What is not to like about a 7’0” 250 pound center who has at times been compared to Hall of Famer, Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon? On the surface, there is not much to dislike about Joel Embiid, the Cameroon born center who played his one and only season at Kansas. However, just like every great diamond, there could be some flaws that bury deep into a precious gem, and in this case, the deep hidden flaw is his troubled back issues. For the Cleveland Cavaliers, they must now weigh just how big of a gamble it will be to take Embiid first overall in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Joel Embiid played his freshman season as a Kansas Jayhawk, posting impressive numbers and exhibiting post moves that began to make NBA scouts drool by mid-season. His lanky frame and extremely high ceiling make him one of the legitimate front-runners to be selected number one overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. It is all extremely impressive, especially considering that Embiid reportedly just took up organized basketball in 2011. In just three short years, he has progressed at an alarming rate, which makes his rate of improvement startling to NBA scouts. The main issue, though that separates him from being the hands down favorite as the top selection in this year’s draft remains his possible back problems.
Andrew Wiggins, who entered his freshman season at Kansas as the most sought after recruit in the country, found himself playing aside Joel Embiid, the up and coming recruit from Cameroon. However, as the season rolled on and Embiid began to assert himself as an ultra-skilled big man, scouts and GM’s began to take notice, and Embiid’s draft stock rose even higher than they highly touted Wiggins. A big man with exceptional footwork, and the ability to hit a short range jumper from outside the key drew the attention of opposing teams and scouts. While everything did not exactly come crashing down for Embiid and Kansas, a stress fracture to his lower back on February 8 began to highlight a couple of concerns. Those concerns were highlighted even further, following a game on March 1 that ended in a Kansas loss, but more importantly ended in Embiid again aggravating his back. His two back injuries in a one month stretch had heads turning, and forced NBA GM’s to reevaluate the potential for further injury.
Conflicting reports surrounding the status of Embiid’s back make it difficult for anyone to gauge the exact risk for teams, but a series of recent workouts have been very positive for the seven footer, and no visible signs of injury appear to be slowing him down. There is no doubt that this young player is an extreme talent, and has a ceiling that has rarely been seen in the last ten years. His potential is through the roof, but then again, the NBA is already littered with dozens of players that were drafted on upside and potential. The Cleveland Cavaliers may be taking a huge gamble if they choose Embiid, however, any true gambler would say that the bigger the bet, the bigger the reward. At 7’0″ tall, with strong moves, a nice touch around the basket, and an alarming rate of visible improvement, the possible reward seems to outweigh the possible risk for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Commentary by Johnny Caito