The NBA’s rule requiring players to participate in at least 65 games to be eligible for postseason awards is currently falling under intense scrutiny. Implemented for this season, the rule already has multiple marquee players past or near ineligibility, including Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving, Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball, Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler and Boston Celtics big man Kristaps Porzingis.
However, the most prominent case is that of Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, who is in the midst of a historic scoring season but can only miss five more games before he crosses the 65-game threshold and is deemed ineligible for postseason awards. After missing the two previous games due to knee soreness — including a highly anticipated showdown with Nikola Jokic in Denver — Embiid suited up for Tuesday night’s 119-107 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
It didn’t take a doctor’s eye to realize Embiid wasn’t quite right as he hobbled around the court and settled for jump shots rather than going into the paint. Embiid entered the game averaging nearly seven attempts per game in the restricted area, and he finished the Warriors’ game with just one. He scored a season-low 14 points on 4-for-18 shooting and shot just two free throws.
With just over four minutes remaining, Golden State forward Jonathan Kuminga landed on Embiid’s left knee — the same one that was bothering him — and he exited the game for good.
The 76ers announced that Embiid will miss Thursday’s game against the Utah Jazz but didn’t specify the medical issue. While The Athletic reported that the scrutiny Embiid received after missing the Denver game may have contributed to his eagerness to play on Tuesday, the 65-game rule for postseason awards might also played a factor.
Following Embiid’s injury, Warriors forward Draymond Green suggested that the policy is why Embiid played in the first place, and ultimately what led to him getting hurt.
“Joel playing tonight felt very much so because of the 65-game rule,” Green said on The Draymond Green Show. “I think it’s actually quite bulls—.
“You get Joel, who comes out there tonight and he forces it. Freak play with him and JK diving for the ball but, maybe it’s not as bad if the knee isn’t already banged up. I don’t really bang with it. Now we’ve got one of our premier faces in this league, the MVP of our league, possibly hurt for an extended period of time because he’s forcing it.”
Green’s criticism comes on the heels of Indiana Pacers All-Star Tyrese Haliburton calling the 65-game rule “stupid,” as he stands to potentiallyif he fails to make an All-NBA team this season — likely only possible if he doesn’t play enough games (he has already missed 13 of a possible 17 due to legitimate injury). Players are required to play at least 20 minutes for the games to count toward qualification, with two permissible 15-minute exceptions over the course of the season.
The rule was put in place to discourage load management and rest days, but it is now facing public pushback from players and fans alike. It will be interesting to see how postseason awards shake out, and whether the league eventually looks into amending the policy.