Injuries Continue to Decimate Sixers Frontcourt Depth

With Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, and Ben Simmons out of action, second year Richaun Holmes has an unexpected opportunity to showcase himself.


Jahlil Okafor has yet to appear in preseason action for the Sixers | Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers have been decimated by injuries to start the preseason, and it doesn’t appear to be getting better any time soon.

The big blow came in the form of Ben Simmons, who suffered an acute Jones fracture in the fifth metatarsal of his right foot on the final day of training camp, but the damage has been anything but limited to just the former #1 overall pick.

In addition to Simmons the Sixers have another high-profile frontcourt player that has been significantly limited so far this preseason: second-year center Jahlil Okafor.

When training camp broke last week Okafor expected to be ready for the Sixers preseason opener, but soreness in his right knee has limited him in recent scrimmages and forced him to miss the Sixers’ first two preseason contests, and his 2016-17 debut doesn’t appear to be imminent.

“It has taken a while longer than we all, mostly Jahlil, had thought (it would),”head coach Brett Brown said about Okafor’s return to action. “But you’re just sort of very, very guided by the people that know more than all of us as it relates to his health.”

Okafor’s rookie season was ended prematurely when he had season-ending surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee last March.

At the time, the team announced that Okafor would be able to resume full basketball activities in approximately six weeks. That was thirty weeks ago.

“Because of the timing, it sounds probably more dramatic than it should that we’re not going to see him again. I get all that,” Brown said at the time. “The impact that it has on somebody moving forward is negligible.”

The Sixers maintain that Okafor’s knee is structurally sound and that they’re just being cautious.

“If you were in our offices and our meetings you would hear this sentence often: deliver them to opening night,” Brown continued. “What’s it going to take to deliver a healthy team to opening night? With that direction you’re a little bit watered down, you’re a little bit less ambitious.”

In addition to Okafor being out, veteran point guard Jerryd Bayless could miss the start of the regular season because of a sore left wrist, announcing that he has had a bit of a setback.

“They had the MRI and whatnot, (and) it’s not the best right now,” Bayless said before announcing that he might not be ready to start the season.

The rest of the injury report doesn’t get much better. Nerlens Noel missed the game with a strained left groin, which he noticed after the team’s morning shootaround. Nik Stauskas (strained left hamstring) and Cat Barber (sore wrist) also missed Thursday’s game, and Brandon Paul (right groin) left the game early. Richaun Holmes rolled his ankle during the second overtime period, but remained in the game.

Heading into training camp most wondered how Brown could possibly find time for all of Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, and Richaun Holmes at the power forward and center positions. To be left in the position where he is shorthanded at the center position is certainly a twist of fate that nobody imagines just a few weeks ago.

The rash of injuries has given second-year big man Richaun Holmes, the 37th pick in the 2015 NBA draft, an unexpected opportunity, and he’s capitalized in a big way.

Holmes finished with 10 points and 4 rebounds in 12 minutes of play in the Sixers’ preseason opener. Because of the unexpected absence of Nerlens Noel in the game last night against the Washington Wizards, and the game being extended into double overtime, Holmes was able to log 37 minutes of playing time, the most he’s gotten as a 76er.

Holmes responded with a career night, finishing with a team-high 20 points (8-14 shooting), 12 rebounds (team high), 2 blocks (team high), 2 steals (team high), and 2 assists last night against the Wizards.

“His facial expressions tell the whole story. He is a determined, competitive young man, and you see it all over his face,” a glowing Brett Brown said after the game when describing Holmes’ play. “His name deserves to be in that mix (of the Sixers’ center depth). I just feel like the work that he has put in, he’s a good young man, he loves basketball, and he just doesn’t go away.”

“I don’t mind it,” Holmes said when asked about being overlooked. “That’s kind of how it’s been since I’ve been playing basketball. It works better for me. I can work hard in private and just try to show it on the floor.”

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine’s Sixers Post. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.