Why Zhaire Smith's injury is unlike Sixers rookies' before it

Why Zhaire Smith's injury is unlike Sixers rookies' before it

When news broke that first-round pick Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot, the collective reaction was unanimous.

Not again.

Somehow, a Sixers’ first-round pick — whether their original pick or ones they traded for — has been hurt in each of the last six seasons. That just doesn’t seem possible, but here we are.

I know it’s easy to fall into this panic-mode type trap, but don’t do it, Philly. This type of thing has become more of a rite of passage than a career killer.

I liked Brett Brown’s draft-night maneuvering: He traded the more NBA-ready Mikal Bridges for more of a project in Smith and a 2021 unprotected pick that could prove to be an incredibly valuable asset. 

And that’s part of the reason this injury isn’t a catastrophe like some of the rookie injuries before it. Joel Embiid was the third overall pick who had enormous expectations. The Sixers went on to win 28 games combined in the two seasons Embiid missed. 

Before Ben Simmons suffered his Jones fracture, he was expected to team up with a finally healthy Embiid. Instead, he missed the entire season and the team won 28 games – an improvement but not great. 

Even though the Sixers had their best season since 2000-01, No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz — the version they drafted at least — was clearly missed. His ability to create shots off the dribble would’ve benefited the Sixers greatly during their playoff run.

Which brings us to Smith. He’s super athletic, has strong basketball instincts and has the potential to be an elite NBA defender. With all that said, he’s spent his basketball life as a power forward and is learning how to play guard at the highest level of competition. He also just turned 19 on June 4. 

The point is, while Smith’s ceiling is high, how much could he honestly help the Sixers? This is a team that won 52 games and a playoff series. How much time is a 19-year-old rookie who was the 16th overall pick and learning a new position going to get?

Just look at the Sixers’ roster. The starting five of Simmons, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Embiid was the best five-man unit in the NBA last season. That group will stay together. Then you’re bringing Fultz off your bench along with newly-acquired veterans Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala. You’re also bringing back T.J. McConnell and Amir Johnson, both of whom provided big minutes off the bench last season.

The only person that really suffers here is Smith. While there is no timetable for Smith's return and he hasn't been ruled out for 2018-19, it seems highly possible given how cautious the Sixers have been in years past. While a redshirt year is far from the end of the world, it would be good for Smith to at least get his feet wet. It also probably doesn’t feel great to be the latest punch line of NBA Twitter’s “of course a Sixers’ rookie got hurt” jokes. 

The Sixers’ rotation would’ve been tough for Smith to crack. Not saying he wouldn’t have played — and benefitted from playing — this season, but how big of a role would he have had? And his absence doesn’t lessen the expectations for the Sixers. It’s not like Vegas is going to drop the over/under on their win total because of Smith’s injury.

So while the “curse” of first-round pick injuries continues for the Sixers, so, too, should the winning from last season.

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Sixers vs. Hawks: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Hawks: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

The shorthanded Sixers (35-22) will look to get right against the Hawks (17-41) at the Wells Fargo Center Monday night.

The Sixers come into the matchup with an NBA-best 26-2 mark at home but will have to contain the dangerous Trae Young.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game:

When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

The injury bug has struck

It appeared the Sixers could be set up to go on a run after the All-Star break. Their schedule was softening up, they acquired two more players for depth and they were healthy.

So much for the healthy part.

We already know Ben Simmons will be out as we await the results of more testing on the lower back injury he irritated Saturday night in Milwaukee. 

It appears the Sixers could be down another starter as Tobias Harris will be listed as questionable — upgraded from doubtful — with a right knee contusion. Harris landed awkwardly during a drive against the Bucks and immediately grabbed his right knee. Through the rest of the game, Harris looked to be favoring the knee. The 27-year-old is a gamer, but it’s fair to wonder if he should’ve continued to play, especially once the game appeared to get away from the Sixers.

Simmons and Harris have been two of the team's most durable players. Simmons has played 214 of a possible 221 games during his three-year career. Harris is the only Sixer that’s played in all 57 games this season. He’s played at least 80 games in each of the previous three seasons.

All about Embiid

With his teammates banged up, it’s time for a (mostly) healthy Joel Embiid to step up. After the team’s win over Brooklyn last Thursday, Embiid said he was “the best player in the world.” On Saturday night, reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo’s play did the talking.

To Embiid’s credit, he has been playing at another gear over his last few games. He had a tough night from the field against the Bucks (5 of 18), but the second quarter — the only period the Sixers won in the game — showed how the team can play around Embiid when the All-Star center is focused and running rim to rim.

He scored 12 points, going 3 of 8 from the field and 6 of 7 from the line. That was the Sixers’ best quarter against Antetokounmpo as well. Embiid held the Greek Freak to just five points and the Sixers were within six at the half.

With newcomer Clint Capela out (plantar fasciitis), Atlanta will have to rely on veteran Dewayne Dedmon and rookie Bruno Fernando to try to contain Embiid. Count on Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce, a former Brett Brown assistant, to aggressively double Embiid all night.

Young locked in

Young is dangerous and looking to play spoiler with the Hawks well out of the playoff picture. In his two games since the break, the All-Star guard has put up 75 points and 18 assists combined in wins over the playoff-bound Heat and Mavericks.

The biggest thing the Sixers will have to focus on with Young is not fouling. In the last matchup in Atlanta, Young was 18 of 20 from the line. With Simmons out, it’ll likely fall on Josh Richardson and rookie Matisse Thybulle to try to contain him.

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons out for Hawks game with back injury, will have additional evaluation Monday

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons out for Hawks game with back injury, will have additional evaluation Monday

Ben Simmons went through an initial evaluation on his back Sunday in Philadelphia, will have an additional evaluation Monday and is out for the Sixers’ game tomorrow night vs. the Atlanta Hawks, a team source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the news.

Simmons missed Thursday’s game vs. the Nets with lower back soreness and irritated the injury in the first quarter Saturday night against the Bucks. 

Head coach Brett Brown said Thursday that Simmons was injured at the team’s practice Wednesday.

“It was a play where he went up for a rebound and I looked over and he left the court, and went and got treatment,” Brown said. “And it has played out as it has played out. We don’t believe it’s anything too significant.”

After drawing a foul on Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez with 7:21 left in the first on a running hook shot, Simmons put his hands on his knees and appeared in discomfort. He stayed in to make 1 of 2 free throws, and the Sixers then had Matisse Thybulle commit a foul to stop the game and allow Simmons to return to the locker room.

Before Saturday, Simmons had been averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists this season in a team-high 36.3 minutes per game. The two-time All-Star has an NBA-best 115 steals. 

Simmons had entered the All-Star break strong, with a 26-point triple-double in the Sixers’ Feb. 11 win over the Clippers. 

He’d posted 20.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game in the final 18 contests before the All-Star Game, shooting 68.9 percent from the foul line during that stretch. When Joel Embiid was out with a torn ligament in his left ring finger, Simmons had carried the Sixers to a 6-3 record. 

With 25 regular-season games remaining, the Sixers are 35-22 and fifth in the Eastern Conference standings. They have a 26-2 home record, best in the NBA, and a 9-20 away mark that’s the worst of any team currently in a playoff position. The team’s remaining schedule is the easiest in the league.

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