With training camp getting closer, there are plenty of topics to discuss involving the 2019-20 Sixers. Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick.
In this edition, we ask: If he stays healthy, how many games should Joel Embiid play this season?
This is an easy one to me. The Sixers play 13 back-to-backs this season — many of which feature a lesser opponent in the second half — so that’s at least 13 games Embiid is not playing. That’ll upset people who bought tickets for the games he’ll miss and some analysts who simply detest the “load management” era of the NBA.
Well … tough.
The Raptors won the Finals in large thanks to their load management plan with Kawhi Leonard. Leonard didn’t play in 10 of his team’s 12 back-to-backs last season — he played 60 regular season games total — and was fresh come playoff time. Sure, he was coming off an injury that caused him to miss significant time but we all know Embiid’s injury history. This is the right way to go.
Toronto was able to execute that plan because the rest of the team picked up its play in his absence, going 17-5 without Leonard. GM Elton Brand went out and signed veteran big man Al Horford to play with and back up Embiid. He also signed veteran center Kyle O’Quinn to ostensibly serve as the team’s third center. Those are serious upgrades. The Sixers will also have a full season of Tobias Harris and an evolving Ben Simmons to pick up the offensive load.
It’s also a plan that I believe Embiid has matured enough to accept. He mentioned during his exit interview that he just wanted to be on the court so badly that he lost sight of getting proper rest. He specifically mentioned the example of Leonard for how the team could treat his load management going forward.
The actual number of games will likely hover around 60. What’s way more important is having a healthy Embiid to try to help win 16 games when it matters most.
Embiid was leading the league in minutes through the first month or so of last season. He played 54 of 58 games before the All-Star break. A similar volume of minutes this year would be highly inadvisable if we’re being charitable, foolish if we’re being frank.
The addition of Al Horford should lessen the Sixers’ reliance on Embiid. The big man has spoken before about feeling like his team needs him, like he’s letting everyone down when he sits. As a competitor, he also just does not like resting. At one point, he joked, “If these guys ever tell me to take a game off, I might kill them.”
The Sixers were 8-10 without Embiid last season. With a “backup” of Horford’s quality — and Kyle O’Quinn as further insurance — the decline when Embiid rests won’t be close to as bad.
As far as a good number of games for the Sixers to shoot for with Embiid, there are plenty of factors to consider, among them the fact Embiid says he gets out of shape quickly when sidelined, where they stand with playoff seeding and how to best peak in time for the postseason. Embiid saying he's lost 25 pounds is no doubt a positive and will perhaps alleviate some of the concern about his fitness immediately deteriorating when he rests. Assuming complete health — a big assumption, of course — somewhere around 65 games seems ideal.
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.