In this age of grab the money and run, the decision Wednesday by Kansas’ Joel Embiid to bypass his final three years of college eligibility to enter the NBA draft was about as easy as whether or not to say “yes” if Kate Upton asked a bachelor out on a date.
Four years ago, Embiid had never played the game. In a couple of months, he’ll sign a contract that, if he manages his money smartly, will set him up comfortably for life. He’ll probably sign a few more deals that will have an arm’s length worth of zeroes.
It doesn’t matter that Embiid isn’t ready. I think everyone knows he’s not. But given the dearth of big men in the NBA now, a 7-footer with his potential is like a dinosaur. It just doesn’t come along.
Embiid probably will go No. 1. Too many NBA scouts see him as the next Hakeem Olajuwon or Dikembe Mutumbo. Never mind that he played less than a season at Kansas and has back issues. Freakish athleticism such as Embiid’s doesn’t grow on trees.
When Embiid arrived in Lawrence, he was seen as a project. But it didn’t take long for his game to take off. He had some dominating games, but by February his body had broken down. His off-and-on back problems lingered and finally he suffered a stress fracture that shut him down three weeks before the NCAA Tournament. Without their enforcer at the rim, KU was just another team, given its lack of defense and muscle.
Embiid’s stock will never be higher, which is probably the main reason he’s going. He’ll be a top pick no matter what year he comes out, so why not now. The team that drafts him had better realize how much more development there is, that he’s not even close to being a finished product. He’s not going to be an All-Star for at least three years, maybe more. You also have to wonder if the nightly poundings will cause his back problems to flare up again. He doesn’t want his back to be the equivalent to Greg Oden’s knees.
Embiid also has been in this country for just a short time. He reportedly just obtained his driver’s license and my guess is he’s somewhat socially challenged. He probably hasn’t spent a lot of time in large groups and hounded by the media night after night.
The common sense side of me says Embiid would have benefitted from another year at KU. Can you imagine what kind of monster noted KU weight coach Andrea Hudy would have turned him into with a full year under her strict command? My guess is he would have been chiseled and probably pushed around collegians next year like a rag doll.
Another year also would have allowed him to polish his offensive skills. While he has good footwork, is he going to be able to score against players of similar size, unlike the 6-7 Thomas Gipson of Kansas State and all those smallish Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Iowa State inside players that he went up against this past season?
Embiid made his mark in Lawrence in a short time. KU fans loved his enthusiasm and zest for the game. They were wowed by his flashes of domination. It was a stopover that unfortunately didn’t last long enough.
I hope Embiid does make it. He seems like such a good kid and you want good things to happen to good people. I don’t think he’ll ever be an Olajuwon, but he should be a serviceable pro for years go come.