76ers rookie Ben Simmons' injury threatens to derail promising Philadelphia core

ByNick Metallinos ESPN logo
Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Cavaliers may have recently broken the city of Cleveland's championship curse, but Philadelphia's run of bad luck with their rookies has unfortunately continued. 2016 first overall pick Ben Simmons suffered a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone of his right foot on Friday. Simmons rolled his right ankle during the team's final training camp scrimmage at Stockton University.

The team has given no indication when the Aussie phenom might be able to return to basketball activities.

It's yet another setback for a team that has been inundated with major injuries to their most recent draft picks. Nerlens Noel sat out his first full season while recovering from a torn ACL, and Joel Embiid will finally make his NBA debut this season after sitting out the first two seasons of his professional career with foot ailments of his own. In addition, last year's No. 3 overall pick Jahlil Okafor began his rookie campaign healthy, but succumbed to a knee injury after 53-games.

It's Simmons' injury, however, that threatens to derail a promising Philadelphia core.

The 6'10 point forward has been anticipated as a franchise player since his lone season with Louisiana State, and heralded as the savior for a fanbase that hasn't had much to cheer about in recent years.

Simmons was drafted to be the new face of Philadelphia, and their on-floor leader. In six Summer League games in July, Simmons averaged 10.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, impressing with his all-round versatility, and ability to play all five positions -- something that 76ers' coach Brett Brown definitely took advantage of.

Friday's injury means fans won't be seeing Simmons' wizardry for a while.

Although it's still too early to assess the ramifications for Simmons, it's worth noting that it has not been confirmed whether he suffered an avulsion fracture of his foot, or the dreaded Jones fracture.

Avulsion fractures account for 90 percent of all fractures of the base of the fifth metatarsal, and rehab time is typically 6-8 weeks, but history suggests that players with larger frames who suffer through foot and ankle problems early in their career, never return as the player they once were.

One positive for Simmons is that the Brooklyn Nets' Brook Lopez, who suffered a stress fracture of the fifth metatarsal, returned in under two months and played at an All-Star level. Obviously, the size and weight of a player makes a huge difference in the recovery process.

In recent months Simmons had added almost 33 pounds as he prepared his body for the rigors of the NBA season.

"I am a lot stronger now than I was in college and it will help me take hits and bumps," Simmons said on Monday at the team's new practice facility during the team's media day. "When I started at LSU, I was about 217 (pounds) and now I'm about 250, so I gained a lot of weight."

Renowned trainer Tim Grover speculated that Simmons' added weight might have contributed to the injury, but the pathology of an avulsion fracture suggests the injury occurs after forcible inversion of the foot, which, given the injury to Simmons occurred during a scrimmage, gives optimism that the injury is not as severe as a Jones fracture.

Where does this leave the 76ers as the season approaches?

Although it's unfair to have expected Simmons to carry this still developing Philadelphia team to a playoff berth, his absence will leave a cavernous hole in coach Brett Brown's system. Brown had talked about starting Simmons at power forward (his most natural position in the modern NBA), but also playing him as the team's primary ball-handler for large portions of games as well.

A logjam at the frontcourt positions means the 76ers can plug any one of Noel, Okafor, Embiid, and unproven rookie Dario Saric in at the power forward position, but Simmons' absence puts an end to any vision Brown had of utilizing the Australian's versatility and causing match-up nightmares for opposition coaches.

Short term what this means for Simmons is that his career has been put on hold for the moment. It's an obstacle that he'll have to overcome, and he can lean on teammates who have been in this same position before him. Long term, questions will linger as to if and how this injury will affect him.

"I think it's still surreal for me," Simmons mused on Monday. "I think it'll finally hit me once I step on the court matched up against OKC the first game."

Now fans are left to wonder when that first game will actually be.

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