For the second straight year the Philadelphia 76ers selected an injured big man that may have gone first overall if healthy. This time it was center Joel Embiid, a player with nearly limitless potential.
He is the best two-way big man to come out of the college ranks in a long, long time. Unlike most big men, Embiid runs the floor like a gazelle and is one of the more fluid 7-footers you will ever see on a basketball court. Make no mistake about it, if it weren’t for a recent stress fracture in both his back and foot, he would have been the 1st overall selection in a deep draft.
That speaks to his immense potential. The other scary thing is he has only been playing basketball for four seasons. He didn’t pick up a basketball until he was 16-years-old. That is both scary bad and scary good. It is scary good because, despite only playing basketball for four years, Embiid is already showing uncanny ability in the post and possesses a great feel for the game.
Imagine what he will be when he really polishes the physical and mental aspects of his game. The downside is he has already amassed two significant injuries despite only playing four seasons of basketball. That is certainly a major red flag.
None of these guys are without risk, but make no mistake about it, Embiid is the biggest boom or bust player in this draft. If he hits, I think Embiid will be the best player in this draft and I am not sure it’s even close.
If not, it could be Greg Oden or Sam Bowie all over again. For the Sixers, it was worth the risk. The alternatives of guys like Dante Exum or Aaron Gordon weren’t enticing enough to pass on a potential franchise changer like Embiid. Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie is certainly putting his neck on the line though.
The Sixers will either be an eventual powerhouse with this move or Hinkie will be out on the streets. Hinkie is playing the long game again with Embiid being shelved for the majority if not all of this season, and their other lottery selection Dario Saric spending two seasons playing overseas in Turkey.
Painfully, neither of the Sixers lottery selections will in all likelihood see any playing time this season. No doubt their will be backlash from fans especially season ticket holders. Hinkie’s worried about the long term though. He isn’t trying to be stuck in the middle. He’s pushing all his chips in to become a perennial title contender. The San Antonio Spurs model of building around a dominant big man is at work here.
The difference here is the real wild card of Embiid’s short and long term health. Hinkie is playing with fire. This team will eventually ignite into an Eastern conference powerhouse or Hinkie will eventually burn.