Best-Case, Worst-Case NBA Projection for Rising 2014 Draft Star Joel Embiid

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterDecember 20, 2013

Nov 28, 2013; Paradise Island, BAHAMAS; Kansas Jayhawks center Joel Embiid (21) drives to the basket  on Wake Forest Demon Deacons center Andre Washington (31) during the game at the 2013 Battle 4 Atlantis in the Imperial Arena at the Atlantis Resort. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

We've all heard this type of story before: A 7-footer plays his first organized basketball at 16 years old, finds out he's pretty good and then gets scholarship offers from high-profile colleges. 

But none have gotten this good this quickly. 

Kansas' Joel Embiid has emerged as a potential No. 1 overall candidate. "He's a legit threat depending on what team ends up with the pick," an Eastern Conference scout told me.

Skeptics like to reference previous big-men busts like Hasheem Thabeet and Michael Olowokandi—raw centers whose appeal centered on their "long-term potential."

But Embiid is different. Obviously, his long-term potential is what drives his NBA value. However, he can ball right now.

If this is it—if Embiid really struggles to improve from here—the worst-case scenario is a team gets a guy like the Indiana Pacers' Roy Hibbert.

Embiid stands a legit 7'0'' with a strong 250-pound frame and absurd 7'5'' wingspan. 

He's averaging 2.4 blocks a game in only 20 minutes a night. Do the math: That's a ridiculous 4.8 per 40. Just by stranding straight up, he has the ability to challenge and alter shots at the rim, as well as force guards to think twice about attacking the paint. 

He's still learning defensive technique and fundamentals, but he has all the tools shared by the NBA's most effective rim protectors. 

via ESPN

Offensively, he has the game—it's just a matter of him polishing it up and consistently tapping into it.

A guy like Hibbert has the touch inside and ability to score around the key, but he only averages roughly 12 points a night. His scoring opportunities come off offensive rebounds, catch-and-finishes and low-post offense when he has position and space to work. 

He's not a guy whom Indiana features in the offense; rather, he scores opportunistically based on matchups and timeliness.

Embiid can score—the question is whether he'll be able to do so as a high-percentage option on a regular basis. 

Defenses will double-team him, take away the post and try to bump him off the block. On one hand, if Embiid allows opposing teams to take him out of games, or if he never develops into a reliable everyday offensive option, the worst-case scenario is that an NBA franchise will get a Roy Hibbert-type of contributor. 

In other words, the dude has a high basement floor. 

On the other hand, you can't even see his ceiling from ground level. Embiid has superstar, franchise-player potential, given his physical tools and skill set. 

So far, the most popular best-case scenario comparison has been legend Hakeem Olajuwon. Obviously, you just can't proclaim a guy the next Hakeem the Dream only seven weeks into his first college season. But you can't ignore the similarities and talent.

Bleacher Report's Jason King spoke with Embiid about his idol Olajuwon, whom Embiid has watched on film and seemingly mimicked on the floor.

Check out this "Dream Shake" that he uses to get past 7'0'' New Mexico center Alex Kirk:


via ESPN

If we're talking a more realistic, modern-day comparison, think a healthy Andrew Bynum in his prime, only a little lighter on his feet. 

Though still raw, considering he's only been coached for a few years, Embiid is skilled. He is absorbing the game at an amazing rate and actually applies what he's picked up on a night-to-night basis. According to King, coach Bill Self calls him a "sponge."

Embiid's footwork is beyond impressive for a guy his size. He's elusive facing up and crafty with his back to the rim, where he can use his shiftiness to shake and his touch and strength to bake. 

As of December 19, he is shooting 37-of-56 from the floor for 66 percent. His jump hook has the chance to be unstoppable, given his ability to use both hands and the high release point on his shot:

via ESPN

When he has room to operate, there's not much a defender can do but hope Embiid misses the shot. The goal for opposing defenses will eventually be to keep him off the block and force him to give it up when he gets it. 

The attention that he can draw in the post adds to his value as a prospect. Not only is he a tough one-on-one assignment as it is, but his ability to command double-teams in the post opens up shots and scoring opportunities for teammates. 

We've also seen Embiid show some confidence in his jumper, and though it's not a strength yet, he plans on adding the weapon to his arsenal. A consistent mid-range jumper would propel his game to new heights and complete the offense package that he's hoping to offer NBA teams.

 via ESPN

Embiid's two-way upside is enormous, as he has the defensive tools to change a game and the skill set to take one over. 

We're seeing him improve by the week, and it's anybody's guess when he'll stop. I'm not going to bet against him. 

If he hits his stride and figures this whole thing out, he has the potential to blossom into one of the premier NBA centers in the league. If you ask me, he would have been the No. 1 pick in 2013. 

Even in this loaded field in 2014, I'm not sure anything will keep him out of the top five. Embiid's ceiling is as high as any prospect in the draft pool, as is his basement floor.

Whoever gets him is acquiring a guaranteed stud and long-term keeper, whether he's the fifth pick in the draft or the first. 


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