Weight: 240 lbs.
At the start of the 2013-2014 college basketball season, many basketball pundits viewed the upcoming NBA Draft with admiration for two players: Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins and Duke freshman Jabari Parker. Perhaps, some mused, the draft was three-pronged at the top, with Kentucky’s Julius Randle off to a blistering start.
But one player who was not in discussion as the top overall prospect was Wiggins’ teammate at Kansas— Joel Embiid.
A bit of an unknown, Joel Embiid entered the college basketball season for just his third year of organized basketball. The Cameroonian had been discovered by former Milwaukee Buck and fellow countryman, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, in Cameroon. Mbah A Moute helped serve as an adviser to the ex-soccer and volleyball player, helping him land at a prep school in Florida. Embiid was known by basketball zealots as an intriguing athlete that would be a likely top ten pick if he were to show some of the same flashes at Kansas that he had shown at The Rock School in Gainesville, Fla.
As the college basketball season progressed, NBA fans and organizations began projecting a new name at the top of the ’14 draft.
The Good Stuff
What basketball observers saw from Embiid, as the college basketball season played out, was a prospect that took great strides from game to game in his development. Expert footwork, a medley of post moves and a buttery touch around the basket soon had executives rearranging their draft boards.
Embiid also exhibited great shooting form and ability. In his workout for the Cleveland Cavaliers last week, he reportedly ended by showing his range from the NBA 3-point arc. Embiid does a lot of little things well, too. He uses angles well and does a nice job of getting position in the post. One of Embiid’s most impressive developments this season was his reaction to the double team. The 7-foot center showed the ability to dribble out of the paint and find an open teammate—often quickly identifying the open man on the perimeter and jumping while firing a rocket-like pass right on target.
Embiid seemingly can do it all on the offensive end. At Kansas, he averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game and shot a jaw-dropping 62 percent from the field. His skillset has the old school look of a back-to-the-basket center, as his myriad of post moves, coupled with his length, size and agility, make him a rarity. But one of the underrated parts of his game is his versatility to also play a modern big man’s game.
Embiid’s range to 15-18 feet means that his defender will have to honor him from away from the basket. His solid handle and agility have already showed plenty of promise in equating to a dangerous face-up game. He has the potential to be a true inside/outside threat on the offensive side of the ball, not unlike Tim Duncan.
Defensively, Embiid’s footwork and length will cause opposing teams trouble. The Cameroonian’s nimble lateral quickness is so sharp that he managed to wall off guards attempting to drive baseline last season. He also showed flashes of elite shot-blocking, thanks in large part to his excellent quickness.
The Bad Stuff
Today, everything we thought we knew about the 2014 NBA Draft was jumbled when multiple outlets reported that Embiid sustained a foot injury—later reported to be a stress fracture. This will likely take him out of consideration for the Bucks at No. 2 but with rumors swirling of Milwaukee having interest in acquiring an additional pick—the Bucks could take a flyer on him later on.
Embiid’s season ended early due to a stress fracture in his spine. Understandably, the injury has sparked much discussion among fans and teams on whether or not he is worthy of a top pick with such worrisome injury concerns. Embiid reportedly is fully recovered from the injury but his foot problem is worrisome. Seven-footers have busted too many times to make teams comfortable with Embiid. Suddenly he has become a true wild card. If he can’t get through a college season, how can he withstand an 82-game regular season, plus a postseason? Is he susceptible to more stress fractures or injuries further down the road? These are the questions that teams will frantically look to answer over the next week.
The rhetoric that Embiid will come in and be an effective shot-blocker in the league might someday come to fruition. However, his defensive impact could be further behind than his offensive impact. While Embiid managed to have multi-block games at Kansas, his defensive awareness seemed a tick behind at times. He was able to recover thanks to his lateral quickness—often gliding across the paint to challenge an offensive player’s shot. However, Embiid will be up against better athleticism in the NBA and will need to make quicker reads to challenge shots.
As Embiid works on his face-up game, he’ll need to continue to work on his handle. While his handle isn’t bad for a big right now, it is something that could be improved to take his game to another level. Finally, Embiid often brings the ball low when executing his moves in the paint. This will be exploited by steal-hungry guards in the league and will need to be corrected at the next level.
How He Fits
There just aren’t many 7-footers that enter the league with this kind of a skillset on the offensive end. If Embiid falls to the Bucks at No. 2, he figures to slide into the starting lineup almost immediately. With the cloudy future of Larry Sanders in question, Embiid might be the starting center if the former is moved. However, a Sanders/Embiid front court could be interesting. The defensive potential would excite and the duo could be OK offensively as well. Embiid has the ability to stretch the defense and operate outside of the paint, whereas Sanders’ little offensive value comes with him stationed as near the rim as possible. But fit should not be of the utmost importance. Aside from Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks have very few long-term building pieces. Best player available should be the Bucks’ main priority when selecting at No. 2 June 26.