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This morning ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne broke the news that the Philadelphia 76ers were signing Joel Embiid to a four-year, $196 million supermax extension. Among the reported details — the deal is fully guaranteed (with a fourth-year player option) and, “does not include the same provisions protecting the Sixers in case of catastrophic injury to Embiid’s lower back or feet, like the five-year, $147.7 million deal he signed in 2017.”
Embiid’s health concerns have been largely overshadowed the past few seasons by other, more pressing concerns for the 76ers — a lack of shooting and spacing, burner account scandals and front office turnover, Ben Simmons’ hesitance to shoot and his ongoing trade saga. But Embiid’s long-term health is an enormous question mark and make this deal a huge risk.
Joel Embiid’s health make this contract a big gamble for the 76ers
Embiid has never played more than 64 games in a season and even if you pro-rate last season’s 51 games across an 82-game schedule it’s less than 60. Since being drafted, he’s appeared in 46.2 percent of the 76ers games. Even if you discount the first two seasons of his career, which he missed entirely, and the third in which minute restrictions limited to 31 games, he’s only appeared in 72 percent. (That works out to about 59 games per 82-game season).
And then there is his actual in-game workload. Over the past four seasons, Embiid has averaged just 31.3 minutes per game, the fewest among the 20 players who have averaged a Box Plus-Minus of plus-5.0 per 100 possessions or more over that span. Here’s another way of thinking of it — even though a metric like ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus estimated Embiid to be nearly twice as impactful as Terry Rozier on a per possessions basis last season, it estimated Rozier’s aggregate impact to be roughly the same as Embiid’s (by RPM Wins) by virtue of him being on the court for about 800 more minutes than Embiid.
The 76ers are paying max money for an MVP-caliber, two-way star at a position of scarcity. But also one who, at least for the first part of his career, can only be on the court for two-thirds of a game, and only healthy enough to play in three-quarters of the games on the schedule.
This deal is a risk but in the 76ers’ defense, it’s a calculated one and certainly worth taking. There’s almost no way they could trade Embiid and return equal value and trying to play hardball and squeeze more protection or value into the contract probably doesn’t accomplish anything besides antagonizing a player they desperately need to keep happy. If Embiid his somehow able to transcend his past fragility and avoid extended absences, they’re locking up one of the best two-way players in the league. Even if Embiid continues as he has been, it’s enough to keep the 76ers in the championship conversation, especially with some additional roster tweaks and some good luck in the timing of his absences (not in the playoffs, please).
The catastrophic scenario for the 76ers is a rapid decline — another year of the same Embiid, and then a season or two with the bulk of the games missed and a different player returning to the court on the other end. But honestly, it’s a sunk cost at this point. The upside is too high and the alternatives too meager. You pay Embiid his money and hope for the best.
Is Marcus Smart really the player the Celtics need?
In other extension news, the Celtics signed Marcus Smart to a four-year, $77 million re-up last night. Given Smart’s clear limitations and the shaky way the Celtics finished last season, this may have seemed like a surprising commitment to the current core. But it’s a solid value for Smart — projecting to be about 16 percent of the salary cap when it kicks in for 2022-23, avoiding the 20-25 percent dead zone Owen Phillips identified as a clear range for obvious overpays.
Putting him next to Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum is workable on paper. What will set the Celtics’ ceiling over the next four years is not Smart’s production but how they fill out the frontcourt and what other pieces they can put around that trio.
This rookie class is loaded with shooting
As always, take all NBA Summer League stats with a grain of salt. BUT, scanning through the player stats I couldn’t help but be impressed by how many strong 3-point shooting performances there were from this rookie class. Jalen Green’s outside consistency was a big question mark and he made 10-of-19 (52.6 percent) in three games for Houston. Shooting was supposed to be a big part of Cade Cunningham’s appeal and he backed it up — 13-of-26 (50 percent). But it wasn’t just the top, it was the depth — Bones Hyland (No. 26 pick, 14-of-35, 40 percent), Jalen Johnson (No. 20 pick, 5-of-12, 41.7 percent) and Chris Duarte (No. 13 pick, 14-of-29, 48.3 percent).
All told, there were 19 first-round picks who attempted at least 12 3-pointers during Summer League and nine of them made 40 percent or better. Of the nine first-rounders who attempted at least 20 3s during Summer League, six made 40 percent or better. At the top of the leaderboard was Quentin Grimes of the Knicks (No. 25 pick), who made 22-of-54 (40.7 percent).
Shooting is one of the skills that traditionally translates best during the transition into the NBA which means we might see a lot more of this rookie class in their first seasons than we expected.
In this week’s WNBA Power Rankings, the league is back from their month-long Olympic break and the Minnesota Lynx are still rolling.