The Cleveland Cavaliers will likely have the ninth pick in this upcoming draft. In the next few weeks here at Right Down Euclid, we will be profiling players the Cavaliers might draft in the first round on June 26th. Today, we profile Kansas center Joel Embiid. Click here for more draft profiles.
Tale of the Tape
Name: Joel Embiid
Weight: 240 lbs.
Honors: 2014 All-America 2nd Team, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, All-Big 12 2nd Team
2013-2014 Per Game Stats: 11.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 2.6 BPG, 62.6 FG%, 68.5 FT%
Joel Embiid burst onto the scene this past season as somewhat of an unknown, taking Kansas by storm and turning from potential mid-1st round project to consensus top five pick. The Cameroonian center has only been playing basketball for three or four years, but has shown immense potential on both ends already. There are questions about the health of his back, but Embiid’s potential to be the next dominant center in the NBA has him as a near lock to be a top-three pick in June.
Embiid’s physical tools are a major reason he’s a top prospect. You really can’t teach 7-feet tall with a 7’5” wingspan, and Embiid’s height and length have a lot of teams excited by themselves. Embiid is also very fleet of foot for a man that size, flashing great lateral quickness and the ability to run the floor. Embiid should be quick enough to operate in a wide-open, fast-paced system, and has the potential to be the anchor of a strong defense. That seems like the two things most teams want in a modern NBA center.
The big issue with Embiid’s athleticism and physical profile is the back injury. The injury, a vertebral fracture known as a spondylolysis, is one that if treated conservatively, should not bother him in the future. It’s the main reason he didn’t join the NBA Draft Combine, and probably will have sparse workouts with teams leading up to the draft. Jeff Stotts of Rotowire breaks down the injury better than I could here. Based on everything I’ve read about the injury, it appears that Embiid’s injury is being handled correctly, and this injury should not bother him in the future.
Embiid is probably more raw on the offensive end than the defensive end. However, Embiid’s current skill set offensively will allow him to still have an impact. Embiid’s a strong finisher, both in transition and in the halfcourt. He is decent at filling space as well, and his immediate role will likely be as an outlet option on offense. Embiid projects to be an excellent pick-and-roll big, although he doesn’t have much experience with it. His quickness and length should help him be able to finish over pretty much anyone. Embiid has displayed a little bit of high post ability as well, with good shooting touch and decent court vision. His decision making could use some work, but that’s probably a product of his inexperience. The post game is also a little behind where you’d want it to be, but it will come with time, and Embiid has the beginnings of a smooth spin move and a great righty hook. To expect Embiid to be an 18-20 point scorer at his peak is completely in the realm of possibility.
Defensively, Embiid has the potential to be a monster. Embiid was often allowed to float around on the defensive end at Kansas, and it allowed him to block a ton of shots at the rim, and display his potential as a rim protector at the next level. Embiid has excellent timing when contesting shots, and he is adept at making plays on the ball, even when he gets beat off the dribble. His lateral quickness lets him play a little bit of free safety, and means he will have some great potential as a pick-and-roll defender in the right system. Post defense is his biggest question mark, as he allows deep position easily and might not be strong enough to handle bigger players like a Dwight Howard or Brook Lopez. However, as he adds strength, that should become better, as should his rebounding. He has great instincts and uses his length and quickness to overcome his lack of ideal strength, and he should be a dominant rebounder at the next level.
Embiid is woefully inexperienced, and a lot of the things he struggles with currently are due to that. Defensive positioning, pick-and-roll finishing, and shot selection are all things that take experience and confidence to execute regularly, and Embiid should eventually get better at all of these things. He’s only played basketball for four years, after all, and it shouldn’t be something that he struggles with when he’s 25, but will when he’s 20. Embiid might take awhile to develop, but the peak has the potential to be elite. He wants to learn, wants to get better, and seems like the kind of player that would be really great with teammates on and off the floor.
It’s very hard for me to watch Embiid play and not see some Alonzo Mourning to him. Zo was a box score stuffer who could do pretty much anything you would ask a center to do. In particular, Zo was a great defensive presence with a similar frame to Embiid, and also made a mark as a great defensive rebounder. I think peak Embiid closely resembles Mourning, in that he’ll be the captain of a great defensive team that can also get you 20 points routinely.
How Does He Fit on the Cavaliers?
I think Embiid is a perfect fit for the Cavs. They need a center who can protect the rim and who will grow into a complimentary inside scorer. Embiid fits that bill, and his size and quickness inside would be useful on both ends. Ideally, Embiid would step into the middle of the Cavs defense and be an anchor for a young core to rely on, and offensively would be able to make a mark as a pick-and-roll finisher with Kyrie Irving, and also eventually give the Cavs a consistent post presence that they’ve lacked in the last few seasons. Embiid is the best fit of any of the three top prospects in this year’s draft.