Sixers the chance to add a high-end talent to an already potent group.
4. Second-Round moves
There are a few second-round moves that were made as well.
For one, the Hawks selected Devonte Graham with the 34th pick and traded him to the Hornets for two future second-round picks. Graham is another NBA ready guy who can come in and immediately contend for backup point guard minutes behind Kemba Walker.
The Sixers were involved in another deal sending the No. 38 pick Khyri Thomas to the Detroit Pistons for two future second-round picks. Thomas is a player that many projected to go in the first round. For a team that didn’t have a first-round pick coming into the night, the Pistons essentially picked one up. It’s possible he turns out better than Detroit’s most recent first-rounders Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard.
The Sacramento Kings drafted Gary Trent Jr. with the 37th pick only to trade him to the Portland Trail Blazers for two future second-round picks. Trent was one of the better shooters in the draft and that’s what he projects to the be in the NBA. He’s probably a few years away from earning a spot in the rotation but he was also a possible first-round pick. He’s more NBA ready than Anfernee Simons who the Blazers took in the first-round.
The Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets swapped second-round picks with the Magic sending the No. 41 pick Jarred Vanderbilt to the Nuggets for the No. 43 pick Justin Jackson and a future second-round pick. Vanderbilt is a project in every sense of the word. He’s extremely raw and probably needed more time in college. But he’s got long-term potential and could pay off in the future. Jackson, on the other hand, was possibly a first-round talent had he entered the draft last year. He’s going to have to make the roster but could be a 3&D guy.
In the final move of the night, the Hornets traded the No. 45 pick Hamidou Diallo to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Diallo is a guy that had he come out last year, probably would’ve been a first-round guy. In any case, he is also very raw and will need seasoning in the G-League. He’s got all the physical tools and skill to be a good rotation NBA player.
#28 – Jacob Evans – Golden State Warriors
With the 28th overall pick, the Golden State Warriors selected Cincinnati Junior Jacob Evans.
Evans represents a solid pick for nearly any NBA team. Evans fits in the mold of a potential 3-and-D role player. Evans improved in his time at Cincinnati, culminating in his junior year, where he scored 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Evans spent three seasons at Cincinnati and rounded himself into a versatile two-way player who can bring a lot of value at the NBA level.
Evans is a very cognitive player, especially on the defensive end. He has a better grasp of his limitations than most players at this stage of their respective careers and is able to maximize his individual defensive ability within a team concept. Evans generally makes the right rotations, double-teams at the right times and funnels his opponents to where his teammates are when he cannot contain the ball-handler on his own. With the right coaching, he could become a valuable defensive wing in an NBA rotation sooner than some anticipate.
Additionally, Evans is more than just a shooter. He led his team in assists last season and has some skill as a playmaker. Evans will be more of a shooter and finisher in the NBA, but the ability to make the right pass, swing the ball when he isn’t open and take the ball off the dribble when necessary make him an intriguing prospect. This is especially true when you consider how valuable a player like Khris Middleton has become over the years, adding layers to his 3-and-D skill set each season.
The Warriors aren’t in need of an influx of talent but are happy to add Evans regardless.
#27 – Robert Williams III – Boston Celtics
With the 27th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics have selected Robert Williams III.
With the 27th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics have selected Robert Williams III.
Although there were early week rumors that the Celtics might try to trade up, they’ve ultimately elected to find a difference-maker at the end of the first round instead. For a team that nearly reached the NBA Finals despite debilitating injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, Boston’s roster didn’t need a wholesale change on draft night. But at No. 27, they’ll be more than happy to leave with the mysterious-but-talented Williams.
Last year, Williams was viewed as a potential first-rounder before he returned to Texas A&M for his sophomore year. In 2017-18, Williams averaged 10.4 points and 9.2 rebounds on 63.2 percent from the field, fueling the Aggies to a 22-13 record. During this current pre-draft process, Williams looked poised to become a mid-first-round selection once again — but his stock faded as the big night got closer. In fact, Williams even decided to watch the draft with his family, even though he was a green room invitee.
His stock has undoubtedly dropped as of late, but this may end up being the steal of the draft — naturally, he dropped right into general manager Danny Ainge’s lap. Williams, 6-foot-10, is a freak athlete that’ll bring a new look to an already fearsome defensive unit in Boston. At A&M, Williams won back-to-back SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors and averaged 2.5 blocks per game. Of course, he’ll get the opportunity to learn from the hard-nosed Al Horford, a five-time All-Star and the defensive linchpin for Boston — a win-win situation for all.
Williams, 20, joins an extremely young core in Boston that also includes Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum, among others.