The Philadelphia 76ers didn't have Ben Simmons before the hiatus due to injury, and now they won't have him for the foreseeable future. On Saturday, the Sixers announced that the All-Star forward would be leaving the Disney bubble to have surgery on his left knee. The procedure aims to remove a loose body from Simmons' knee after he suffered a partially dislocated kneecap Wednesday against the Washington Wizards.
In all likelihood, Simmons is done for the season, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. There is no firm timetable yet, but the recovery time will assuredly be several weeks. Maybe Simmons could return if the Sixers make a deep playoff run, but even then there's no guarantee, and the Sixers aren't going to rush him back and in turn jeopardize his long-term health. The reality is Philly has to prepare to move forward without Simmons.
There is no way to sugarcoat it. This is a big blow for the Sixers. Simmons does so much for the team on both ends of the floor. He's their most versatile defender as he is able to seamlessly switch from post to perimeter players. He leads the team in steals per game, and those steals lead to consistent fast break opportunities. Plus, he's third on the team in defensive rebounds per game with 5.8. Thanks to his downcourt speed, those often result in fast break opportunities for Philadelphia as well, and Simmons is one of the most dangerous players in the entire league in transition. Offensively, he leads the team in assists per game and creates endless opportunities for his teammates with his advanced ability to penetrate and pass. His eight assists per game average is a testament to that. He's also third on the team in scoring.
Simmons' absence will have a wide-ranging impact. Here's a look at what it means for the Sixers as they prepare for postseason play.
More emphasis on Embiid on both ends of the floor
Joel Embiid has been great so far in Orlando, and now even more will fall on his shoulders. With Simmons sidelined, the Sixers will need to rely more heavily on Embiid on both ends of the floor, which is something Brett Brown acknowledged during a conference call with media members earlier this week.
"I think Ben was having a great defensive season. When you take that length out, that weapon out, that versatility out, I think there is more responsibility on everybody, but especially Joel," Brown said. "I feel like his rim protection, him being such a presence at the rim, looking to block shots, looking to defensive rebound is going to be even more required. We need him to go to an even higher level defensively."
It will be the same story on the offensive end, where the Sixers will run things through Embiid in the post more than they have in the past.
"Offensively, he needs to get as many touches as we can give him," Brown said. "I think that one of the most noticeable areas of growth is what's he been doing passing out of the post. It's probably the single thing that stands out most to me offensively, whether it's Joel or just us as a team. I like our post spacing. I like Joel's unselfishness, his ability to read where the double teams are coming from I think has been shown. ... He's going to receive a higher volume of touches."
Expanded roles for Shake Milton, Alec Burks
Outside of Simmons, the Sixers aren't a team packed with playmakers. Thus, the other two players that the Sixers have been relying on to initiate offense in Orlando -- Shake Milton and Alec Burks -- will see their roles expand. Milton moved into the team's starting point guard spot at the onset of the restart in Orlando, but Simmons still had the ball in his hands a whole lot over the course of games. Much of that ball time will shift over to Milton now. Milton had a career-high eight assists against the Magic on Friday -- the first full game that the Sixers played without Simmons -- which is a solid sign. But, the Sixers will need that type of production on a nightly basis.
Burks has been a bit of a revelation for the Sixers in the bubble. After being acquired from the Warriors in February, he didn't get much of an opportunity to carve out a role for himself before the season was suspended in mid-March. In Orlando, though, Burks has emerged as an efficient deep threat (he went 9 for 13 from long range during the Sixers' first four seeding games), and a viable backup point guard option. Against the Magic, Burks was able to create for himself and others and he finished the game with 22 points, four rebounds, and two assists.
The Sixers will need all of the offensive creation that they can get moving forward. Burks' ability to create off the dribble should afford him ample on-court opportunity.
An opportunity for Harris, Horford to step up
The Sixers invested a whole lot of money in the duo of Tobias Harris and Al Horford last offseason, and the early returns were underwhelming. The team underachieved during the non-bubble portion of the regular season, and Horford specifically struggled to find a fit alongside Embiid, something he openly admitted in December.
"It's not as good as I want to be," Horford said of his fit on the Sixers at the time. "I still haven't been able to find my rhythm with the team. ... I'm out [there] for the team and doing what I can to help us. But offensively, I'm very limited with the things that I can do. So I can't control that stuff. ... So all I have to do is make sure I'm there for the team, trying to do everything I can to help us win."
At their best, both guys are All-Star-caliber players, and the Sixers will need them to play to that potential if they want to advance in Orlando. In order to do that they will need to be consistently aggressive -- on both ends of the floor. That's something that didn't always occur during the regular season. Filling in for Simmons will be a team task, and while Embiid will be the head of the proverbial snake, he can only do so much. As well-compensated veterans, the SIxers need Harris and Horford to step up.
Added pressure on Brett Brown
Heading into the '19-20 season it was widely believed that Brown's long-term future with the franchise depended on how the Sixers performed in the postseason, and that could very well still be the case. With Simmons out, however, the task of advancing in the East will be a lot tougher, and Brown's coaching will come under even more scrutiny. He will now be tasked with engineering an offense entirely around Embiid, while maximizing the All-Star's talent in the process. There's no scheme that can make up for the loss of an All-NBA-caliber defender, but Brown will have to try. Without Simmons' individual ability to stop or slow opponents at the point of attack, the Sixers will likely look to funnel more of their opponent's offense into the paint, where Embiid will be lurking.
Those in Philadelphia's front office that will be tasked with determining Brown's fate moving forward will use context, and the fact that one of the team's biggest weapons was unavailable will certainly be taken into consideration. If the Sixers are able to look solid, and even advance in the playoffs without Simmons, Brown could end up buying himself another season, at least. However, with all the money that the organization spent in free agency last offseason, it's tough to imagine Brown surviving a first-round flameout, even without Simmons' services. While some would call for a roster shakeup following an early exit from the postseason, the Sixers' front office would likely look to install a new system under a new coach before making the decision to move on from either one of their young All-Stars in Embiid and Simmons, especially since Brown is the only coach that either has ever had since entering the league.