After winning the MVP award last season, Joel Embiid is following up his tremendous 2022 season by somehow playing even better, averaging around 36 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists per game while shooting 54% from the field. Unfortunately, his season has not been free of controversy. During the offseason, the NBA instituted a new rule that players must be on the floor for at least 20 minutes in 65 games to be eligible for the MVP award and all-league honors.
This rule is already starting to affect the awards race this season because Joel Embiid has been battling multiple injuries from knee soreness to migraines. These injuries have caused him to miss 11 games, which is a lot considering the All-Star break is still three weeks away. If he misses seven more games, he will be ruled ineligible for the MVP award and any All-NBA teams.
This alone would be a fascinating story, but the madness doesn’t stop there. Almost all of the games that Embiid has missed have been on the road and against teams with winning records. This has led to people accusing him of dodging tough competition and there is even a potential investigation by the NBA into his recent scratch from a road game vs. the Denver Nuggets. Let’s take a look at his injuries this season and see whether or not there is a serious case that he is dodging tough teams on the road.
All of Joel Embiid’s injuries this season
Joel Embiid was quite healthy to start the season. He played in all of the 76ers’ first 14 games and he played less than 30 minutes just once. His first missed game came on November 22 vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves as he was dealing with left hip soreness. He then missed two straight games on November 29 vs. the New Orleans Pelicans and December 1 vs. the Boston Celtics. All three of these games were on the road.
Later in December, he missed a four-game road trip from December 25 to December 30 due to a right ankle sprain. These games were against the Heat, Magic, Rockets, and Bulls. After this four-game absence, Embiid returned for two home games at the beginning of January vs. the Bulls and Knicks. He then missed three straight games from January 6 to January 12 due to a knee injury. Two of these games were at home vs. the Jazz and Kings while one was on the road vs. the Hawks.
The next game he missed was by far the most controversial. On January 27, he was slated to face off against Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. He was dealing with left knee soreness, but was listed as active, meaning he would be playing. Unfortunately, the 76ers’ training staff elected to sit him after watching him warm up before the game. This late scratch is why the NBA is likely to investigate his absence from the game.
The potential investigation is not the only reason why Embiid missing this specific matchup caused so much controversy. It’s no secret that Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid have been pinned against each other over the years as both have been perennial MVP candidates. This matchup is always heavily anticipated yet it seems that Joel Embiid is never available when the game is located in Denver. The last time Embiid played on the road in Denver was in 2019. Back then, Tom Brady was still in the NFL and Kawhi Leonard had just won a championship.
Nuggets fans certainly noticed his absence. One fan was clearly aware, holding up a “missing person” sign during the game.
This Nuggets fan has a Joel Embiid 'Missing Person' poster 😅 pic.twitter.com/Qv5TqnpOLb
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) January 27, 2024
After missing this game, it was announced that Embiid would be out again on January 29 vs. the Portland Trailblazers. Yes, you guessed it, this game was on the road. To be fair, the Trailblazers are not a great team, but still, the trend of missing road games continues.
Is Joel Embiid avoiding playing tough teams?
It’s really strange that a lot of the games Embiid has missed this season have been both on the road and against teams with good records. Not all his missed games fit this criteria but most of them do. Perhaps the 76ers are being strategic with Embiid’s injuries and which games he misses, keeping him out of games in which he could look bad playing against good teams while hurt.
However, it’s more likely that this narrative is untrue and that his missed games are just a small sample size. Look at his game logs and you’ll see that he has played plenty of good teams this year, even on the road. For example, he played the Bucks in Milwaukee on opening night. He also played the Thunder in Oklahoma City on November 25 and was fantastic, almost recording a 30-point triple-double.
He’s also played some great teams at home. On November 21, he faced the Cavaliers and dropped 31 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, two steals, and five blocks. On December 20, he played the Timberwolves and went off for 51 points and 12 rebounds. On January 16, he played the Nuggets and recorded 41 points, seven rebounds, and ten assists. It doesn’t seem like he’s afraid to face the best of the best.
Once again, it is a bit odd that he has missed so many road games vs. good teams, but that doesn’t mean he is avoiding tough competition. As mentioned earlier, it’s more likely that this is just a coincidence and a result of randomness.