Will Joel Embiid be the Next Greg Oden?

After news broke this week announcing that Philadelphia 76er big man Joel Embiid will undergo another surgery on his injured right foot, we really don’t want to, but we have to ask if Embiid will become the next Greg Oden. What seems like an all-too-obvious comparison is going to be what everyone is thinking if the former Kansas star cannot recover from the injuries he has suffered early on in his career. So will Joel Embiid be the next Greg Oden? And if so, how does this impact Embiid’s future in the NBA as well as the Philadelphia 76ers moving forward?

Will Joel Embiid be the Next Greg Oden?

If we take a look at the career arcs of both big men starting with their lone college season through to the start of their second NBA season, the similarities are all too striking. Embiid was a rising star his freshman season at Kansas after moving to the United States while in High School. Embiid and Kansas teammate Andrew Wiggins took the NCAA by storm and were given high praise as well as high expectations. Embiid won the Big-12 Defensive Player of the Year Award as a freshman and made the All-Big-12 Second Team with averages of 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. After his breakout season, talk began of Embiid surpassing his teammate Wiggins and fellow freshman Jabari Parker as the front runner to be taken with the number one overall pick in the NBA draft. What was a great regular season for Embiid ended poorly, as a stress fracture in his back forced him to miss the Big-12 Tournament along with the NCAA Tournament. The lingering back injury was a cause for concern among NBA teams, causing Embiid to slip to the 76ers with the third overall choice in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Oden was a much more heralded prospect coming out of high school, where his susceptibility to injury had already taken hold. Oden suffered a broken wrist in his senior year that forced him to miss the beginning of his only season at Ohio State. However, after returning to the lineup, Oden became an All-American as a freshman averaging 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks per game. Oden was a force on the glass and defensively in the paint, and was hailed by many as a once-in-a-generation type player. He led Ohio State to the NCAA Tournament final before declaring for the 2007 NBA draft, where he would infamously be taken first overall by the Portland Trail Blazers, ahead of future NBA MVP Kevin Durant.

Two oft-injured big men taken in the first three picks of the NBA draft, with scouts calling them franchise changers. Each, even with a checkered injury history was apparently worth the risk of using a high draft pick on them. After all, great NBA big men can change the course of a franchise, and these two were some of the best to come around in over a decade, two defensive monsters that could control the paint and the boards, while being proficient on the offensive side of the ball. A look the stat sheet and the scouting report would show two All-Star caliber NBA Centers for a league that has been in desperate need of great big men. But what seemed like franchise changing picks on draft night for the Blazers and 76ers have turned into head scratching decisions in retrospect.

Oden has micro fracture surgery on his right knee in 2007 forcing him to miss his entire rookie season. Embiid broke the navicular bone in his right foot and was forced to miss his entire rookie season this past year. There have been instances of great players missing their rookie season due to injury (see Blake Griffin), but when big men suffer foot and knee injuries, the outcome is rarely positive. While Oden was able to recover from his knee surgery to play in his second NBA season, and showed flashes of what kind of player he could be, he was not able to avoid injury, missing 21 games his second season, and played in only 21 games the following year. He has a brief cameo in 2013-14 with the Miami Heat, but has managed to play in only 105 NBA games. What we saw with Oden was flashes of his athletic ability and his ability to control games on the glass and in the paint, but ultimately he will be remembered for his inability to stay on the court. It is harsh to call Oden a “bust” in the classical sense, like we see with many other players who were able to play, but were just ineffective, but Oden was one of the biggest draft busts in NBA History, even if it was completely due to injury.

Embiid’s career arc has been all too familiar to NBA fans that yearned to see Greg Oden be able to play in the NBA and play at a level that he is capable of playing at. After the announcement that Embiid will likely miss the entire 2015-16 season with another surgery on his foot, one cannot help but think that Embiid will end up following in Oden’s footsteps. Even if Embiid is able to get onto the court in his career, the chances are high that he won’t be the same player he could have been straight out of Kansas. Big men in the NBA do not fare well with foot injuries, and that isn’t to mention Embiid’s back injury history as well. It is a disappointing day when we realize that what could have been an NBA All-Star performer won’t get the chance to live up to that potential. It is disappointing for us fans. It is disappointing for the 76ers who, despite their questionable management and tanking strategies in recent seasons, could have had an all-NBA big man. And most of all, it is disappointing for Embiid, who by all accounts is a nice guy and a hell of a twitter follow, and someone who I think, genuinely wants to be on the court.

A big question regarding Embiid will be what the 76ers will do with him and with their roster moving forward. The 76ers have been a mess, and their roster has been a joke going on multiple seasons now. It is fair to question what their long term plan and motives are and have been. While it seems like it might be too early to give up on Embiid, the 76ers have an established defensive anchor in Nerlens Noel, one of the best defensive players in the NBA, and recently drafted Duke star Jahlil Okafor. That makes three big men taken with lottery picks for the 76ers, two of whom have had injury history. If Okafor becomes the player people are projecting him to be, the 76ers might need to consider moving Embiid or Noel, or both. The problem with Embiid obviously is the injury history, and his stock may not improve until he sees time on the court. Trading one or two of their pieces would make sense, but perhaps the sixers are content on trying to once again make the lottery and stockpile young prospects. What is for certain is that the most recent injury to Embiid makes things a lot muddier for the 76ers.

Whatever the 76ers decide to do with Embiid, let’s hope that he is in a situation where his long term health is protected and he is able to get onto the court. What was a promising prospect has become what nobody wants a young big man prospect to become in his young career: Greg Oden. If the injury bug is something that Embiid cannot rid himself of, we will only be able to think of him in the same light as Oden, a great prospect who could not avoid injury to live up to their potential. Let’s hope Joel Embiid does not become the next Greg Oden.