Joel Embiid soared up the draft rankings with his impressive play at Kansas last season. People saw a potential No. 1 pick for the 2014 NBA Draft and some even saw him as a Hakeem Olajuwon clone. The talent is still there to reach that potential, but injuries may have damaged his chances of going first to the Cleveland Cavaliers next week. It could have even damaged him going second, or third, and so on.
Embiid suffered a stress fracture in his back during a Big 12 conference game against Oklahoma State that would go onto end his season, as the injury did not heal in time for the NCAA Tournament.
Fast forward to June 19th, when tests revealed that the Kansas big man had suffered a stress fracture in his foot that will be surgically repaired on June 20th, causing him to miss attending the draft.
All signs indicate that the Cavaliers are going to look at more possibilities at the top of the draft with the news that they are working out Australian combo guard Dante Exum, the draft’s man of mystery. The leader in the clubhouse for the pick seems to be Jabari Parker, who scouts call the “safest” pick of the draft. His defense will not wow anyone, but the Simeon Career Academy product has arguably the most polished offensive game in the draft.
The Cavs have had a glaring need at small forward since LeBron James left via “The Decision” in 2010. Luol Deng had a test run for half a season for them, but he did not produce as expected and the Cavaliers are probably not going to have interest in re-signing him.
The Milwaukee Bucks have shown plenty of interest in Embiid and may be willing to take the risk of selecting him at No. 2. While the foot injury will likely cause him to miss the beginning of the regular season (perhaps more), he would be able to make an impact next season. If not, they can let Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson and other young pieces continue to develop and have Embiid be able to slide right in.
It is quite possible that with new ownership in place, they may not want the franchise to select such a risky player. Andrew Wiggins and Dante Exum (assuming Parker is already taken) are definitely risks too with their high bust potential, but as of now, we know they will be able to get onto an NBA court.
If the Sixers decide to go best player available with the third overall pick, Embiid could be an option, but not a fit with Nerlens Noel in place at center already. Since one of Wiggins and Exum are likely to be available at this pick and would address greater needs, Embiid will continue to fall.
The Magic need a rim protector and Nikola Vucevic is not much of one, but he is a solid center who has justified his starting spot with 14 points and 11 rebounds per game this past season. They are more likely to select a point guard like Exum or a power forward like Indiana’s Noah Vonleh with the fourth pick.
Picks five through seven are where it gets intriguing. The Utah Jazz at No. 5 have expressed interest in power forwards and Jabari Parker. There have not been many reports of their interest in Joel Embiid, but out of speculation, it could be because they thought he would be taken in the top-four.
The organization has made it known that they are not impressed with Enes Kanter‘s production since he was drafted in 2011. The big man from Turkey floated in and out of Tyrone Corbin‘s lineup this past season and could not post consistent production. Derrick Favors is already established at the power forward spot, so picking a potential upgrade with a player they did not think would be there is a home run, even with the injury concerns. They are a sleeper destination for Embiid.
The Boston Celtics, at No. 6, have not had a real man in the middle since the days of Kendrick Perkins. Kevin Garnett played center there for a period of time, but he has always been more suited as a power forward in his career. Recent draft picks like Kelly Olynyk and Fab Melo underwhelmed when given the opportunity. Melo is currently out of the NBA and Olynyk will be destined for backup duty if Embiid is brought in.
This would eliminate the Celtic’s chances at acquiring Kevin Love, but if Embiid is there, how can they pass up a future franchise cornerstone? Injuries are obviously a factor, but by pick six, the risk is more than worth it.
Then finally, there is the Los Angeles Lakers at pick seven. If Mitch Kupchak sees Embiid’s name still available on his draft board, there would be no shock if they pounced on him. The Lakers have a need at almost every position. With only four players under contract, they simply need bodies. Dwight Howard bolted for Houston after the 2012-13 season. Chris Kaman replaced him (You could assume how that fared). Pau Gasol played center a decent amount of time as well, but management is unsure if he will be back. From Mikan, to Wilt, to Kareem, to Shaq, to Embiid? Well, he may never become that good if he cannot stay healthy, but the fact that it is a possibility could be something that is impossible to pass on. Either way, there is no way he makes it pass this pick.
Joel Embiid will be the burning topic on draft night. He could go as high as one or as low as seventh. Who knows, he could go lower if the Lakers decide to pass on him.
The team who opts to take him will be taking a risk. If Embiid can stay healthy, one team will have a franchise caliber center to call theirs.