The ominous history of navicular bone fractures was apparently not enough for the 76ers to pass on Joel Embiid's talent. Philadelphia selected the former Kansas center with the No. 3 pick in Thursday night's 2014 NBA draft, ending a fall that's come to define this year's selection process:
Embiid Tweeted about being drafted after the selection:
Widely expected to be the top overall pick, the discovery of a foot fracture during a medical exam changed the entire hierarchy. After Andrew Wiggins went No. 1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers instead, the Milwaukee Bucks selected Jabari Parker and Embiid was forced to wait from home to get a call. (He was invited to the draft but declined while recovering from surgery in Los Angeles.)
Embiid was linked all over the board after his injury, with most expecting he would not get past Boston at No. 6. ESPN's Chad Ford's final prospect rankings had Embiid fourth behind Wiggins, Parker and Dante Exum, while I largely agreed in dropping him to third.
Wiggins, Parker and Embiid each have franchise-cornerstone potential, though each brings different things to the table. Parker will translate instantly and should be the early favorite for Rookie of the Year. Wiggins is a combination of athleticism, raw talent and production that makes one think he'll be a two-way menace almost from the outset.
Embiid is the one with potential to make everyone look silly. Both in a good and bad way.
All things equal, Embiid has the highest ceiling of anyone in this class. Though he's played organized basketball for only four years, Embiid has already begun tapping into his immense physical gifts. He is a deft, light athlete with an already burgeoning post game. He shot 54.9 percent out of the post—an elite rate—despite using nearly half of his possessions from that alignment, per Synergy Sports (subscription required).
In an era of NBA basketball where teams are de-emphasizing the post more than ever due to its inherent inefficiency, Embiid is a classically styled big right out of the 1980s. His moves aren't nearly as refined as some evaluators would like, but you can see where they're headed. For someone so new to the game, Embiid's footwork and the few pet moves he has in his repertoire are incredible.
Strength is an issue, and Embiid won't come into the league as a 20-point scorer. Passing remains a bit of a question mark out of the post. It will be interesting to see how much Philadelphia's coaching staff pushes his development in-game. He'll largely rely on offensive rebounds and cuts as a rookie, both areas where he was very good at Kansas.
Defensive impact is where Embiid stands to make his biggest long-term impact, which is ironic because that's the side of the ball at which he needs the most work. Stronger players are able to knock him off his center of gravity for separation, and opposing bigs shot a respectable 40.6 percent in the post against him last season, per Synergy.
Embiid, like all young bigs, needs a ton of work on team-defense concepts. He's still learning the game, and at times you can see him processing what's happening in front of him. Those hesitations will lead to missed defensive rotations and likely some real issues in pick-and-roll, which is to be expected. Anthony Davis was a pretty glaring minus defensively during his rookie season too.
Like Davis, Embiid can make up for some of his mistakes with length. He joined Parker and Wiggins in skipping the NBA combine, so there are no official measurements available, but he measured at 7'1" in shoes with a 7'5.75" wingspan at a workout in Los Angeles, per Ford. The latter would have been the largest of any player in Chicago.
Embiid is active and has a good motor, though it can be a little reckless at times. Fouls are probably going to be an issue his first couple years. Once he gets used to the speed of the game, though, his block rate will be important to monitor. If he stays healthy, Embiid projects as a two-way menace who at the very least will earn multiple All-Star selections.
It's burying the lede to say that's a big if. History says using a high pick on a center is a risk by its lonesome. For every Hakeem Olajuwon, there are two Sam Bowies or Greg Odens. The last center taken in the top five to eventually make an All-Star team was Al Horford in 2007. He and Dwight Howard are the only ones in the last decade.
Injuries would be the main reason Embiid would not join that list. He missed the final six games of his freshman season with a fracture in his back, and his decision to skip the combine raised some questions with executives. Coupled with the ankle injury, Embiid has suffered two of the Big Three (back, feet, knees) injuries for an NBA big man.
“I think there is a point at which you use a pick on him, where you’re hoping maybe these are just fluke things that are not going to be recurring,” one general manager told Sporting News' Sean Deveney. “But that point is not in the Top 5 or so. You can't use a Top 5 pick. I think there are too many other good options there to think about using the pick on one who has these injury problems.”
These fears understandably have made some skittish. Foot injuries are notoriously difficult to diagnose and recover from, and even if Embiid is fully recovered, there is an assumption that big men are simply more frail than others. With a clean bill of health, Embiid would have been the top selection.
Instead, the most talented player in the draft falls into the 76ers' lap. We'll have to see whether Embiid's body can make the risk worthwhile.
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