Friday, February 12, 2016

Sixers should avoid Joel Embiid in 2014 NBA Draft

It goes without saying that the Sixers face some big decisions in the upcoming NBA Draft.

Sixers should avoid Joel Embiid in 2014 NBA Draft

Kansas center Joel Embiid (21) pushes off West Virginia forward Devin Williams, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. Embiid scored 11 points in the game. Kansas defeated West Virginia 83-69. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Kansas center Joel Embiid (21) pushes off West Virginia forward Devin Williams, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. Embiid scored 11 points in the game. Kansas defeated West Virginia 83-69. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

It goes without saying that the Sixers face some big decisions in the upcoming NBA Draft.

They are guaranteed a pick in the top 5, and with any luck, the pick ends up in the top two. (Also with some luck, they will have another pick from the Pelicans).

The 2014 Draft could work to greatly shape the future of the franchise, as the picks - in addition to freshly-minted Rookie of the Year Carter-Williams - could form the foundation with which the team is built.

The Sixers will have several intriguing options wherever they select, and wise selection-making will be beyond important.

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(Like Sam Hinkie doesn’t know that.)

With that being said, the Sixers might want to stay away from Kansas center Joel Embiid, tempting as his selection may seem.

Embiid possess elite athleticism and ability for his size, and has been labeled the best center prospect in a decade. He has drawn comparisons to Tim Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon, and is projected by many as the best overall prospect in the draft.

Considering all of this then, why would the Sixers steer clear?

Well, there are a couple of red flags around Embiid, as well as broader concerns about bigs - and their transition to, and longevity in the league.

The first issue with Embiid is injury. He doesn’t have a long-term track record of serious injury issues, but he did miss all of Kansas' conference tournament and NCAA tournament games. Any injuries in young players, especially centers, are a concern.

A bad back caused Embiid to miss the end of his college career. Even though he and those backing himhave been insisting that the back isn’t an issue, it has to be taken into consideration.

This isn’t a broken bone; a bad back, even if healed for the moment, could be a lingering issue. That's especially true considering the wear-and-tear it would be subject to throughout an NBA career. If Embiid's back was starting to bother him after a single 30-game college season, how is it going to hold up in the fourth year of his career after multiple 80-plus game seasons?

We’ve seen big guys’ bodies break down again and again: Yao Ming, Pervis Ellison, Andrew Bynum, and of course, Greg Oden.

The Sixers can’t afford to be the 2014 version of the Blazers, who selected Greg Oden over MVP Kevin Durant, especially considering the obvious perimeter potential in the draft.

Sure, Embiid has an upside, but it would be devastating for the organization to pass on Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker for a big man who could wind up with a career full of injury issues.

Embiid could develop into the league’s next great big, but the risk factor is high, especially considering the players that could be potentially passed in his favor.

The next issue is that the necessity, and even the benefit, of possessing a traditional, dominant big, is dwindling.

This isn’t the NBA of decades past anymore, where seemingly every solid squad was stacked with a star center. There was Patrick Ewing in New York, Alonzo Mourning in Charlotte, Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston, David Robinson in San Antonio, Shaquille O’Neal in Orlando and so on.

The league now boasts far fewer traditional, back-to-the-basket bigs, and they are certainly not a prerequisite to having a top team at this point. Miami, the league’s defending champion, employs a lineup that basically consists of four forwards. This shift toward small-ball and floor spacing is consistent across the league’s landscape.

Centers are now as valued for their ability to get up and down the floor, and for being able to lure a defender out of the paint, as they are for their ability to play in the post.

Having a traditional, back-to-the-basket center requires a slower type of tempo than Brett Brown may be interested in pursuing.

A blending of fast and slow paces is possible, sort of in the way that Houston has incorporated Dwight Howard’s traditional post play into their streaking style, but it can be difficult. An athletic wing who can put the ball in the basket seems more of a natural fit for Brown and the resurgent Sixers.

The history of the NBA is filled with high-potential post players that didn’t pan out: Sam Bowie, Michael Olowokandi, Eddy Curry, Kwame Brown, Oden, and many more. It is too early - not to mention unfair - to lump Embiid in with these individuals, as he could develop into a productive professional.

But the precedent of highly-touted bigs who end up struggling to succeed is well-documented. Embiid’s injury issues, however minor they may be at this point, serve as a concern.

Considering the gravity of the Sixers’ looming draft day decisions, it may be in the team’s best interest to avoid the risks that would surround drafting Embiid, and look elsewhere instead. 

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