Sunday, June 22, 2014

To Embiid or Not to Embiid?

That is the question for Orlando Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan with the NBA Draft approaching. By now the entire basketball viewing world knows that 20-year-old Joel Embiid is unable to participate in any basketball activities for the next 4-6 months following surgery on Friday to fix a stress fracture in his right foot. It's unknown how the fracture occurred. Embiid needed 2 screws inserted into his foot to help heal and support the navicular bone. This following a stress fracture in the Cameroonian's back that kept him out of the NCAA tournament.

So why do I still want 'Henny' to select Embiid with the #4 pick on Thursday? Because he's the best player in this class. He thoroughly impressed front offices with his workouts and interviews over the past month. It was well known that the Cavaliers were going to take the Kansas Jayhawk center #1 before this most recent setback. He also very well could be very similar to Hakeem Olajuwon, and Joel's only been playing basketball for a few years.

Joel's defense is already elite and his offense will only get better with more touches and honing of his skills. Embiid is highly praised as having a great work ethic and utilizing his high basketball IQ to adapt and improve on his mistakes. The 7-footer is fantastically agile and explosive for his enormous size. That's because Joel used to be a volleyball player before ever touching a basketball. If Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, and Dante Exum get taken with the top 3 picks, then Embiid is worth the risk because there is no player below Joel who can come close to bringing as much as an impact to an NBA franchise that Joel can.

The most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement has also removed some of the financial shackles that come with selecting a possible injury bust in the top five. Embiid is only getting about $3.5 million per season for the first 3 years of his contract. That's it. After that third year, the Magic can separate themselves from Joel if in fact he remains to be plagued by injuries throughout his pro career. Even if Joel is only healthy for half of his first 3 years, I still value him much higher than other #4 pick options such as Marcus Smart and Noah Vonleh.

Obviously the Magic need access to Embiid's medical files as well as speak with Joel and his agent Arn Tellem to see if he even wants to come to Orlando. If Joel shows excitement for playing in O-Town, then the Magic shouldn't avoid selecting Embiid. Even with career-long injury worries:
Dr. Jung told me this is going to be a big concern. "Having multiple stress fractures can certainly indicate a systemic problem. Stress fractures can occur due to metabolic reasons where the body's ability to heal from the stress of working out is overloaded. Factors affecting bone health include endocrine/hormones, diet, and genetics. Training regimen plays a huge factor, especially if the individual is undergoing intense workouts or a new workout regimen."
It's something that I'm sure Hennigan is talking to his medical staff and consultants about thoroughly. I know Joel's foot injury is similar to Yao Ming's, Brendan Haywood's, and others. But Joel is much younger than those guys were when they got their injuries. It's pointless to bring up Kevin McHale and Bill Walton. Medical technology and treatment strategies for these athletic injuries continuously progress at a rapid rate.

There has also been mention of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Brook Lopez, but their foot injuries were more extensive than what Embiid has gone through thus far. Joel is also much more athletic than both of those big men. And any people whispering the names of Greg Oden and Sam Bowie need to realize that they had knee problems which makes a vast difference in risk in comparison to a person's foot.

Still, it's not something to take likely. Embiid again hasn't played basketball more than 3-4 years. Joel has not acclimated himself fully to the rigors of constantly playing basketball. His body couldn't make it through a 40-game college season. Who is to say it'll ever make it through a full Summer League, training camp, preseason, 82-game regular season, and playoffs? Don't forget about potential national team duty in the future as well. It's a lot to contemplate, but that's what Rob is getting paid to do. Weigh all of the options on the table.

Just because Hennigan didn't trade Dwight Howard for Brook Lopez or Andrew Bynum doesn't necessarily indicate that he'll avoid Embiid or any other players with injuries. The Nets and Lakers didn't exactly offer great trade packages. Lopez and Bynum also both would have been massive salary cap chunk takers. Both have differing injury, health, attitude, and work ethic worries.

Hennigan could have picked Nerlens Noel with the 2nd pick in last year's draft when the Cavaliers surprising passed on him. Instead, Rob avoided the Kentucky Wildcat center who had ACL surgery and went with Victor Oladipo. For me, there is no one as great as Oladipo or Embiid to select at #4 come June 26th.

We all know that Hennigan and Head Coach Jacque Vaughn will be entering their 3rd season together, and obviously they'll be expected to boost the team to win 30+ games in '14-'15 to show to the DeVos family and Magic fans that they're progressing toward becoming a championship contender. The pressure to have their #4 and #12 draft picks come in and contribute immediately is there, but it can't cloud prospect evaluations.

Barring Exum, Parker, or Wiggins falling to them, Joel Embiid is the best talent available at #4. Even if he sits half the season or even his entire first season. This Magic team without Embiid will be good enough to win 30+ games. Add Joel into the mix come January, and a playoff berth isn't out of the question.

But Adam, why draft a center when we already have Nikola Vucevic? Because our Montenegrin isn't a rim protector in the way that Embiid is. The 20-year-old is going to enter the NBA immediately as one of the best big men defenders in basketball. Joel is mobile enough that he can play PF next to Nik in the frontcourt to create a new twin towers. Embiid can shoot the jumper, and post-up, so he and Nik will be able to play on offense together without too large of a concern about crowding the paint. Both are also above average passers for their stature. That'll make any coaching staff smile at the possibilities of panicking the opposition.

Why the dislike for Marcus Smart and Noah Vonleh?  Let's take a look.

The Magic probably would have selected Smart over Victor Oladipo had Marcus remained in the Draft last year. Unfortunately for Smart, he stayed another year at Oklahoma State only to not improve his game or his perceived image. Marcus is a bad shooter who worsened his assist-to-turnover ratio and also had folks question his character with his incident with the fan and some questionable emotional outbreaks on the court.

Smart is also an inch shorter than Oladipo and having a 6'3" and 6'4" backcourt pairing could be an issue considering both have similar styles. If the Magic picked 5th and Exum, Embiid, Wiggins, and Parker were off the board, I would more than happy with taking Marcus. It's just Smart isn't the correct choice at #4.

Vonleh has youth on his side in being only 18 years old, but he's more of an athlete with huge hands and a great wingspan than an actual basketball player in my eyes. Noah got taken advantage of by lesser competition on both ends of the court and never displayed nearly enough aggressiveness. His lack of explosiveness mirrors that of Andrew Nicholson and that's a problem despite his size. I don't believe a low basketball IQ fits well with what Hennigan and Vaughn are building in Orlando.

I value Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, and Dario Saric more than I do Vonleh. If the Magic take the Indiana Hoosier, I hope he proves me wrong.

To emphasize once more, if Wiggins, Parker, and Exum are all snatched up when it comes time for the 4th pick, then Joel Embiid should be the selection as the best player available. As long as Hennigan does his homework (which he will) and Embiid along with his representation are ecstatic at the possibility of landing in Orlando, then Joel is a rare talent that the Magic can't pass up on. I know folks are still traumatized by Grant Hill's 7-year Magic nightmare, but calculated risks need to be taken. I deem selecting Embiid to be one of those.

Smart or Vonleh are considered safer picks but their impacts are limited in comparison to what a healthy Joel can provide. Embiid not playing in his first professional season could still translate into Joel being a main piece to a potential basketball dynasty. Can you say that about any other prospect available at #4?

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