Given the recent news that Joel Embiid had surgery on a broken foot less than a week before the draft, he's been sliding quite a bit on many draft boards. Instead of being listed #1 or #2, he's now around 4-6 on most mock drafts. While it even still would appear unlikely that the gigantic Cameroonian would be available when the Lakers pick at #7, crazier slides have happened before without a foot surgery. Here at Silver Screen & Roll, we figured we could get one last good look at a top prospect before the draft on Thursday.
Let's learn about Joel Embiid.
Right off the bat, we start with both much of the major appeal of Embiid, as well as the main concerns. Embiid measured a massive 7'1" tall in shoes, with a 7'5.75" wingspan and a fairly ridiculous 9'5.5" standing reach. The wonders of math tell us that he can touch the rim by jumping 6.5 inches. Hey, even you could do that! One can dream.
Unfortunately, as with many tantalizing big men, there are some medical issues. About two-thirds through his only collegiate season, Embiid began to experience back issues that caused him to sporadically miss playing time, until he eventually was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his lower back. This effectively ended his career at Kansas. Embiid worked hard to mitigate any concerns about his back heading into the draft, impressing multiple teams in private workouts. According to ESPN, the Cavs had decided to draft him #1.
What we know
The first NBA Draft that really matters to Lakers fans in a decade will commence in just a few days. What can we know and what can't we know leading up to Thursday?
But then the foot thing happened. Yahoo! Sports reported in a bomb of Woj that Embiid would have surgery on his foot, resulting from a stress fracture in the navicular bone of his right foot. Yahoo! also reports that the estimated timetable for a return to basketball for Embiid would be around 4-6 months.
It certainly feels like teams had successfully talked themselves into ignoring the health concerns, and the second injury has reawakened the issue.
In terms of other physical concerns, there are a few. I spent much of the season watching Embiid being bewildered at how weak his lower body was. There were several plays that I had never seen before from a big man that usually resulted in him buckling his legs awkwardly and going to the floor. The only conclusion that I could come to was that he needed to add a significant amount of muscle in his legs and butt. This was also highlighted sometimes when he would be matched up against a significantly stronger opponent. While he was overall a good defender, he sometimes looked incredibly weak going against the rare occasional grown-ass-man type of competition. Obviously, this matchup will happen a lot more often in the NBA.
Embiid's body has possibly been the number one situation to monitor going into the NBA draft, and it certainly will be closely under watch for his rookie season, and honestly, the rest of his NBA career.
Let's quickly go over his statistical output for his freshman season at Kansas. In just 23.1 minutes per game, Embiid spotted a line of 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2.6 blocks and 0.9 steals. Very impressive all-around production, but it's more impressive when you note that he shot 62.6% from the field (65.5 TS%), also making a 68.5% clip on his free throws.
The big hole in his game from a statistical standpoint is the turnovers. He had a turnover rate of 21.6%, which translated to 2.4 turnovers per game and 4.1 per 40 minutes. That's too much. He needs to get better at passing out of the double team, and needs to cut down a bit on traveling. Embiid posted an exquisite 28.2 PER. While I might not necessarily agree, you could make a very strong argument that he was the best player on a team that would have been a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if he had remained healthy, which is crazy when you consider the short amount of time he has been playing basketball.
Now for the fun part.
Embiid was absolutely fascinating to watch his freshman season. When I first saw him play, he didn't have a single post move in his repertoire, traveled more often than not in the post, and basically looked pretty clueless out there. I had heard the whispers of people being wowed by him in practice, but I came out of his first few games with the impression that this kid had quite a long way to go.
What happened next was fairly amazing, and was the reason he shot up the draft boards at a crazy speed.
The best way I can describe it was that he was obviously improving each and every game, adding skills in seemingly every practice. Early on in the year, Kansas played a huge game vs. Duke. Embiid came off the bench, and showcased some fantastic passing out of the post that seemingly came from nowhere. He only scored 2 points, but he finished with 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and a block in 20 minutes. It was one of the more encouraging 2-point performances I've seen from a freshman in his second game.
Then he would add a hook shot. And a lefty hook. And a quick spin move. When he pulled off this Dream Shake, step-through, reverse layup, I gave up trying to explain it. He was improving his skills at a ridiculous rate. Just watch this.
His athletic ability, which I mentioned before, also enables him to do things like this:
Dunks are fun.
Another trait that Embiid has, which is tough to categorize under offensive or physical, is the way he moves on offense. Scouts and analysts alike spent much of the season drooling over the fluidity in his movement, both on the ball and off the ball. He also runs the floor extremely well for a big man, and he covers a lot of ground in a few steps.
His jumper is a bit of a question mark. Sometimes it would look very smooth and good in practice, but it didn't quite translate to the game just yet. He shot 19 of 52 (36.5%) on two-point jumpers, via Hoop-Math.com, and made 1 of his 5 attempted three pointers.
This is where I probably vary a decent amount from the common observer.
In addition to his offensive prowess, Joel Embiid impressed everyone on defense, proving to be a capable rim protector, and had 4.5 blocks per 40 minutes. And, as everyone knows, postseason voters love blocks and steals, so Embiid was awarded Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
But... he really wasn't. While Embiid proved to be a good and useful defender, he was far from the best defender in the conference. In fact, I think it's pretty obvious that he wasn't close to being the best defender on his team (Wiggins). He got confused a bit more than he should have on defense, not having the best rotations. But again, this isn't a huge problem, as he was a freshman that had only been playing basketball for a relatively short period of time.
In addition to his blocks, he committed 5.8 fouls per 40 minutes. He also had a decent amount of trouble guarding anyone with both size and strength, particularly in the post. His strength, and his upside, however, lies in becoming an elite rim protector. It is becoming increasingly apparent that this trait is incredibly valuable in the modern era of basketball, and thus still heightens his defensive value. But make no mistake: he has a long way to go on this end.
CONCLUSION & FIT
This would be an absolute steal for the Lakers if he somehow is available at #7. Again, it's highly unlikely, but crazier things have happened. If he falls, the Lakers would have the ability to perhaps draft the next great Laker big man. Kobe Bryant might not like rolling the dice on a long-term project marred by injuries, but the Lakers need to go with the best prospect in this spot, and Embiid certainly would be the best available.
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