Joel Embiid’s athleticism and shot-blocking ability have drawn comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon.
About an hour before tip-off of Game 4 between the Thunder and Clippers, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski dropped a bit of knowledge regarding two of the 2014 draft’s elite prospects.
Per Yahoo! Sports:
“Teams were furnished with a list in recent days of players planning to participate in the combine, and the absence of Embiid and Parker could further raise questions among front-office executives about the players’ health and conditioning.
Ultimately, this is a way for elite players to control how many teams have information on their medical history. While most top prospects don’t participate in the basketball elements of the combine, most make themselves available for physicals to be distributed to the 30 NBA teams.
“To be honest,” one general manager told Yahoo Sports, “I’m surprised more guys don’t do this. It’s the only thing they can really control.”
Skipping the predraft combine allows Embiid and Parker, who are both represented by the same agent group, to choose which teams are able to evaluate them once the draft order is set. Widely considered two of the top five prospects in the draft, the Bucks will almost certainly meet with both players and conduct medical evaluations.
While Parker fractured his foot nearly two years ago, his medical condition isn’t a primary concern. His motivation in foregoing the combine likely lies in the fact that he really doesn’t stand to gain anything by participating. Parker is a good athlete but not a great athlete and likely wouldn’t blow teams away with his measurables or drill performance.
The concerns with Embiid go much deeper. The rangy big man shot to the top of draft boards with dominant defensive performances for Kansas but suffered a stress fracture in his lower back near the end of the season that held him out of the Jayhawks’ final six games. Embiid is still recuperating from surgery to correct the fracture and has not been cleared for full-contact workouts.
Seven-footers with back injuries – well, any injuries, for that matter – usually raise some red flags, and Embiid is no exception. Once he’s fully recovered, teams at the top of the lottery will undoubtedly put him through a gauntlet of medical examinations. If the back checks out, Embiid will probably go in the top three based on upside alone. But if any concerns linger, the Greg Oden comparisons will start to emerge. He’s a dominant college player, but can he stay healthy?
Recent history would appear to be on Embiid’s side. Another top big man prospect, Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, suffered a torn-ACL midway through the season and still went in the top six. Granted, a stress fracture is more of a long-term concern than a torn ACL, but what Embiid showed in three-quarters of a freshman season may have been tantalizing enough to outweigh any medical apprehensions.
One final note: For what it’s worth, as ESPN’s Jeff Goodman notes, skipping the combine hasn’t exactly correlated to a drop in draft stock in recent years:
It also hasn’t correlated to many Cavaliers victories.