Top center prospect Joel Embiid out of Kansas has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in the navicular bone of his right foot and will undergo corrective surgery, as reported by multiple media outlets. The surefire top-three pick will almost definitely see his draft stock take a hit with just one week for teams to absorb this huge injury news, and this could lead to a big shake up in how the draft plays out.
Navicular bone stress fractures are serious. It's the same type of foot injury that damaged the careers of Yao Ming, Bill Walton and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, as Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix notes. A draft that was already hard to project just got a bit murkier, but ESPN's Chad Ford immediately updated his mock draft (Insider) to reflect Embiid's injury. Embiid drops out of Ford's top-three, but he doesn't go into a full free fall like Nerlens Noel did last year. Instead, he'll be drafted with the fourth selection as the next Orlando Magic franchise center:
If Exum falls to No. 4, the Magic will have serious interest. If Embiid falls to No. 4, he might be too tantalizing for Orlando to pass up. Orlando is in desperate need of a rim protector and an athletic frontcourt player to pair with Nikola Vucevic.
While drafting Embiid will be a risk, he might have too much upside for them to pass up at No. 4, especially when they have another pick in the lottery. If the Magic is scared off by Embiid's injury, Noah Vonleh is also a possibility here.
Embiid's injury vaults Australian point guard Dante Exum to the Philadelphia 76ers with the third-overall pick, and Ford believes the shake-up will affect Philadelphia more than the other top-three teams. He also slyly notes that if the 76ers do want to rotate in the rookie point guard they may shop 2013 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams for a second lottery pick in the draft.
How could this affect the Lakers?
Ford's mock aside, this could change a great deal for the Lakers. If executives are spooked by the nature of Embiid's injuries -- a back injury and a stress fracture of his foot -- then there's a possibility he falls even further than the top-four. It seems unlikely either the Cavaliers or Bucks will gamble on an injury that has debilitated careers when there are ready, and healthy, top prospects still on the board. Would the 76ers be willing to wait out another season with another big man, especially when pairing him with Noel is a questionable fit to begin with?
More on the Lakers
More on the Lakers
There's a compelling case for Orlando to take Embiid and run with a top-three talent, but there are still plenty of high-profile prospects to choose from. The Utah Jazz could go big-and-bold with a frontcourt rotation of Embiid, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, but that's another odd fit with frontcourt talent already in place.
That brings us to six, where the Boston Celtics could roll the dice on nabbing a franchise big man while they continue their rebuild efforts. If Boston passes, then the Lakers are on the clock with a giant decision to make. Can the Lakers afford to be the team that gives a monster prospect a chance to recover for a season? Can they confidently pass over a big man who would have been a lottery pick otherwise?
In a worst case, the Lakers could be scared off like the other six teams who passed and end up out of desired prospects. This is a year where Los Angeles has to make contact with their first-round pick and if Embiid falls, at least one player expected to be in the Lakers' range will have to rise, limiting their options.
Should the Lakers front office decide against taking a chance on Embiid's health, this could be a tough position for Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak to be in. Or they could be right in the position they want, potentially drafting a lottery bound talent without the luck of ping pong balls on their side. Injuries are never good, and this Embiid earthquake might leave the Lakers feeling the aftershocks on June 26 when they're on the clock. For better or worse.