Joel Embiid Worth Top Pick Despite Injury Risk

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2014

Kansas' Joel Embiid, right, talks with head coach Bill Self during practice for the NCAA college basketball tournament Thursday, March 20, 2014, in St. Louis. Kansas is scheduled to play Eastern Kentucky in a second-round game on Friday. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

It’s not every day that an uber-athletic 7’ center who can completely change the game on both ends of the floor is available in the NBA draft.

In most drafts, taking someone with Joel Embiid’s skill set with the No. 1 pick would be a no-brainer decision. In today’s NBA that is dominated by stretch forwards and score-first point guards, truly elite centers are very rare and that is exactly what Embiid can turn into with a couple of years of professional seasoning.

Just look at what kind of impact an inconsistent and un-athletic Roy Hibbert makes against the defending champions if you are wondering if there is still room in the game for centers.

However, the 2014 draft is far from a typical draft. It is loaded with NBA-ready talent in Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Dante Exum, among others. Embiid himself is about as high-risk, high-reward as it comes for a college prospect. 

Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders points out why Embiid could see his stock fall:

The Cleveland Cavaliers won Tuesday’s draft lottery and will be tasked with the enviable decision of choosing between the likes of Embiid, Wiggins, Parker and Exum. For the second straight year and third time in the last four, that the Cavs have the rights to the first pick, which is all the more amazing when their 2014 chances are factored in, via ESPN:

Cleveland will certainly have to consider Embiid’s injury history if it wants to take him with the No. 1 pick. Yes, he is a transcendent talent, but he missed the most important games in Kansas’ season with back issues, which is concerning for a 7’ center who isn’t even old enough to buy a beer yet.

Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

Despite these concerns, Grantland’s Bill Simmons pointed out why Embiid will be the top pick:

Joel Embiid is going to be the first pick of the 2014 draft. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. These teams are full of it. We’re worried about his back, we’re hearing it’s bad …It’s Smokescreen Central right now. And enough with the Oden parallels; unless Embiid’s pre-draft MRI reveals a career-threatening back issue (doubtful), NOBODY is passing on a franchise center who could easily be described as “The 7-Foot Serge Ibaka.” Stop it. He’s going first. 

Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks a game in only 23.1 minutes of action at Kansas. If those numbers are projected to 35-40 minutes a night at the NBA level, we are talking about a real game changer down low and double-double threat every time he steps on the floor.

He also brings exceptional passing skills to the table for a big man, which is an underrated skill at the next level. Embiid swats everything in sight when opponents drive the lane, and he will swallow up rebounds in the pros.

Kansas coach Bill Self summed up Embiid succinctly and perfectly, via Blair Kerkhoff of The Kansas City Star: "His ceiling is ridiculously high."

Embiid can virtually lock down the interior on both ends of the floor for years to come, and that will be too enticing to pass up for the Cavaliers come draft day. The reward far outweighs the risk. 

They already have the perimeter pieces in place in Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, who can both create penetration and find Embiid on the blocks if the defense collapses. Who knows, perhaps the Cavs can lure a certain LeBron James back to Ohio with a small forward position open in a lineup that features Irving and Embiid.

If nothing else, it’s worth entertaining the notion.


Follow me on Twitter: