Which NBA Team Needs Joel Embiid the Most?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistApril 11, 2014

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 18:  Joel Embiid #21 of the Kansas Jayhawks reacts after scoring during the game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Allen Fieldhouse on January 18, 2014 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Let the Joel Embiid games begin.

Bet you didn't think "Joel Embiid games" would be a thing seven months ago. Yet here we are.

Embiid decided to declare for the NBA draft after just one season at Kansas. The Jayhawks broke the news on Twitter Wednesday afternoon:

Now the real work begins: figuring out how high Embiid should go.

Back issues could damage his draft stock, but if he's healthy, Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman has him sitting atop his latest big board. Fox Sports' Adam Zagoria also has him dropping no lower than second overall:

Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker spent much of this season battling Embiid for the No. 1 spot. This was after Wiggins was preordained the undisputed No. 1 last summer. 

Thanks to his rapid evolution, Embiid's status skyrocketed. While a work in progress, he's someone who, in his prime, could have very few weaknesses. 

Here's what Wasserman had to say about what he'll bring to the NBA:

Embiid's appeal and potential are driven by his two-way upside—there isn't another prospect in the field capable of making such a profound impact on a game.

And at 7'0", 250 pounds with a 7'5" wingspan, Embiid is an incredible physical specimen built to anchor an interior.

Offensively, he's flashed a post game advanced enough to go to in the half court. Jump hooks, up-and-unders, dream shakes, spin moves, fadeaways—Embiid has developed the footwork to create his own shot and the touch to convert at an excellent rate.

He's even shown some mid-range touch and a promising 68.5 percent free-throw stroke that improved from day one.

Defensively, Embiid has the ability to change a game by shrinking the size of the rim he's guarding. He had the highest defensive rating (and PER) of any player in the Big 12, thanks to his 2.6 blocks in only 23.1 minutes per game.

Murky health bill or not, Embiid will be a highly sought-after draft prospect this June. Expect him to drop no lower than fifth overall, and even that would be shocking. 

"He’s ridiculously bright," Kansas coach Bill Self said of Embiid. "He’s hungry. He’s motivated. In the end, he’s got a chance to be standing on top."

Where will he actually be standing next season?

That's a matter for ping pong balls and individual team needs to tackle.


The 'You Can Have Him, We Don't Need Him' Longshots

These teams are in the best position. They don't need him and are unlikely to land in a spot where they would be forced to consider him. It makes for some easy decisions.

(*Note: The New York Knicks will be the only potential lottery team excluded from the Embiid conversation, since they're the only lottery-eligible team foolish enough not to have without top-five protection—or any protection, for that matter—on their first-round draft pick.)


Atlanta Hawks

Top-five odds: N/A

The Hawks only enter the lottery if they suffer an epic collapse and allow the bumbling Knicks to sneak into the postseason. That's beyond unlikely. 

Even if it happens, though, the Hawks would then only have, like, a 2.9 percent chance of landing in the top five. And if they did, they have this guy named Al Horford who is better off at the 5, and this other guy Paul Millsap who is best suited at the 4.

If this somehow happens—it won't—the Hawks have bigger needs to fill.


Denver Nuggets

Nam Y. Huh

Top-five odds: 5.4 percent

Really, the Nuggets have a 2.5 percent chance of landing in the top five on their own. But they also get the Knicks' first-rounder, which, as of right now, has a 2.9 percent chance of appearing in the top five. Though they will send the less favorable of those two picks to the Orlando Magic, the same odds still apply.

Anyhow, Embiid isn't someone they need. There's a real chance he could wind up being an upgrade over JaVale McGee and J.J. Hickson—both of whom are injured—but they have too much money tied up in them, along with Timofey Mozgov, to go big-man chasing.


Detroit Pistons

Top-five odds: 9.9 percent

Detroit is currently pacing itself toward retaining its first-round draft pick.

The Pistons have the NBA's eighth-worst record, and their first-rounder is owed to the Charlotte Bobcats only if it falls outside the top eight. They would welcome a top-five selection, which only happens if they land in the top three, since the ensuing picks are ordered by increasing winning percentage. So their odds of landing in the top five are the same as nabbing a top-three selection.

