Joel Embiid must be the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft.
The 2014 draft class has been talked about and hyped up for a couple of years now. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker have been by far the most advertised. Each was featured on his own cover of Sports Illustrated before even playing a game, something very few college athletes have ever accomplished.
Parker’s cover featured him at the age of 17 dribbling a ball in his yellow Simeon High jersey with his home city of Chicago in the background. The cover read, “The best high school basketball player since LeBron James is…Jabari Parker.”
Andrew Wiggins’ cover came more recently. Wiggins was sporting his Kansas Jayhawks jersey with his back to the camera, and though Wiggins had yet to play a game for the Jayhawks, the cover said everything about his expectations. Alongside the 18-year-old on the cover were images of two of the greatest to ever call Allen Fieldhouse their home.
The title stated “From Wilt…To Manning…To Wiggins” and suddenly it was a national championship or bust for the young kid.
So with both of these stars now being freshman in college—Parker at Duke and Wiggins at Kansas—how is it possible that anyone could go above them in the 2014 NBA draft? It seems almost impossible to believe, but there may be someone taken before them both.
If there is, that player will be Wiggins' Kansas teammate, center Joel Embiid.
Embiid is a 19-year-old freshman from Cameroon and he has become a favorite to be the top man selected come June 26. If he’s not, it will be a huge mistake for one NBA team.
That’s not to say Wiggins and Parker are going to be bad. It’s not claiming that they won’t be stars, because they very well could be. In my opinion they are two of the five best college freshman I’ve ever seen. Even better than Embiid, at least for now.
After Kansas beat a higher-ranked Iowa State Cyclones on Monday, their extremely talented coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters that Embiid is “the best player in the country.”
Hoiberg certainly knows what he’s talking about, but if a team needed to win a game today, I’d suggest Wiggins, Parker and possibly one or two others before Embiid.
Even though most NBA franchises are focused on winning and winning now, no one can pass up the potential that Embiid’s game brings.
There are not many talented 7-footers in the NBA today, which is one reason that players of that height are always cherished come draft day. Embiid’s favorable size is not the only thing that puts him above Wiggins and Parker, though.
What is the difference is that there is not a single center in college or the NBA that can do things the way Embiid can. Even at 7’0” and 250 pounds, Embiid is able to move like he’s five inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter. With the center position on the decline in recent years, the value of a rare player like this cannot be overstated.
Embiid is not someone whose statistics alone make him a top pick. The freshman is averaging a modest 10.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, but that doesn’t mean he has not dominated.
Watching Embiid play is not just intriguing, but it’s exciting. He’s already very talented at both ends of the floor. Embiid’s 4.67 blocks per 40 minutes leads the Big 12, as does his 67 percent field-goal percentage.
If Embiid can overcome his fouling issues, he could become an absolutely dominant low-post defender. Roy Hibbert is another 7-footer who once struggled to stay out of foul trouble but no longer does. According to Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal, Hibbert is now only committing a shooting foul near the rim on 1.8 percent of the plays he defends. It would be almost frightening if Embiid can make an improvement on defense similar to what Hibbert did.
Clearly Embiid has made his impact. His post-up game on offense and shot-altering defense has caught the attention of every college basketball fan and analyst.
Embiid has shot up everyone’s NBA draft rankings, he has cracked the top three in basically every mock draft and no one is denying his potential. Opposing coaches are calling him the best player in the country, and he’s even being praised by his own Kansas teammates.
Joel Embiid was not the most touted college basketball prospect, he has not been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and he does not have YouTube videos with over one million views.
What the Kansas center does have, and what matters most, is potential. Embiid has the opportunity to be a dominant big man in the NBA, and he has a chance to be talked about with some of the best ever. All this, and he has only been playing basketball for a few years.
The potential is sky-high for Embiid, Parker and Wiggins. They, among others, will have a chance to be one of the best draft classes of all time. Honestly, it's hard to go wrong with any of these three players, but it would be a mistake to not take Embiid.
Everyone was positive at the beginning of a year that a Kansas Jayhawks freshman was going to be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft. It’s just that nobody knew it might end up being Joel Embiid.
NBA teams need to stop "Riggin' for Wiggins," and instead they must "Not Excel to get Joel."
All statistics via Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.
Follow me on Twitter: @Stevo_Korn.