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February 23, 2023

Eytan Shander: How should the Sixers handle Joel Embiid's load management?

Does Embiid need to take more games off? Columnist Eytan Shander tackles the load management situation.

Is Joel Embiid playing too much basketball?

It’s a fair question to ask in general, over the past four seasons, not just in reflection of the latest midseason exhibition. This year’s All-Star game aside, Embiid is playing a lot in the regular season. Possibly too much.

The one tangible issue of conversation that did come out of Salt Lake City this weekend was promptly ignored by commissioner Adam Silver  load management. The dreaded term that’s permeated throughout NBA locker rooms at the expense of paying fans like yourself. There was even a time years ago when every night was a true toss-up if a paying customer would get a glimpse at Embiid.

But that was all injury-related, not rest-related. We’ve seen the latter just not really apply to Embiid, like it does for a couple of other notable names including Nikola Jokic. Silver refused to acknowledge big names in his league are sitting out a lot of games due to rest and management, not all because a guy is hurt.

Some stars like Damian Lillard did play through as much as possible but sat due to injury, much like whenever we see Embiid absent from a game. Be it wanting to win every single regular season game or motivated by the MVP award, Embiid is out on the floor  way more than most other stars.

You probably haven’t heard this conversation discussed much, certainly not outside of our city and fandom. The entire league came under fire this past weekend due to Silver’s dodging of questions, historically low ratings, and continued mistrust from fans about which star might actually be on the floor. Notably absent from the hammering of the league and stars who go down the path of load management was praise for guys doing it the other way.

The NBA is trying to be like the NFL. It’s not, nor are their players microwaved into a 17-game season. While it’s certainly expected that a guy coming back from injury would need time or a minutes restriction, or even missing the second game of a back to back  you start to see a pattern of big names missing a lot of games over the past four seasons. A name that’s notably missing from that list and the conversation is Embiid.

NBA writer Josh Eberley tweeted the percentage of games played by five of the game’s more notable names over the past four years:

It’s not good.

Zion Williamson played in just 39.4% of his possible games. 48.3% for Kevin Durant  although it sure seems like less than that. Kawhi Leonard has missed a bunch of games due to injury but is basically the face for the “load management” campaign. Leonard has played in just 52.1% of his possible games. It’s the same number for Kyrie Irving  and while being an idiot doesn’t fit in a category, it’s helped facilitate his missed number of games. Anthony Davis  yes, AD  leads this pack playing in 62.9% of his possible games.

Now for Embiid:

That means that over the past four years Joel Embiid has played in 76.7% of his possible games. Which is remarkable on a couple of accounts. First, he’s consistently playing through injury and rewarding the paying fan who is consuming the product. He’s doing exactly what those guys listed above him  and others like LeBron James, Steph Curry, James Harden, and Paul George  refuse to do; simply sit down.

I’ve been critical in the past of Embiid not shutting it down for a game or two in the final stretch of the season, especially if it’s motivated by winning an individual award. I’ve joked on FOX29 many times that no team in the NBA grinds out a mid-January win like the Sixers. But after this weekend, maybe I was looking at it from the wrong angle.

What the Sixers and Embiid are doing is fantastic for the game and should be applauded by anyone who has ripped load management. Anyone who had a problem with Adam Silver dodging question after question or just how bad this product has become, if that’s you, then you also need to praise guys like Embiid.

That’s what’s so perplexing about all of this nonsense. The NBA fails where the NFL succeeds, every time. The NFL would have a problem like this and immediately highlight the success story. “Oh, 80% of our starting QBs went down with injury this year? Let’s do an NFL Films piece on one of the guys still up.” That is what’s unfortunately missing with coverage about Embiid.

It’s also not being discussed enough here. All those old radio voices who couldn’t understand why Embiid was drafted, or when he will actually play, or why he’s getting pulled 20 minutes before tip. Those old heads at the park who regaled you with stories of how Connie Hawkins would never take a game off no matter where he played etc etc etc blah blah blah. MJ, Kobe, Allen, Larry, Magic, Oscar, Wilt. KAREEM! The bus driver, the barber, the CEO, the Uber driver, the Uber rider. All guilty at one point destroying Embiid because you didn’t see enough.

The pendulum has now swung so far in the other direction that it’s a fair question to ask if Embiid is simply out there too much. Damaging the true championship chances for the Sixers when it comes to the playoffs.

This is what you wanted. It’s what the NBA actually has but refuses to highlight. It’s probably not going to last as Embiid probably can’t keep going at this rate. The regular season kicks back up on Thursday night as half of the league is looking to tank for the lottery, and a good amount of star players on good teams will sit. It’s the nature of the NBA, basically giving up on their last part of the season. All except for one of the true faces of the league  Joel Embiid.

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