Striking lottery gold won't lead them to Embiid. If you think Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond are a floor-spacing nightmare, adding Embiid only amplifies that issue.


Memphis Grizzlies

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 30:  Marc Gasol #33 and Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies stand on the court before the game against the Portland Trail Blazers on March 30, 2014 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ackn
Sam Forencich/Getty Images

Top-five odds: 1.8 percent

Imagining a world in which these Grizzlies miss the playoffs sickens me. But it could happen.

With four games left to play, they're a game outside the West's uber-competitive postseason picture. Failure to move up pits them inside this downtrodden lottery pool, where a top-five pick is unlikely to greet them.

Should Lady Luck be on Memphis' side, Embiid isn't someone it would target—not unless the Grizzlies plan on losing Marc Gasol to 2015 free agency.


Minnesota Timberwolves

Top-five odds: 2.2 percent

Minnesota's situation is similar to most other longshots. If the Timberwolves land in the top five, it's because they landed in the top three. They're slated to receive the 13th pick right now. Once again, barring the unimaginable, they won't be put in a situation where Embiid is still on the board.

If they were, they wouldn't take him. Nikola Pekovic is locked down through 2017-18, and Gorgui Dieng's emergence solidifies their standing at the 5. 

Here's hoping a ping-pong-ball miracle doesn't prompt Minnesota to do the unthinkable and convert one of Embiid, Pek or Dieng into a power forward.


The 'We Might Be Able to Pick Him, But We Really Don't Want Him' Crowd

This is a complicated bunch. Each one of the teams that follows could find itself in position to select Embiid, but none of them really have a need for him. 

Things get complicated depending on order. Best player available inevitably comes into play, so if one of these teams falls low enough in conjunction with a dip in Embiid's stock, they may be forced to take him, settle for someone else or explore trade possibilities.


Orlando Magic

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 18: Nikola Vecevic #9 of the Orlando Magic while facing the Golden State Warriors on March 18, 2014 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this pho
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Top-five odds: 96 percent

Picture Victor Oladipo running pick-and-rolls alongside Embiid.

Now stop. It's not going to happen.

Believe me, I tried to justify a Nikola Vucevic-Embiid pairing up front. Almost worked myself over too, but the Magic are pretty high on Kyle O'Quinn and Andrew Nicholson. It's doubtful they abandon either project just to roll the dice on Vucevic developing into a non-floor-spacing power forward.


Philadelphia 76ers

Top-five odds: 100 percent

No question the Sixers will find it difficult to pass on Embiid if Parker and Wiggins are off the board when they're on the clock. Nerlens Noel has yet to play this season, and after suffering an ACL injury, he comes with more question marks than Embiid.

Partnering the two isn't an option. Neither Noel nor Embiid has the offensive range to play the 4, demanding that the Sixers look elsewhere if other options are exhausted.

For their sake, hopefully it doesn't come to that. Wiggins in Philly alongside Noel and Michael Carter-Williams just feels right.


Sacramento Kings

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 8:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings reacts after the play against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Sleep Train Arena on April 8, 2014 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Top-five odds: 15 percent

Potential trade alert. 

Sacramento is already hunkered down with frontcourt talent. Though DeMarcus Cousins can play the 4, players such as Derrick Williams, Rudy Gay, Reggie Evans, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson aren't just going to disappear.

Were the Kings to find themselves in the top five—another case of "has to be in the top three"—and Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were both off the board, don't rule out them shopping it in hopes of landing another star. 


Utah Jazz

Top-five odds: 55.3 percent

Parker or Wiggins would look so good on the Jazz.

Embiid would not.

Thank Derrick Favors and Enes "Questionable (Former) Diet" Kanter for that. Maybe Rudy Gobert a little bit as well. 


The 'If Only We Could Have Him' Clique

Plenty of (potential) lottery teams could use Embiid. Size still matters in the NBA. Not every team with a clear need has a realistic chance at landing him, though. We wish those teams—these teams—well.


Cleveland Cavaliers 

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 12: Anderson Varejao #17 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gets introduced into the starting lineup against the Sacramento Kings on January 12, 2014 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledge
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Top-five odds: 6.1 percent

Anderson Varejao is not the answer up front in Cleveland.

