Joel Embiid’s Frailty: Doesn’t Anybody Notice This?!?!
You know that scene in Zoolander when Mugatu screams, “Blue Steel? Ferrari? Le Tigra? They’re the same face! Doesn’t anybody notice this?!?! I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!!!”
That’s how I feel when many draft pundits claim that if Joel Embiid’s stress fracture in his back is healed, he’s a lock to be the No. 1 overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Embiid’s measurements are off the charts and big men his size simply aren’t supposed to move the way he does on the court. He’s been called “the next Hakeem Olajuwon” and “the best center prospect in a decade” based on a handful of stellar games at Kansas - most notably a nationally-televised contest vs. Oklahoma State - and pre-draft workouts against air like this one:
I hate to be the turd in the punch bowl, but I foresee an injury-plagued career for Embiid at the next level.
How many times do the bodies of NBA big men need to break down before general managers realize someone with Embiid’s frame isn’t cut out for the punishment of the next level?
The cautionary tales of bigs in recent years who have been forsaken by their bodies with injury-plagued careers - at least so far - is seemingly endless:
- Yao Ming
- Amar’e Stoudemire
- Emeka Okafor
- Andrew Bogut
- Andrew Bynum
- Al Horford
- Brook Lopez
- Greg Oden
- Anthony Davis
- Nerlens Noel
- Alex Len
And most of them didn’t have the thin frame and previous medical problems entering the NBA draft that Embiid does. Embiid’s 7-foot, 250-pound body looks like a giant twig that almost snapped in half several times last season.
He appeared dangerously close to blowing out his knee against TCU in late January like Noel the year before him:
Less than two weeks later, the breaking point for the stress fracture that built up in his back came against West Virginia on an extremely innocent-looking play:
Embiid was essentially damaged goods the rest of the season and Bill Self shut the center down for good at the beginning of March.
Reports in the media suggest that if Embiid’s stress fracture in his back is healthy, he will easily be the No. 1 picks by the Cavs on June 26th. My stance is that even if Embiid’s back is healthy now, it - along with his knees - won’t be for long in the NBA.
As pointed out by Deadspin, Embiid’s body simply wasn’t ready for college basketball after just two previous years playing hoops. And if Embiid’s frame couldn’t handle playing 28 games in college hoops at 20 minutes a night, how in the world can the Cavaliers expect it to withstand the physical pounding of the NBA 35 minutes a night, 82 games a season for 15 years?
If he built up a stress fracture at KU, just imagine how quickly Embiid’s back will be injured with the Goliaths of the NBA banging bodies with him and shoving their forearms in Embiid’s back thousands of times a season.
Drafting Embiid first overall by ignoring that possibility is insane, especially when you have the chance to draft Embiid’s teammate, Andrew Wiggins, or Duke’s Jabari Parker instead.
NBA general managers just can’t help themselves from taking players with the most projected upside, even when they realize the high probability it could blow up in their faces. GMs will always role the dice with work-out wonders (i.e. Darko Milicic), overhyped high schoolers (i.e. Kwame Brown), those with medical red flags (i.e. Sam Bowie) and bad apples (i.e. Chris Washburn) because no one wants to be the guy that missed out on the next Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett by “playing it safe.”
But Wiggins and Parker are hardly consolation prizes. If you recall, both were once considered “the next LeBron James” until all that early hype has predictably led to a backlash of scouts and pundits now picking apart every aspect of their games.
As a lifetime disappointed Cleveland sports fan, I’ve already resigned myself to the Cavaliers blowing the first overall pick - again - by ignoring all Embiid’s red flags and spending draft night by throwing ninja stars at my television.