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How Joel Embiid's Back Injury Will Impact 2014 NBA Draft Status

Kansas center Joel Embiid (21) works around Iowa State forward Georges Niang, back, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. Kansas won 92-81. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Orlin Wagner/Associated Press
Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterMarch 11, 2014

There's just something naturally unsettling when hearing the diagnosis "stress fracture to the back." That's what 7-foot Joel Embiid found out he's been dealing with after seeking a second opinion, and it's likely to keep him out for most, if not the rest of the college postseason. 

It's bad timing. These things always are.  

But despite suffering an injury that sounds like it was caused from falling off a roof, the stress fracture itself isn't likely to sink his NBA stock, which has him labeled as a strong candidate to go No. 1 in the 2014 draft. 

Based on history and medical buzz, this is a short-term setback that simply needs time and rest to heal.  

"He'll have a bit of pain to deal with, but it's more discomfort and management than an injury situation," one source told Bleacher Report's injury expert Will Carroll.

Detroit Pistons' star Andre Drummond suffered this same injury last season, and though it forced him to miss games, it's not something that's lingered following his return. 

"While having this sort of back problem isn't a positive, it's not a chronic situation and doesn't portend future problems the way a chronic back or knee problem would," says Carroll. "Both of these will heal up and could be checked easily in a pre-draft physical."

Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

This is obviously good news, as it appears to be an injury Embiid should be able to simply shake off in time. And assuming he doen't encounter any setbacks, there's reason to believe he'll be cleared by the time June rolls around. 

But that seat atop draft boards won't just be waiting for him following rehab. Not this year—not with the high-quality challengers he has gunning for it.

And given the fear and concern associated with big men and injuries, general managers who were previously on the fence with Embiid might now be inclined to lean in another direction. 

While it might not have taken a direct hit, Embiid's draft stock has been placed in state of vulnerability. 

Andrew Ferguson/Associated Press

His injury ultimately opens the door for the other prospects who are knocking, particularly his teammate Andrew Wiggins. With Embiid on the shelf, Wiggins, who's been looking to make his move atop draft boards all year long, now has the stage and opportunity to make a bold one.

Even Duke's Jabari Parker, another No. 1 overall candidate, has the chance to benefit from Embiid's absence. 

Embiid is pretty much stuck in limbo at the moment, while Wiggins and Parker have a few weeks to strengthen their pitches to NBA decision-makers. 

Wiggins went for 41 points the other day without Embiid in the lineup. Parker just dropped 30 points and 11 boards on North Carolina. What if both of these kids blow up in the conference and NCAA tournaments? 

Unlike Wiggins' and Parker's, Embiid's stock probably can't go up from here. He isn't going to win any more supporters than he already had, unless his draft-day competitors both crap out during the postseason.

This is a fluid situation. Each prospect's performance, and ultimately Embiid's recovery, will be tied to one another, and with over three months until draft night, decision-makers still have plenty more information to absorb. 

Barring any red flags raised by doctors, I'm not sure anything will keep Embiid from slipping outside the top three. He's just shown too much during the regular season, from his advanced post moves to his world-class rim protection. At full strength, there isn't another prospect on the planet capable of impacting a game from as many cylinders. 

And with all indications he'll be good to go when it matters—which in this discussion, just means prior to the draft—Embiid's long-term upside remains an awfully appealing selling point.

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 24:  Joel Embiid #21 of the Kansas Jayhawks looks to pass the ball against D.J. Bennett #31 of the Oklahoma Sooners in the second half at Allen Fieldhouse on February 24, 2014 in Lawrence, Kansas.  Kansas won 83-75. (Photo by Ed Zu
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

However, between the stigma attached to big men and injuries, along with the other enticing options on the board, it's not unreasonable to think a general manager might now be hesitant to take Embiid with the No. 1 pick. 

Still, we have to wait and see how Embiid's health checks out prior to the draft—and whether or not Wiggins and Parker will be able to move the needle with some postseason magic. 

Embiid's injury hasn't necessarily damaged his draft stock; rather, it's frozen it until further notice. And unfortunately, it's going to allow other competing prospects to take advantage. 

Assuming all goes well with his rehab, Embiid won't leave the top-three conversation. But his grip on No. 1 just got a little bit looser. 

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