Joel Embiid is a remarkable talent whose size and freakish athleticism has GM’s across the NBA salivating like rabid dogs over his upside. His untapped potential has been alluring enough to elicit talk of him as the overall number one pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
But recently, that talk has subsided due to lingering concerns over his durability and susceptibility to injury.
Prior to last year’s NCAA Tournament, Embiid was diagnosed with a spondylolysis, which is essentially a defect in the joints that connect the vertebrae in the back together. As a result, he was shut down for the remainder of the season, which also contributed to the early exit of a once promising Kansas team in the tournament.
There is precedent that this type of injury should not be of long term concern, as Steve Nash has battled through it his entire career, and Andrew Bogut has also been able to overcome the same condition. That knowledge seemed to ease the collective minds of enough GM’s for his name to remain at the top of this year’s draft class.
However, with the recent news surfacing regarding the stress fracture in Embiid’s foot, which he underwent surgery for on Friday, there is now speculation that he could be in store for a potential free fall in next week’s draft.
Of course, we all understand the history surrounding big men in the NBA with foot problems. Sam Bowie, the man with the misfortune of being selected ahead of Michael Jordan, had his once promising career cut short due to a string of feet and leg injuries. Yao Ming also fell victim to a similar fate when a series of foot and ankle injuries forced him to miss large portions of his final six seasons, and ultimately forced him into early retirement.
Bowie and Ming Were both the number one pick in their draft class respectively, and while Ming did have notable success in Houston early in his career, both players now embody the dangers of drafting a super-sized human with an early pick in the draft.
That’s not to say there aren’t examples of similar players who go on to have great careers; Hakeem Olajuwon and Dwight Howard come to mind. And of course, Embiid has drawn countless comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon, who he actually emulated his game after by watching tapes of the Nigerian hall-of-famer, given to him by his coach in Cameroon.
And just as there are examples of players recovering from Embiid’s back injury, there are many more examples of players who overcome stress fractures in their feet. It is actually one of the more common basketball injuries.
Given this, and given the potential that Embiid will now begin to fall down the board on draft night, which team will be brave enough to take a chance on greatness?
Enter the Denver Nuggets.
The Nuggets have the 11th pick in the NBA Draft this year, and are desperately searching for a difference maker. So much so that they are seemingly in discussions with anyone who will listen about potential deals involving their pick, and players on their current roster.
Let’s assume for a minute that the Nuggets keep the 11th pick, and Embiid does in fact experience a nearly unprecedented plummet on draft day, the Nuggets would be absolutely foolish to pass up on him. In fact, they wouldn’t be remiss for exploring what options exist to move up a few spots to nab him.
For a team with virtually no chance of ever landing a superstar through free agency, the only way to force a franchise makeover is through the draft. But with the Nuggets stuck in the perpetual hell of mediocrity, the chances they will ever land a high enough draft pick to secure a superstar is worse than my chances with Scarlett Johansson.
Because of this, they must be willing to take a risk. They do not have the luxury of making the safe bet. They must double down with a six showing. Really, what do they have to lose? The Nuggets need to take the risk and draft Joel Embiid.
If he turns out to be the next Sam Bowie, they continue along the same path of NBA obscurity they are currently on. But, if through some sort of divine intervention, Embiid turns out to be the next Hakeem Olajuwon, then the Nuggets could force their way into relevance, a la Oklahoma City.
I don’t think they have a choice. This may be the only chance they have to commandeer a superstar over the next 10 years, and they must take advantage. I see no other options.
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