Last year, NBA draft experts and the Cleveland Cavaliers lacked a clear-cut favorite for the No. 1 overall pick. The Cavs settled for a player, in UNLV’s power forward Anthony Bennett, who greatly underachieved in Year 1 as a pro.
Fortuned by the NBA draft lottery gods for the second straight year and the fifth time in the franchise’s history, the Cavaliers are once again owners of the first overall pick in 2014. Though there is no unanimous favorite, the Cavs should have theirs—Kansas center Joel Embiid.
The seven-foot Cameroon native first made waves this year, averaging 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in 2013-14 alongside fellow draft favorite and former Kansas teammate Andrew Wiggins.
Sure, the Cavs are already relatively established at center with nine-year man Anderson Varejao, but that’s just it—he’s a nine-year man.
Having the No. 1 overall pick with a 1.7 percent chance is lucky.
Having the No. 1 overall pick with a solid player to fulfill a big need is a blessing.
Some would urge the Cavs to look elsewhere, though. They could play it safer and draft Wiggins—his 17.1 points per game in 2013-14 are just a portion of why the top four teams in this year’s draft are excited at the idea of adding him to their roster.
Either of those two players is less of a risk than Embiid is.
He’s had back issues since suffering an injury late into his only season as a Jayhawk. Dealing with chronic back injuries, or any type of injuries, as a young big man is concerning. Mistreatment could lead to a life full of issues both on and off the court.
He’s also a center, and if history tells us anything, it’s that not too many centers succeed after being drafted first overall.
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Neither of those two players poses as great of a potential reward as Embiid, though.
Even with a horrible draft last year, the Cavaliers are in no position to play it safe at this point. Whether they’re trying to lure LeBron James back to Cleveland or simply make the playoffs for the first time in four years, the Cavs have to go big.
There’s no player, figuratively and almost literally, bigger than Embiid in this year’s draft.
How will Joel Embiid fare in the NBA?
Embiid has only been playing basketball for three years, bringing his athletic talents from the volleyball court and soccer field onto the court where big men shine. A few years under NBA coaching and surrounded by NBA talent should shape Embiid into a much better player than he is now.
The Cavs struck gold with Irving in 2011. They struck whatever’s better than gold with James in 2003. They could strike something in between with Embiid this year.