The 2014 NBA Draft just got a lot more crowded. Kansas big man Joel Embiid announced he would be declaring for this year’s draft, joining big names like Andrew Wiggins and Marcus Smart, who entered the draft in the past week.
Embiid is a massive prospect who could be a real force down low at the next level. There are definitely questions about his polish and durability (he has back issues), but he remains a very intriguing talent that many feel will be the draft’s No. 1 pick.
Embiid may not be quite ready to make an enormous impact as a rookie, but in a league starving for high impact bigs, anyone picking first overall will certainly have to consider his potential. On the flip-side, Embiid is so big and talented that it wouldn’t be insane to see him bust out as a rookie. That could be music to fantasy basketball owners’ ears.
While the current NBA and fantasy basketball season isn’t even over yet, it’s never too early to analyze how incoming rooks might fare in the fantasy realm. Let’s first take a look at Embiid’s game and then try to figure out how he might project in year one, depending on who might draft him:
A true seven-footer with great overall size, Embiid is a naturally gifted athlete and is especially fluid and nimble for how big he is. Embiid has exceptional control and balance, and is already a solid scorer despite only playing basketball since 2011. An adept shot-blocker, Embiid has good location ability and has the size and strength to be a factor on the defensive end. He can face-up to the basket and hit open jumpers out to the college three. He has the potential to be a real force in the paint, especially with his back to the basket. He’s proven to be a very solid passer and has good court awareness and knows how to get his teammates involved and where to be on offense. His ability to already piece things together while on the court is very encouraging for his long-term upside. His length might be his most exciting physical attribute, as he can be a game-changer on the defensive side by either rejecting opposing shots or altering them.
Embiid’s potential is clearly through the roof and how good he is already despite only playing since 2011 is certainly encouraging, but his lack of experience still has to be troubling. He is still quite raw offensively, and isn’t as explosive as a lot of recent premiere center prospects. He still can map out his movements at times, which makes him predictable and easier to defend. He won’t be able to rely on just his size and strength at the next level, making his development as a shooter and how much better his footwork can get all the more crucial. Embiid is surprisingly not a terrible free-throw shooter despite his size and inexperience, but still shot below 70 percent at Kansas and should look to improve in this area.
Potential Landing Spots: Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic
These three teams have the worst records in the league, so it’s more likely than not that one of the three will pick No. 1 overall this year. Nikola Vucevic is a pretty solid center who still has considerable upside, so the Magic drafting Embiid seems a little drastic at this point. It’s possible they could bring him in and develop him behind Vucevic, or even draft him and then trade Nikola. It’s not easy to find solid, productive centers, though, and since Vuc is more of a sure, proven player, it wouldn’t be a suggested move for the Magic.
That probably means it’s going to come down to the Bucks or Sixers, and it looks like if either are at the top, they’ll take Embiid. Philly does have Henry Sims, who has really come around as their center, but he’s nowhere near Embiid’s talent level or potential. He could still be a serviceable backup or stop-gap starter until Embiid is ready, however. Embiid’s fantasy value would be tough to gauge when you also factor in Nerlens Noel, however.
The ideal spot right now would be the Bucks, both for his immediate fantasy value as well as his long-term potential. The Bucks have clearly soured on Larry Sanders, while Zaza Pachulia simply isn’t an ideal starting center. Landing Embiid could give Milwaukee their first legit talent at center since they drafted Andrew Bogut No. 1 overall.
Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Orlando currently hold the best odds to land the No. 1 pick, and for now that makes them the three most likely teams to draft Joel Embiid. With that said, they’re not exactly the best fit. Ideally, for Embiid’s sake, a team like the Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers would somehow get the top pick via the draft lottery.
The NBA would probably love this, too, as it would guarantee one of the league’s most storied franchises gets a potential superstar. Both of these teams badly need a big man as well. Boston really is depending on replacement-level talent that is undersized or not quite skilled enough, while the Lakers will have just three players under contract when the season ends. Unless Pau Gasol returns, they’ll have a massive hole in the paint. Embiid wouldn’t necessarily make up for that right away in 2014, but he surely would be a talent worth investing in for the future.
Regardless of where he goes, Embiid does not figure to make an immediate impact in either realm of basketball. He really needs to take the time to get bigger and stronger, while also perfecting his back to the basket skills and getting even more fluid on offense. Look for Joel Embiid to have a role as a rookie, but probably not one that stretches more than 20 minutes per game.
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