Joel Embiid has potential to be front-court force in NBA
JUN 12, 2014 11:00a ET
As the NBA marks the 30th anniversary of perhaps its most impactful draft ever, Joel Embiid continues to draw comparisons to the first player chosen that year: Hakeem Olajuwon.
The center from Kansas by way of the west Central African nation of Cameroon and Florida's Montverde Academy could develop into a modern version of Olajuwon. Then again, Embiid could become this year's version of Nerlens Noel.
A year ago, Noel appeared to be most likely to be selected with the No. 1 pick even though his one year of college ball was cut short by an injury. His height and massive potential for growth were considered too tempting to pass up. But five teams did just that, including the Orlando Magic, while the Philadelphia 76ers were willing to chalk up last season as a time for Noel to rehabilitate his surgically-repaired left knee.
Embiid has comparable, though not identical, red flags following a stress fracture in his back which kept him out of the NCAA tournament. Teams were unable to meet with him and look at his medical records at last month's predraft camp in Chicago because he was not in attendance.
But in a private workout for league personnel later in Los Angeles, a group of talent evaluators noticed no ill effects from the stress fracture and declared Embiid -- not Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker -- the top prospect in what has been called the best draft in years.
From Noel to Greg Oden to Sam Bowie, the player the Portland Trail Blazers took second in 1984 when they could have had Michael Jordan, there has been a history of big men whose careers were overshadowed by injuries. But any team in need of a shot-blocking presence, and the Magic certainly qualify as such, would have to think long and hard about what a healthy Embiid might provide.
For someone who began taking basketball seriously only three years ago, the progress Embiid has made is staggering. He averaged 2.6 blocked shots for Kansas, but he's hardly a one-dimensional player. He has learned to shoot the jump hook and is far from a liability at the free-throw line, where he made 68.5 percent of his attempts.
Unlike Noel, Embiid has the type of strength associated with NBA centers. He has been listed at being 240 and 250 pounds, making him almost identical in stature and build to the Magic's Nikola Vucevic.
Health concerns aside, Embiid remains very much a work in progress. Some scouting reports have found fault with his lack of quickness. And like many 7-footers still learning the game, he has a tendency to bring the ball down to where smaller players have a chance to take it away or tie him up.
There are also the usual worries about how foul-prone he might be at the next level. Embiid fouled out of four of the 28 games he played, including an early-season loss to Villanova where he was on the floor for a total of only 12 minutes.
WHY THE MAGIC SHOULD DRAFT HIM
Kyle O'Quinn was their only player last season with more than 50 blocked shots. Embiid averaged a block for every nine minutes he played. So why shouldn't they draft him? He's not a reach pick like Noel and Alex Len were in last year's draft. And if they need to be patient working with him, it wouldn't be much different from when the Magic took Dwight Howard with the top pick in 2004 when many so-called experts thought the safer choice was Emeka Okafor.
WHY THE MAGIC SHOULD AVOID HIM
Could Embiid and Vucevic complement each other, or will they spend too much time running into each other? As legitimate of a question as that is, it might not matter if the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Milwaukee Bucks take Embiid first or second. The 76ers pick third, but with Noel expected to make his debut for their summer league team next month in Orlando, the likelihood of Embiid going to Philadelphia is slim.
Embiid was a standout midfielder in soccer and excelled at volleyball before attending a basketball camp hosted by Cameroon native Luc Mbah a Moute, now with the Minnesota Timberwolves.