Pros and Cons of Cleveland Cavaliers Drafting Joel Embiid with No. 1 Pick
You don't have to look too deeply into the Cleveland Cavaliers' NBA draft history to figure out why they're being so cautious about selecting Joel Embiid with the top overall pick.
In an admittedly weaker and less predictable draft last year, the Cavs whiffed on the No. 1 selection by taking Anthony Bennett, who went on to have one of the worst rookie campaigns for a top pick in NBA history.
There's nothing like public failure to motivate a more thorough approach the second time around.
Even in ideal circumstances, the top pick can't be rushed. There's just too much at stake for any team in this situation. And with Cleveland's specific recent history of draft-day disappointment, this year's pick is one it really can't afford to get wrong.
Embiid is a tantalizing talent. Long, athletic and possessing frighteningly advanced instincts for a player with so little organized basketball under his belt, the 7-footer is precisely the kind of project big man that teams salivate over in the lottery.
It's easy to imagine him forming a potentially terrific foundational duo with point guard Kyrie Irving, but there are reasons for concern as well.
With the June 26 draft creeping closer, the Cavaliers' moment of truth is coming.
Here's what they'll have to consider as they analyze Embiid's franchise-altering potential at No. 1.
Pro: Transformative Upside
Wing players in the NBA are largely fungible unless you're dealing with a superstar on the level of Kevin Durant or LeBron James. And as good as Andrew Wiggins might one day become, nobody is quite ready to say he's a surefire franchise-changer.
An anonymous scout told Grantland's Ryen Russillo:
Wiggins has offensive holes in his game — no dribble, no pass, streaky shooter. His sex appeal is only his athleticism. I’m not saying he’s one of these athletes that comes into the league and doesn’t know how to play basketball, but he’s behind the other three guys on my board.
Bigs who can protect the rim and run the floor are gold in today's NBA, though, and Embiid sure looks like one of those. And even if we put positional concerns aside, he is still regarded by many as the only player in the draft with a truly elite ceiling.
In fact, that's been the sentiment for some time. Yahoo Sports' Marc Spears reported back in March that a scout told him Embiid was the only "potential franchise player" in this draft class.
Bleacher Report's Jason King is on board as well, and he noted the other aspect of Embiid's game that portends almost incalculable amounts of upside:
I can’t recall a 7-footer in the last decade who can match Embiid’s footwork, soft hands, gait and shooting touch—not to mention his shot-blocking ability, which improved dramatically throughout the season. And I realize this has been said countless times, but he has only been playing basketball for three years. He’s just getting started.
Embiid has more room to improve than anybody, and he's already pretty darn good.
That's a combination the Cavs should like a whole lot.
Con: Injury Risk
The Cavaliers are working out Embiid this week for a few reasons, not the least of which is an ongoing concern about his physical health.
Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com wrote:
The 7-foot Cameroon native is the frontrunner to be taken by the Cavs, who hold the No. 1 overall pick in the June 26 NBA Draft, according to multiple sources close to the situation. However, it will depend heavily on his medical evaluation by team doctors since he sat out the end of his freshman campaign with what Kansas called a stress fracture in his lower back.
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but big men with injury issues are a little scary—especially ones as young as Embiid.
There's really no circumstance in which health problems are a positive for a potential draftee, but his relative inexperience means he'll need as much time on the court as possible to develop. So even if his back injury is fully healed, the Cavaliers should be concerned about any inherent fragility that could cost him a few days or weeks down the line.
Every minute on the court counts for a prospect with Embiid's rough edges, and injury-induced stints on the bench will be doubly detrimental.
Nobody is even hinting that his body is anything like former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden's. We're nowhere near the level of chronic health concerns that plagued the Ohio State product. But there's immense danger in using the top pick on a player who can't get (or stay) on the floor.
Pro: Happily Uninvolved
There's real value in a player who doesn't need the ball to be effective, and Embiid—at least in this early stage of his career—can give Cleveland plenty of production without scoring the rock.
And that's a good thing, because the Cavs have some prickly chemistry issues that tie directly to a handful of players who all love to get their touches.
Irving is rightfully the team's offensive alpha, capable of scoring or facilitating with a wicked handle and a reliable jumper. He controls things on offense, and it's his job to keep the shot-happy Dion Waiters satisfied (when the two share the floor) and the still-developing Tristan Thompson fed.
That's no easy task, and if Bennett becomes a more central part of the rotation, he'll also need his shots to be a useful contributor.
Now, you don't want your No. 1 overall pick to be a role player down the line. And it's worth mentioning that Embiid flashed loads of offensive potential in averaging 11.2 points per game at Kansas.
But for now, he can fit in comfortably as a supporting player who contributes without needing many plays called for him. He can block shots, rebound, run the floor, clean up misses and generally function much like a young Serge Ibaka.
He can take the shots that come to him while filling in gaps elsewhere.
Eventually, Cleveland will want him to be a major part of the offense, but that can come later.
Con: Irving's Impatience
The Cavaliers need to show progress in a hurry, because Irving isn't guaranteed to stick around.
Sure, Cleveland is reportedly prepared to offer him a max deal on July 1, per Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer, and we haven't seen anybody turn down that much financial security yet. But there have been rumblings about his unhappiness for a while now.
Though Irving has refuted reports of his dissatisfaction at every opportunity, there's been enough smoke over the years to reasonably conclude a fire is burning somewhere. In other words, Cleveland must do everything in its power to give him what he wants.
With Embiid needing time to develop, it's possible Irving's patience will wear even thinner—especially if he turns down a max deal and plays out the season before hitting free agency next summer. And we've seen with the recent Kevin Love saga that even stars under contract can force trade discussions to intensify when they're unhappy.
Wiggins and Jabari Parker figure to make more immediate contributions, and if the Cavs are primarily focused on keeping Irving content in the very short term, those two are probably safer picks.
Embiid is the guy the Cavaliers should take if they're playing the long game, but we all know Cleveland is uniquely sensitive to losing stars. So if Irving's happiness (and future presence in Cleveland) depends on the No. 1 pick making an immediate impact, Embiid might not be all that helpful.
Pro: Conventional Wisdom
Though it's never a great idea to base decisions on the degree of scorn they'll get if they go wrong, it's easy to understand why the Cavaliers would be concerned about looking foolish.
They picked Bennett first in 2013 when almost nobody else in the draft had him ranked in the top five, and when that selection flopped spectacularly, they looked pretty bad. Reaching in the draft is one thing, but reaching for a player whom nobody else wants is quite another.
With Embiid, there's really no risk of a repeat in that regard.
Just about everyone agrees he's worth a No. 1 selection, and it's hard to find anybody who thinks he belongs outside the top three.
Again, it's a little silly to allow the potential for public ridicule to inform decisions of this magnitude. But the Cavs are particularly sensitive to looking dumb. Take owner Dan Gilbert's childish post-Decision letter to LeBron James as Exhibit A in that case.
Nobody will make fun of Cleveland for taking Embiid.