Was Joel Embiid the Right Choice for Philadelphia?
Patience is a virtue, and Philadelphia 76ers' fans will have to exhibit even more of it with their team's newest draft pick. Joel Embiid was considered head and shoulders above the rest of the field coming into the NBA Draft, but his status as the top prospect changed drastically when a stress fracture in his foot popped up during his physical with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Added on to the back injury Embiid suffered in the spring, causing him to miss the NCAA Tournament, and the big man went from "can't miss All-Star with a pesky injury" to "oh crap."
This is the second straight year the Sixers ended up with a hobbled big man in the draft, and it's the third year they'll have a 7-footer in a suit on the sidelines to start their season. To put it simply, that sucks for the fans who stuck with the team through one of the ugliest seasons in team history. But on the bright side, this is the second year they nabbed the top prospect in the draft after an injury-induced slide down the boards.
There's plenty of reason for concern considering the nature of Embiid's foot injury. Reportedly, it's the same injury that led the the downfalls of once-great big men Yao Ming and Bill Walton. While Embiid being mentioned in the same breath as Hakeem Olajuwon from a talent standpoint is obviously a great thing, you don't want to be mentioned along with those other two when it comes to injuries.
Yao played in only eight NBA seasons, and didn't make it past 80 games in the final five. He also played just five games in what would be his last season. Walton, meanwhile, exhibited some of the most brilliant big man play ever seen in his first few years, but broke his foot during the 1977-78 season, when it looked like the Trail Blazers would steamroll to a repeat championship. He subsequently missed three of the next four seasons and was never close to the same player. Like I said, not the greatest company.
You can also look at other guys like, say, some dude named Michael Jordan, who suffered similar injuries and bounced back just fine. Embiid is a much more fluid athlete than other big men, like Greg Oden or Yao, both of whom saw their careers fall short of expectations due to injuries. He runs the floor like a gazelle, and from what guys like Chad Ford at ESPN are saying, these injuries could be caused by Embiid straight up growing too quickly and putting pressure on his body that it can't handle while it's still growing.
What Could Be
Taking an optimistic look, the Sixers just landed a remarkably talented big man who has the potential to carry the team on both sides of the floor. While he did all of his offensive damage around the rim at Kansas, Embiid has flashed the potential for a smooth jump shot, and he's reportedly draining rainbow three-pointers in his workouts. Add that to the fact that Embiid is already being compared to Olajuwon thanks to his nutty array of post moves and footwork after just a few years playing the sport - think about that for a second - and you have the potential for an absolutely dominant force on offense.
There's all the potential for Embiid to be a top-flight paint patroller if he can get healthy. He averaged 2.6 blocks per game in just over 23 minutes, which equates to a fairly absurd 4.5 blocks per 40 minutes. With his length, quickness, agility and instincts, Embiid appears to have the ability to control the game by keeping opponents out of the paint and away from the rim.
If It Fits...
This is a bit awkward, because the Sixers just got their center and defensive anchor of the future last year in Nerlens Noel. While teams shouldn't be worried about fit when they're at the top of the draft and should instead be looking at taking the best player, there are certainly going to be fit issues with Noel and Embiid when they both eventually get on the floor. While Noel was often seen working on his 20-footer before games during his redshirt year in Philly, he's a center through and through. Same can be said for Embiid with the jumper he's showing off in workouts.
Luckily, coach Brett Brown will probably have a year to figure out what to do with his new dual big men. With reports of the Sixers' second first rounder, Elfrid Payton, being dealt for overseas stash Dario Saric, the Sixers are likely going to be in tank mode yet again in 2015 with no reason to risk injury to Embiid. If and when the Kansas big man does get healthy, it could make for the most dominant defensive front line in the league.
Philly fans are going to be holding their breath on that "if."