Joel Embiid's Health Will Ultimately Decide His 2014 NBA Draft Fate

R. Cory Smith@@RCorySmithSenior Writer IMay 19, 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

There's no doubt that Joel Embiid's talent proves he's worthy of being taken at the top of the 2014 NBA draft, but there are certainly risks that come along with the 7'0" Cameroon center.

On the court, Embiid uses his freakish athleticism to change a game in myriad ways. The former Kansas standout averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game, while drawing comparisons to a young Hakeem Olajuwon by Bill Self and analysts.

Off of it, the center has dealt with knee and back injuries that derailed an otherwise brilliant freshman campaign in Lawrence. Self referenced the wear and tear Embiid took last year with the Jayhawks, per

"Joel is beat up. He's beat up," Self said. "I'm not going to make an excuse for him because you have to perform. But he's going to need some time off. I don't know how much time, but he's going to need some time off."

Even after Embiid got that time off, he missed the last six games of the season. That span included the second and third rounds of the NCAA tournament, where the Jayhawks were bounced earlier than expected against No. 10 seed Stanford.

All of those injury concerns turned the conversation from Olajuwon to a notable draft bust in recent years. Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune made the unfavorable comparison following the back injuries:

It brings up a boom-or-bust scenario for every general manager at the top of the draft. Is Embiid talented enough to excel at the NBA level? Surely. Could he continue to stay injury prone and fizzle out for a team in need of an immediate turnaround? Unfortunately, that appears just as likely.

Those issues are called red flags, and Embiid has plenty of them. Dr. David Siebert spoke about the possibility of the injury in the future, per Will Carroll of Bleacher Report:

Playing with a lumbar stress fracture—an overuse injury of one of the vertebrae that encases and protects the part of the spinal cord that controls movement and sensation in the lower body—is not only likely painful, but it also risks more serious complications such as nerve damage. It's not the fracture itself that is worrisome, it's what it could turn into if not properly managed.

Luckily for NBA teams looking to take the can't-miss prospect, he missed those last several games at Kansas to recover. But with Embiid not participating in the 2014 NBA combine, teams will not be able to get a close look at his progress outside of personal workouts.

Will Embiid fall outside of the top five in the draft after being touted as the No. 1 pick months ago? No, he's too talented. But will teams do more than their due diligence to make sure he can remain healthy? Oh, there's no doubt.


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