Joel Embiid could be a franchise-changing player. He could also be a player plagued by injuries for his entire NBA career.
At this point, we just don’t know.
What we do know is the former Kansas center is thrilled to be joining the Sixers.
“I was just happy,” Embiid said of hearing his name called No. 3 in Thursday’s NBA draft. “I couldn’t believe it. The first thing is because I started playing basketball two years ago. And to be where I am right now, about to be an NBA player, is just unbelievable.
“It’s crazy and I still can’t believe it. When I heard my name I was just really happy and excited to have the chance to really show people what I can do.”
Embiid is most likely looking at the fall of 2015 to show off his talents. He had surgery last Friday to correct a stress fracture in his right foot.
“It is a calculated risk,” Hinkie said of taking the injured big man (see story). “The time frame is 5 to 8 months recovery, and guess what our approach will be? We will focus on the long-term health of the player. Will we be smart? Yes. Will we be patient? I hope so.”
Additionally, Embiid missed the Big 12 Conference tournament and NCAA tournament because of a back injury.
The troubling question for many is will Embiid ever be completely healthy? The 20-year-old attempted to subside people’s fears.
“About the back injury, I saw the best doctor in the business for back problems and he told me that it wasn’t going to be a long-term problem. He told me that once I’m done my rehab, I’d have no problems.
“About my foot, I had a stress fracture. I just had surgery but the doctor also said it’s not a long-term problem and I’ll be back playing basketball soon.”
When Embiid does take the court, Sixers head coach Brett Brown looks forward to coaching a Tim Duncan-David Robinson type frontcourt combination in Embiid and Nerlens Noel.
“My memories are of Tim Duncan and David Robinson,” Brown said. “You need to play defense in the NBA if you want to go where you want to go. I think Joel Embiid is beyond exciting. How it played out is really quite extraordinary.”
Brown was not the only coach shaking his head in awe at the defensive possibilities the Embiid–Noel combo creates.
“Not understanding schemes and all that stuff, it is going to be hard to score around the rim against the 76ers,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said in Brooklyn Thursday night. “I know that is an area that they [Sixers] can improve. Joel has phenomenal timing. Noel is better on the defensive end then the offensive end right now but, Joel is good enough offensively that he can spread the floor and it won’t be a crowded house with him inside because he can play all over the court.”
If Embiid stays healthy, Hinkie says, he will have a fantastic NBA career.
Coach Self believes Embiid won’t be a one-time All-Star. He will be perennial.
The right cards were dealt to the Sixers on June 19 when Embiid’s stress fracture became public. In that moment Embiid went from an unattainable prospect for Sam Hinkie to the team’s main target.
“That is 100 percent accurate,” Brown said. “Joel Embiid at an extremely high percentage would have gone first. He was the first player talked about and you can see why. I remember when Sam told me there is a curveball that has come into the marketplace with his injury. With the volatility and the uncertainty the game changed.”
With that change the Sixers were able to draft a player drawing comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon.
“Hakeem is obviously my idol,” Embiid said. “I love him, man. I want to do what he did. My objective is to be better than him so I am going to do whatever it takes. I will be in the gym everyday, work hard, whatever it takes to be better than him.”
Embiid is dreaming big.
“He is the best kid,” Self said. “He is a personality. He smiles. He understands English perfectly unless he is in trouble and then he pretends he doesn’t understand anything. He is ridiculously bright. He is a sweet kid with a nasty streak, that’s a rare combination.”
-- Dei Lynam, CSN Philadelphia