Joel Embiid's Injury Shouldn't Result in Fall Out of Top 5 in 2014 NBA Draft

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJune 21, 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

In the era of hot takes, it's a surprise that nobody's suggested that Joel Embiid go ahead and retire already.

As almost every NBA fan knows by now, the presumptive No. 1 pick suffered a stress fracture in his right foot, per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated noted some of the other big men who have had the same injury, and the list doesn't make for pleasant reading:

Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy brought up Embiid's checkered medical history:

Bleacher Report injury expert Will Carroll elaborated on why this news is such a major concern:

This is the second significant injury of the year for Embiid. Embiid's back issue was already raising red flags for several teams in the NBA, with reports that Cleveland was off of Embiid due to the injuries and poor workouts widespread. The injury, known as spondylolysis, is not unheard of in the pros. Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons missed only a few weeks in 2013 after having suffered the injury and showed no problems.

More worrisome is that Embiid suffered a second stress fracture in less than a year. Given how little he has played, there has to be a worry that his body can't handle the stresses of the game. Another, even more concerning possibility is that Embiid has some systemic issue that makes his bones brittle.

To his credit, Embiid is taking the news in stride on Twitter:

NBA teams were already worried about his back. Now they've got this stress fracture to possibly scare them off. Adam Zagoria of SportsNet New York reported that Embiid might go from lock for the top three to anywhere between sixth and 10th:

At this point, part of you is wondering why anybody would draft a player with this many red flags. The simple answer is, he's just that good.

This is somebody who drew comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon in his only season at Kansas:

Embiid possesses all the hallmarks of a dominant big man. He's a shot-blocker. Though he still needs some offensive refinement, he knows how to score inside and from mid-range. Embiid's also an athletic freak. He moves effortlessly in the paint and doesn't have any trouble running the floor.

Although the traditional back-to-the-basket post player is becoming outmoded in the NBA, teams will always jump at the chance to add a talented 7-footer. With the dearth of skilled centers in the league, having one puts you ahead of the game now more so than in years past.

You can't completely dismiss the medical concerns. Yao Ming's career is full of unfulfilled promise. He burned bright for a short time before his injuries became too much to overcome.

The thing about the draft, though, is that it's inherently risky. All of a team's scouting reports and player evaluations can go up in smoke within a matter of moments. Derrick Rose lands awkwardly on his knee. Jay Williams and Bobby Hurley are involved in motorcycle and automobile accidents, respectively. Kwame Brown and Hasheem Thabeet forget how to play basketball.

That stuff happens all of the time.

Drafting Embiid is undoubtedly a risk, but so is drafting Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum, Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh, etc. You can understand why Embiid would fall behind Parker and Wiggins, but after that, why not take him ahead of Exum, Vonleh, Gordon or Marcus Smart?

Embiid has the potential to be a transcendent big man. Surely the opportunity to get a player like this is worth the fourth or fifth overall pick.

What should also be pointed out is that a navicular fracture is far from a death sentence. Yao's career was pretty much over as a result of that injury, but he had about six inches and 60 pounds on Embiid. Greg Oden was the same height but is 23 pounds heavier.

You can look at Bill Walton if you want, but a lot of medical advancements have been made since the 1980s. Perhaps with modern science, the 1978 MVP has a much more productive pro career.

The Ilgauskas comparison actually offers hope, too. Although his career was certainly affected by his nagging foot injuries, he did overcome it enough to stay on the court. Between 2002-03 and 2007-08, the Lithuanian appeared in at least 73 games a season. In his final three years, Ilgauskas appeared in 65, 64 and 72 games, respectively.

In a way, having this injury happen now might be a good thing for Embiid's on-court career, leaving aside the millions of dollars he's likely losing in terms of falling down the draft.

Whatever team that drafts him knows exactly what it's getting into, much like the Philadelphia 76ers did last year with Nerlens Noel.

At the end of the day, the teams on the board early in the first round will have to ponder this question: Will the possible stigma of drafting Embiid and having him flame out be greater than the possible stigma of letting the best big man of his generation slip through your fingers?


All stats and figures are courtesy of unless otherwise noted.