This is bad.
Ben Simmons, the freshly minted No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA draft and the advertised solution for reviving the comatose Philadelphia 76ers, fractured his foot at the team’s final training camp practice Friday night. Saturday, ESPN's Marc Stein reported Simmons will undergo surgery and miss approximately three months, a devastating blow for a team in desperate need of hope.
The Sixers won 10 games last year, ranked 29th in points scored per game and finished 28th in attendance. The goal entering this season wasn't to challenge for a playoff spot, but to earn respect and figure out what they have. This injury derails all of that.
This marks the fourth year in a row that the team has drafted a player who will miss significant time during his rookie year. In 2013, Nerlens Noel missed the entire year with a torn ACL. In 2014, Joel Embiid missed the year with a stress fracture in his right foot. Last year, Jahlil Okafor missed 23 games with a right knee meniscus tear.
Those injuries have clouded the Sixers' future and tested the patience of Philadelphia ownership. The Simmons injury further complicates the outlook for what was already a team with far more questions than assurances.
Who is Joel Embiid?
Embiid’s a tantalizing talent, with the sort of generational upside that can be transformative for a team. His engaging personality stands out on a team absent of leadership. Friday night when the Simmons injury broke, he tweeted out "Trust The Process" as an assumed sign of solidarity. However, the question remains if Embiid—who has yet to play an NBA game—can ever get to a point where he can contribute.
Can Brett Brown Be More Than a Player-Development Coach?
Brett Brown has done a truly admirable job as head coach, with rosters of also-rans and rookies. He’s never had the privilege of a healthy roster for a full year, which makes it impossible to evaluate him. We have no idea if he’s truly good at the thing head coaches are supposed to do: win.
He’s 47-199 in three seasons as steward, but the team hasn’t fundamentally improved in any category. Simmons’ injury guarantees we still won’t be able to judge him fairly for another season.
How Will the Front Office Resolve the Three-Big-Man Problem?
Bryan Colangelo’s job as general manager will be graded on a curve for at least two seasons. Just getting the roster to a competitive level will elicit applause, but at some point the glut of big men has to be consolidated.
Noel’s recent comments are not wrong—having three lottery picks at the same position doesn’t make sense. The roster may seem like fun on NBA 2K, but in the real world, it’s wildly absurd. It would have been nice to evaluate how each center played with Simmons before the trade deadline, but that won't be an option for Colangelo now.
Who Runs Point?
The front office and coaching staff will scramble to shore up the point guard rotation. It was previously thought that Simmons could start or shoulder heavy minutes at point. Brown talked about leveraging Simmons' skill as a passer. Either Sergio Rodriguez or Jerryd Bayless is going to start at point guard.
Figuring out how to keep things at that position from falling apart must be a priority.
Who Can Space the Floor for the Bigs?
The Sixers finished last year 24th in three-point percentage. Neither Bayless nor the team's other major free-agent signing, Gerald Henderson, is known for his long-range abilities. Last year, they combined for 2.6 made three-pointers per game. Unless Nik Stauskas can contribute meaningful minutes, how does this team expect to space the floor for the bigs?
Can They Get Stops?
Whether this team can coalesce on the defensive end is a major question, one without any certain answers. The Sixers finished last season ranked 25th in defensive efficiency, allowing 106.7 points per 100 possessions. That’s awful.
Are they better this year?
On paper, sure. Henderson and a healthy Embiid will make an impact. Noel is a skilled weak-side defender but still has trouble in isolation defensive situations. Okafor told reporters he kept his weight down while rehabbing, which could translate to better rim protection. The team’s other first-round pick from this draft, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, has loads of potential as a wing defender. Simmons or not, any chance of improvement rests on making huge strides defensively.
If we’re being honest, the early-season buzz was louder than it should have been for Philly. The notion that this team could join the League Pass ranks as appointment viewing is gone. Nobody wants to watch a team rack up losses, especially without its most promising star.
Now the 76ers will likely come into the season quietly and without any expectations. They hadn’t earned anything yet, so maybe that's fair.
Follow Khalid Salaam on Twitter at @MrKhalidS.