Pure dominance. That's the level of impact that Kansas freshman Joel Embiid has been making lately.
He's completely taking over games—even without getting many offensive touches. In what was an impressive 80-78 win over Oklahoma State on Saturday, Embiid was the star of the show despite only taking six shots.
He nearly had a triple-double against the Cowboys. And if there was a stat that recorded shots changed on the interior, he might have filled another column with a double-digit number in his box score.
|Joel Embiid versus Oklahoma State|
"I mean, goodness, he's so talented," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said after the game (via Gary Parrish of CBS Sports). "He's so good."
No prospect on the planet can match the height of Embiid's two-way ceiling. Opponents must game-plan their offense around his ability to protect the rim and game-plan their defense around his size and skill set in the post.
At 7'0'' with a 250-pound frame and a remarkable 7'5'' wingspan, Embiid always had those unteachable physical tools. But now we're finding out that he thrives in another unteachable phase of the game—adjustments and awareness.
He's improving with each half of basketball—not just his moves and touch, but his recognition and IQ.
We've reached the point where he is now commanding double-teams whenever he gets a touch. And while they flustered him at first, he's learned to adapt and respond. He has quickly become an effective passer out of the post, and with defenses willing to leave an open man to prevent Embiid from scoring, he's now finding ways to make them pay.
There isn't a defensive answer that doesn't require some type of sacrifice. Play him straight up, and he'll beat you in the post; double-team him, and you risk giving up an open shot elsewhere.
His defensive timing has also improved—he is anticipating shot fakes, moving his feet and avoiding fouls (he only picked up two in 32 minutes against Oklahoma State). Embiid was everywhere against the Cowboys, thanks to his phenomenal footwork and length, which allow him to be in two places at once.
If Embiid wasn't blocking shots, he was changing them and even discouraging opposing players from taking them inside.
At the end of the day, the impact he's capable of making on both sides of the ball separates him from the pack.
Andrew Wiggins, fellow Kansas freshman and direct draft-day competitor, is an excellent defender, but he can't change a game the way that Embiid can defensively at the rim. And offensively, we've seen Wiggins struggle when defenses take away his strengths. Oklahoma State packed the paint against Kansas, which kept Wiggins from making a peep all game long (three points, two rebounds).
Duke's Jabari Parker is actually more of a one-way prospect. And though it's tough to criticize him offensively given how refined and polished he is, he's had trouble lately making his mark on games when his jumper hasn't worked.
With Embiid, you're getting an impact player whenever he takes the floor, whether he's on his A-game or not. He dominated the last seven minutes of the first half against Oklahoma State, yet he only took one shot during that stretch.
There just aren't any questions left to ask, while I still have a few regarding Wiggins' and Parker's outlooks.
Imaginative general managers are likely drooling over Embiid's rapid development. If he's able to get this good playing just three years of organized basketball, how good can he get with 15 years of NBA coaching?
Against Kansas State, Embiid even knocked down an 18-footer and followed it up by nailing a three.
Not only is he producing consistent high-quality results at 19 years old, but he also has the most upside of anyone in the country. He potentially offers a short-term solution and a long-term centerpiece at a position that's tough to find standout talent.
If I'm a general manager, I'm going after Embiid with the No. 1 pick regardless of who is currently on my roster at center. He has evolved into the top prospect in the field, given his ability to control a game offensively from the post and shrink the size of the rim he's protecting.
And no matter how well Wiggins and Parker play down the stretch, I'm just not sure there's anything they can do to change that.