5 Reasons Why Cleveland Cavaliers Must Still Consider Drafting Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid, who many believed would be the Cavs' pick at No. 1, has suffered yet another physical setback.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reports that Embiid suffered a stress fracture in his right foot that will require surgery.
There were already concerns about his troublesome back, which held him out of Kansas' run in the NCAA tournament. As good as he has been on the court, these injuries are two major red flags for teams to consider before taking the 20-year-old center.
While logic would tell Cleveland to now select Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins, one shouldn't rule out drafting Embiid just yet. Even if the Cavaliers don't feel comfortable taking Embiid first overall, there should be a number of teams (Philadelphia 76ers at No. 3, Utah Jazz at No. 5) that are dying to trade up. Cleveland could possibly still get Embiid later in the lottery while picking up additional picks/players in the process.
Whatever they choose to do, the Cavs need to keep Embiid high on their draft board and still strongly consider him for the following five reasons.
Wiggins, Parker Aren't Without Flaws
With Luol Deng likely leaving Cleveland in free agency, grabbing a wing like Wiggins or Parker would make sense, but are they necessarily worth the first overall pick?
Wiggins didn't live up to the LeBron James-esque hype coming out of high school, often disappearing for long stretches during games.
Parker is a fantastic offensive talent but struggled on the defensive end in college. He has a tweener body (6'9", 240 lbs) that could make guarding either forward position difficult.
With Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, perimeter scoring isn't a huge need.
The Cavaliers need a low-post threat who can score inside and create his own shot. While Parker proved capable of this at the collegiate level, he may find it more difficult against NBA bigs.
Besides a healthy Embiid, there isn't a home run pick for the Cavaliers to make.
Both Wiggins and Parker are fine players and nice upgrades for Cleveland but also bring their own question marks.
Best Potential in Draft
Although many believe Jabari Parker to be the most NBA-ready draftee and Andrew Wiggins to have the most upside, I would argue that Embiid carries the most star potential.
Not just star, either. Superstar.
For only participating in organized basketball since he was 16, Embiid's play on the court is truly amazing.
He has the post-move repertoire of a 10-year veteran and a smooth jump shot that could one day extend to the three-point line. Defensively, he is a natural shot-blocker and overall drive-interrupter with his 7'1" frame and near 7'6" wingspan.
Here's what one NBA scout had to say about Embiid, per Grantland's Ryen Russillo:
He has legitimate size. Great hands and feet. He will block shots immediately. He doesn’t understand positioning yet, but he is further along offensively than Olajuwon was at the same stage, and he’s bigger than Hakeem. Hakeem was 6-foot-9. Embiid is 7 feet, maybe bigger, eventually. He has the best upside pick of anyone in the draft.
Even with injuries being a major concern, Embiid could still turn out to be the best player of this draft class.
The Olajuwon comparisons are legit, even if the Cavs have to wait some extra time to see Embiid reach that level.
Against the Cavaliers, opponents didn't have to worry about anyone when they drove to the rim last season.
With Embiid, that would definitely change.
Since studying tape of former Kansas shot-blocking specialist Jeff Withey, Embiid has become much more disciplined on defense.
This work has helped earn him some high praise, even ranking him above the NBA's best shot-blocker of the past season, per ESPN's Dana O'Neil:
He protects the rim better than anyone has in years -- yes, Anthony Davis included, according to one scout -- and has an almost intuitive knack for blocking shots. He has great balance and grace, moving with ease and fluidity, lacking the stiffness or awkwardness that so many big men are saddled with.
Despite still mastering English and grasping the organized game, Embiid terrorized Big 12 opponents as a 19-year-old freshman. He finished first in the conference in defensive rating (90.9), first in defensive rebound percentage (27.3 percent), second in blocks per game (2.6) and second in block percentage (11.7).
Embiid blocked more shots (2.6) in his 23.1 minutes than Anderson Varejao, Spencer Hawes, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller averaged per game combined (2.57).
Cleveland needs a rim-protector, and Embiid is by far the best in the draft.
As previously mentioned, the Cavs have talented perimeter scorers in Irving and Waiters but no big who is capable of creating his own offense.
Anderson Varejao uses cuts to the basket and a newfound jumper to do his scoring. The same can be said for Tyler Zeller. Tristan Thompson's jump shot is still a work in progress after switching hands last summer.
With Embiid, the Cavaliers would finally have a low-post threat to draw double-teams and help open up the floor for guys like Irving and Waiters on the wing.
One NBA scout is already impressed with Embiid's offensive game, according to Ryen Russillo of Grantland:
Embiid has natural instincts. I doubt he was coached on much of this stuff, considering how quick his stops have been, and that he just started playing basketball. When he takes the ball on the low block, he inside-pivots like Duncan, and he plays from there: Faces, rips through or passes. It’s awesome. I always want bigs that can punish the defense.
Embiid could indeed punish an opposing team's center while making life easier for his own teammates on offense.
His touch around the rim is incredible, as he is able to score with jump hooks, power dunks and the occasional dream shake.
Even if his recent foot injury affects his mobility, he will still have that great touch needed to score in tight spaces.
Injury Concerns Can Be Overcome
Embiid has been diagnosed with a stress fracture to the navicular bone in his right foot, an injury that seems to pop up in big men every few years.
Bleacher Report's Will Carroll did an awesome breakdown of what exactly the injury entails, which you can read here.
While former centers like Yao Ming and Bill Walton suffered the same injury and were never the same, a familiar face should serve as inspiration for Embiid, notes ESPN's Kevin Pelton (subscription required).
Zydrunas Ilgauskas, whose jersey was retired in Cleveland, overcame a navicular bone fracture early in his career that caused him to miss the better part of his first four seasons. As Cavaliers fans now know, he would eventually become a mark of stability at center, helping take Cleveland to five straight playoff appearances while making two trips to the NBA All-Star Game.
Another success story is Boston Celtics legend and current Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale, who actually played through the injury in the 1987 playoffs. He missed just 73 of his last 493 career games following the injury.
What if the Cavaliers had given up on Ilgauskas after he suffered the injury? Consider all the contributions that "Big Z" has made to Cleveland both on and off the court.
The Cavs shouldn't give up on Embiid yet. They should have their doctors closely monitor his surgery and early recovery leading up to the draft.
Bonus: Trade Back Opportunities
If the Cavaliers pass on Embiid first overall, he's likely to slide down into the four-six range.
This is where Cleveland could get creative.
Given his durability concerns, there's a great chance that the Cavs could trade back and still draft Embiid while picking up an additional player or draft pick.
There's plenty of teams who would love the chance to trade up to No. 1 for either Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker. The Philadelphia 76ers are very much interested in Wiggins and have asked the Cavaliers about moving up to No. 1, notes ESPN's Chad Ford.
In such a move, the Cavs could try to collect not only the No. 3 pick but possibly the No. 10 pick or Thaddeus Young as well. Cleveland would have little use for another power forward like Young but could use him as trade bait in another deal.
A report from probasketballdraft.com notes that the Utah Jazz covet Parker and have talked to the Cavs about sending Derrick Favors and the No. 5 pick for the No. 1. selection. In such a scenario, the Cavs would get a young, talented power forward/center while likely still being able to take Embiid at No. 5.
Cleveland shouldn't take Embiid at No. 1 anymore, but that doesn't mean it should rule out drafting him altogether.
If team doctors ultimately decide that selecting him would be too risky, then so be it.
Until that happens, the Cavaliers should still very much consider taking Embiid.
Stats provided by Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.