When healthy, he's a scraggly-haired bull and nightly double-double threat. Problem is, he's rarely healthy. His 63 appearances this season are the most he's had since 2009. His contract also isn't guaranteed for next season, so Embiid would look mighty fine in Cleveland. Worse comes to worst, Varejao can also play power forward.

Kyrie Irving needs a star sidekick who can play off the ball on offense while also cleaning up the excessive dribble-penetration disasters he perpetuates on defense. Embiid could be that sidekick—provided Nick Gilbert works his usual draft-lottery magic.

Upon improbably entering the top five—by getting into the top three—a superstar wing enters the equation. Wiggins and Parker would fit alongside Irving nicely too. 

But hey, the Cavs can't be choosey. If miracles are worked, Embiid becomes a possibility.


Dallas Mavericks

Top-five odds: N/A

As of now, the Mavericks don't need to worry about lottery selections. They are 1.5 games out of ninth place, which is as close to sitting pretty as fringe-playoff teams in the Western Conference can be.

In the unlikely event they fall out of the postseason race, they would have less than a 2 percent chance of landing in the top five/three. In the even more unlikely event they creep into that range, Embiid would be great for them.

Between Brandan Wright, DeJuan Blair and Samuel Dalembert, they're doing just fine, but "just fine" isn't good enough for the Mavs.

Then again, it will have to be. You have a better chance of perfecting Dirk Nowitzki's one-legged jumper in under two hours than they do of being in position to draft Embiid.


New Orleans Pelicans

Top-five odds: 4 percent

Different possibilities are open for the Pellies now that they've shut down Anthony Davis for the remainder of this season, per SportsCenter's official Twitter:

The Pelicans will send their first-rounder to Philly if it falls outside the top five—ergo, the top three. If they lose their final four games, their odds of crawling into the top three would increase, but not by much. 

Best-case scenario has them looking at Pistons-like odds (9.9 percent), assuming Detroit and Cleveland don't bomb the rest of the way.

Pairing Anthony Davis with Embiid would be magnificent. Davis can play the 4 or the 5, and we can only fantasize about the interior havoc they would wreak on defense. 

If only they had sat Davis sooner—you know, like 15 games ago.


Phoenix Suns

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 5:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets and Miles Plumlee #22 of the Phoenix Suns battle for the rebound on February 5, 2014 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Top-five odds: N/A

Is Miles Plumlee the answer at center for the Suns?

Eh. Maybe, maybe not. It doesn't matter.

Falling out of the playoff picture does little to increase the Suns' lottery odds. They would be looking at a 1.8 percent chance of appearing within Embiid territory. 

That's only if they miss the playoffs. They have a one-game hold on eighth place and are closing in on the playoff berth no one thought they would contend for. 

Our sympathy is limited.


The 'We Will Be In Position to Draft Him, Most Definitely Shouldn't Draft Him, But Still Could Draft Him' Loners

No introduction needed. You already know which team we're referencing.


Milwaukee Bucks

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 18:  Larry Sanders #8 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts to a play against the Houston Rockets on January 18, 2014 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or us
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Top-five odds: 100 percent

One thing the Bucks aren't short on is size. 

Larry Sanders and John Henson are enormous. Even one of Milwaukee's swingmen, Giannis Antetokounmpo, approaches seven feet. 

That should mean the Bucks wouldn't come near Embiid. But they are the Bucks. And Sanders has been an immature nightmare. Embiid has more upside—both on and off the court—at this point. 

Unfortunately, Sanders' four-year, $44 million extension kicks in next season, rendering him immovable. Smart teams in Milwaukee's situation would stay away from Embiid.

But again, these are the Bucks. Zaza Pachulia is on the roster. Embiid, against all logic, could be too.


The 'We Actually Need and May Actually Have a Chance to Get Him' Twosome

Things are about to get interesting now.

There are only a couple teams—two, to be exact—that both have a serious need for Embiid and a realistic chance of being able to draft him.


Boston Celtics

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 14: Kelly Olynyk #41 and Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics celebrate during the game against the Phoenix Suns on March 14, 2014 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Top-five odds: 82.7 percent

Big men with Embiid's upside have a place in Boston.

