Sixers: Ben Simmons’ injury obviously hurts the Sixers—but his timetable determines everything

Yesterday, Sixers fans saw Ben Simmons leave the win over the Wizards early in the fourth quarter with a limp in his left leg. While early indications were encouraging, today’s MRI revealed a dislocated knee cap.

The seriousness of this injury generally depends on the extent of ligament damage caused by the dislocation, and the good news in Ben’s case is that there doesn’t seem to be any peripheral damage.

While the Sixers have explained that they’ll know more about his treatment/timetable over the next 24 hours, it does appear that Ben has a chance to return at some point this season.

The timetable for recovery is obviously important. While much is still unknown, injuries of this nature (dislocation w/out ligament damage) tend to be 4-6 weeks of recovery. Considering it’s Ben we’re talking about—and this is the Sixers—we’ll err on the side of 6 weeks at a minimum.

For those keeping track at home, six weeks from today is Sept. 17—two days after the league intends to start the Conference Finals. That feels like a good target for Ben and the organization to shoot for, assuming he is in fact able to return this year.

Any later and I would argue the team should just shut it down and get him healthy for a 2021 season that’s closer than we think. The last thing we want to do is allow this injury to suck the life out of two possible championship runs. History indicates that this is the sort of injury that’s likely to reappear once it’s happened once—considering his back problems (a similarly nagging ailment), and the organization’s own history of caution in regard to player health, anything short of the cleanest of dislocations feels like cause for a full shutdown.

For those of you wondering how this impacts the Sixers chances to compete for the Finals and win the East I think that answer is obvious. For a team already lacking wing defenders and ball-handlers you can’t lose an All-NBA defender and assists-leader and expect not to get depreciably worse on both ends of the court.

The only thing the Sixers can hope for is that they cobble together a new identity around to roster as it’s currently set, and hope that a certain style or lineup strikes gold. I will add that if Brett is smart he can find a way to maintain near-elite defense—the team still has Joel Embiid, the best paint protector in the league, and a pair of POA dogs in Richardson and Thybulle. The pieces are still there to consistently pinch opposing offenses into low-percentage shots.

With proper commitment, a stellar defense and a four-out offense around Embiid can still present a threat to the East. I know people won’t like to see more Al Horford (though he led the team in +/- in each of their last two wins) but his fit next to Embiid is undoubtedly more natural with Simmons off the floor.

Obviously the order of playoff matchups becomes all the more important here. While before the injury it didn’t necessarily matter if we played Milwaukee in the EC-Semis or the EC-Finals, it certainly does now. While a Raptors series becomes more difficult in Ben’s absence, it’s still winnable—a matchup with Giannis minus Simmons, on the other hand, is a sweep in the making.

The good news? With the Sixers effectively 2 GB from the five-seed with just five games to go means they’ll likely avoid any series with the Bucks until the conference finals. The bad news? A 3/6 first round matchup with Boston without Simmons is exponentially more difficult than a series with Miami—for me it’s not even a debate.

The Celtics cache of ball-handling and switchable defenders was already primed to give the Sixers fits in a playoff series, take away the walking mismatch and All-World defender that is Ben Simmons and this matchup becomes a nightmare.

No matter which way you cut it, if Ben isn’t able to return before the conference finals the Sixers will need to win at least one series in which I can confidently say they’ll be underdogs (you still might see them favored vs Miami and even Toronto).

A few other key takeaways from Ben’s injury as it relates to rotation construction is that GRIII becomes far more important as really the only true wing-defender on the roster; Thybulle will now be asked to matchup with more 3’s (as opposed to strictly backing up Richardson); and Burks will now be asked to both replace Simmons rim-attacking with shooting and to provide another decent-sized body on the wing. None of these changes are ideal, but just the fact that we can try to figure something out in Ben’s absence is the sort of flexibility the roster didn’t have in 2018 or ‘19.

Let me be clear, this injury is horrible news, and while his timetable is still to be determined, it’s safe to say the Sixers just went from “wildcard” to “long-shot” to win the East.

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