Some interesting news developed for both college basketball and NBA fans last night when Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid told ESPN that he is “strongly considering” staying for his sophomore season. Embiid has rapidly climbed draft boards all season, and many are discussing him as the leader to be the first overall pick in the draft. However, Embiid will wait and see how his game continues to develop before making a final decision.
Embiid has been the unexpected freshman star of the Jayhawks, as many expected the 7-footer from Cameroon to need time to develop his offensive game. Instead, Embiid is averaging 10.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG and 2.6 BPG this season while displaying a soft touch around the basket and a better array of post moves than many people expected. His presence in the post has made Kansas a complete team and one of the favorites to win the national championship.
Kansas has another highly rated recruiting class coming into Lawrence next season, led by top ranked power Cliff Alexander. If Embiid were to come back to school, the Jayhawks would surely be a top 5 team to start the season. Bill Self, his staff and Kansas fans have likely been assuming Embiid is as good as gone, so they will be thrilled to get one more year out the big man. For Embiid, another season to continue to develop offensively would make the transition to the NBA much easier and hopefully help him avoid the failures of many highly drafted centers in recent seasons.
Tanking has been very prevalent in the NBA this season, as teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks are fighting for draft position, and they could be joined by a few more franchises at the trade deadline. All of those teams will consider Embiid with an early pick, because franchise centers don’t come around very often. If Embiid were to pull out of the draft, most of the teams at the top would be very disappointed at missing the chance to add a true, game changing post player.
Obviously a lot can change between now and the draft, and if Embiid continues to have a strong season and be projected as the No. 1 overall pick, it would be in his best interest to go pro. However, as Marcus Smart showed last year, the occasional top prospect decides he’s not quite ready for the NBA and returns to school. As shocking as Smart’s decision was, Embiid returning to college would be even more stunning and would have an even greater effect on the teams at the top of the draft.