Big men are scary enough when drafting first overall. You’ll see names such as Greg Oden and Sam Bowie come up in conversations about whether or not a team should take the top center prospect in the draft with the first or second overall pick. Those failures in the past, plus murky health, makes for a very difficult position for those drafting at the very top.
To the dismay of the Cleveland Cavaliers, it seems like history is repeating itself. With the top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the second time owning that pick in the last two years and their fourth in the last 12, Cleveland has a choice to make. Last season, it was Nerlens Noel that was thought to be the top prospect in the 2013 draft. An ACL tear in Florida later, Noel was still considered an option at No.1 for the Cavaliers, but they elected to go with Anthony Bennett instead, fearing that Noel’s knee may be more trouble than it was worth putting up with.
Noel dropped to the sixth overall pick, was selected by the New Orleans Pelicans and then traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. He missed the entire 2013-14 NBA season but hopes to finally suit up in the 2014-15 season. Bennett didn’t work out too well this past year, but showed signs of improvement as the season went along.
Now, once again owning the top pick in what’s considered as the deepest and most talented draft since 2003, Cleveland was, by all accounts, leaning towards taking the top center prospect. Despite his already injured back and the concerns that came along with it, Joel Embiid was the favorite to be the top pick in the 2014 draft. A raw, talented and learning center who just picked up basketball a few years ago after spending most of his life as a volleyball player, Embiid made fans and general managers swoon with his growth at Kansas.
Embiid had a solid year for the Jayhawks and continued to grow as the season progressed, helping Kansas claim their 10th-straight Big-12 conference championship. However, Embiid suffered a back injury late in the year and was forced to miss the Big-12 Tournament. The hope was that he’d be healthy enough to return should Kansas make it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Kansas never made it out of the first weekend and Embiid missed both games, ending his collegiate career.
Putting his name into the draft even with the concerns on his back, Embiid was challenging Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins for the top overall selection. Parker and Wiggins had been battling it out since high school to see who would be the top prospect in this draft class, but it was Embiid who came in and stole the spotlight.
He skipped the Draft Combine and looked to work out solely in individual workouts for top teams picking in the draft. Embiid made it through one workout with the Cavaliers. On Thursday, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported that Embiid suffered a foot injury, possibly a broken foot. Coupling that with the already questionable back that has been gaining mixed reviews after a physical exam by the Cavs, it’s now possible that one of the top prospects in the draft falls much like Noel did last year.
The question remains as to what the extent of the foot injury actually is. If it’s a broken foot, that’s something completely different as opposed to say a sprain. However, no matter what the extent of the injury is, this could impact Embiid in a big way.
Big men get a reputation for being guys that are supposed to be durable and withstand contact in the paint. They’re the physical beings on the basketball court, initiate the contact and do whatever it takes to protect the rim. A bad back is not very good for a center to have and adding on a foot injury is even worse. Those are two very important aspects to a basketball player’s body and if they aren’t healthy going into the NBA, then the growing concern is just going to keep growing.
There’s always the possibility that these injuries are flukes and we shouldn’t read to much into them, but big men are already risky. If you take one who already has medical baggage, especially after such a short period of time playing organized basketball like Embiid has, the concerns are understandable.
All of this leaves Cleveland in an awkward position. For the second year in a row, they’ve had a chance to take a game-changing center, one that can certainly help their defense and improve their offense in the near future. Everything in the draft has a ripple effect and relies upon what the Cavaliers do with the top pick. Should they decide to pass him up, that could be enough of a warning sign to teams just below the Cavs in the draft order to look elsewhere as well.
Passing up on Embiid is understandable and he could possibly fall out of the top three picks. If that is the case, you could see a Dante Exum, Noah Vonleh or Julius Randle sneak up in the draft this year. Letting his slide past the sixth pick to the Boston Celtics would be a remarkable drop, though. He’s too good to let slide for too long, but that’s what the Cavaliers are dealing with right now.
Cleveland’s in a similar spot to what they were in last year with Noel. There are certainly other options for the top overall pick, but if they were in love with Embiid as their top option like most say they were, then that makes for a tough choice. Do they risk it and go with Embiid first overall anyway? Or do they pass him up, go with either Parker or Wiggins and say they still have one of the best players in the draft?
The draft process is all about making choices and taking risks. The Cleveland Cavaliers just so happen to have to make a choice and take a risk at the highest possible level for the second straight year. God speed, Cavs.