According to ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required), though, it's not Embiid who tops the Celtics' draft-day wish list:

The Celtics are going out in true tanking fashion, having lost their last eight games. They could catch the Magic for that No. 3 spot, and I think that's where GM Danny Ainge is hoping his team can land. We've had Jabari Parker at No. 1 for the Celtics for most of the season with Embiid No. 2, but it's time to revise it (unless Embiid's back injury turns out to be nothing). We now have the Celtics with Wiggins at No. 1, Parker No. 2 and Embiid No. 3.

Cases can easily be made for Wiggins and Parker, but plans change. Both players could be off the board by then—assuming Parker declares—thereby forcing the Celtics' hand.

Embiid isn't someone they can leave on the board if he's there and players such as Wiggins, Parker and Dante Exum aren't. Boston lacks athleticism and rebounding at center, both of which Embiid provides.

Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk space the floor enough to play alongside him, and so does Kris Humphries if they decide to keep him beyond this season. He can fit into the dynamic of this team.

Rolling the dice on another pick with back problems—Sullinger—is unsettling, that's for sure. It also doesn't help that Rajon Rondo now has a history of ACL issues. If any of these injuries become recurring, it makes for a fragile core.

But it's a risk the Celtics would have to take. They haven't had real size in years, and they need someone with star potential. Embiid may not be their first choice, but he's a talent they need. 


Los Angeles Lakers

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 16:  Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers addresses the media before the 2014 NBA All-Star game at the Smoothie King Center on February 16, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees th
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Top-five odds: 21.5

Ideally, the Lakers wouldn't advance what they hope is a quick rebuild by drafting Embiid. Then again, the Lakers would be lucky to find themselves in play for his services on draft night.

Parker and even Wiggins may be more NBA-ready, but Embiid has two-way upside that neither of them can duplicate right now. With Pau Gasol set to hit free agency, the Lakers need a capable big man. And even if Gasol stays, he's played power forward in the past.

Superior athleticism makes Embiid a perfect fit for the Lakers' current system, though it does preclude them from playing Gasol and him together. Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun style tends to marginalize big men, but Embiid, unlike Gasol and Dwight Howard, is someone who won't gripe about being used within pick-and-rolls almost exclusively at first. 

D'Antoni's departure wouldn't even change much. Freakishly talented towers don't come around very often. When you have the opportunity to draft a 7-footer with the footwork and post moves reminiscent of a (very) raw Hakeem Olajuwon, the explosion of Andre Drummond and defensive ceiling of Howard, you don't just grab it—you seize it, and never look back.


And the Perfect Landing Spot Is...

WACO, TX - FEBRUARY 04: Joel Embiid #21 of the Kansas Jayhawks drives to the basket against the Baylor Bears on February 4, 2014 at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Cooper Neill/Getty Images


After much deliberation, it has to be Boston.

The Lakers make plenty of sense for their financial flexibility. They have the means to fill out every other position with big-name free agents over the next two summers. Talented centers are hard to find, even on the open market. Plugging Embiid into the center slot saves them a lot of trouble.

But unlike the Lakers, the Celtics have an established point guard in Rondo. If Steve Nash weren't approaching the tail end—or very end—of his career, things would be different. The Lakers just don't have the experienced floor general to complement Embiid like Rondo can.

The two of them in the open court would make for some serious highlights. Embiid also gives Boston the defensive linchpin it doesn't yet have. The team's stable of floor-spacing forwards ensures Embiid isn't left jostling for position with his teammates as too much of a paint-clogging presence as well.

None of this means Embiid will land with the Celtics. Ping pong balls will determine the draft order, and everything will unfold from there. But it's not out of the question either.

Of the three teams statistically ahead of Boston in the lottery—Sixers, Bucks and Magic—not one of them has a clear need for Embiid. Better still, only one of the four teams just behind Boston—Lakers, Jazz, Pistons and Kings—can see Embiid as a necessity, that team being the Lakers.

There exists a chance Embiid is still available when the Celtics are on the clock. And if he is available, well, then the Celtics are heartbeats away from filling one gaping hole with a potential star.


*Lottery odds are current as of April 10, 2014 and come courtesy of Northeast Ohio Media Group's Rich ExnerDraft-pick debts via RealGM. Salary information via ShamSports.


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