It almost seemed too perfect. From Cameroon to an apartment to Milwaukee to riding the bench at Montverde to The Rock School to Kansas to potential No. 1 pick. Then the injuries came. First the sprained knee at KU, then his back, now his broken navicular bone in his foot. Still, Embiid’s dream will come true on Thursday when he is selected in the NBA Draft.
We first saw Embiid in the spring of 2012 on the AAU circuit with the Florida Rams. The adidas-based program was led by Florida bound highlight machines Kasey Hill and Chris Walker, so there wasn’t exactly a ton of playing time and shots to go around for a raw 7-footer. He could run the floor well and was explosive in the spring, but that was about it. As the summer went on, the Rams changed their name to Florida Elite and Embiid’s game grew with the program. He dominated the adidas Invitational and set him up for a remarkable senior season.
Playing at The Rock in Gainesville, “JoJo” didn’t play in may national high school events throughout his final campaign. Not many saw him, well, until the high school all-star games rolled around. Embiid dominated at the Jordan Brand Classic practices and simply wowed NBA scouts at the Nike Hoop Summit among an International team that included Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum, Dennis Schroder, Sergey Karasev, Livio Jean-Charles and others. Some NBA executives felt that he was the best long-term prospect in the event (mind you, this was in the midst of the Andrew Wiggins insanity), despite the fact that all of the major recruiting services didn’t even have him ranked as the top center in the class. The rest was history.
We linked up with Embiid in L.A. for the Wasserman Media Group pro day, in which he worked out alongside elite draftees such as Jabari Parker, Kyle Anderson, Marcus Smart and Jerami Grant. To say that he impressed scouts would be an absolute understatement. After all of the concerns about his back injury, the 20-year old showed that he was 100 percent…for the time being.
“Right now we are working on his conditioning and getting him some post play, Embiid’s trainer Fred Cofield told us before this latest injury. “Will Perdue and Brian Scalabrine have been teaching him some great stuff. The biggest thing was to get him healthy and in shape, then those guys will teach him some skill work.”
The improved post play was evident during the hour and a half long session. He shot the ball facing the basket out to around 17 feet, even stepping out to hit a couple of NBA three pointers. With his back to the basket, it was clear that his moves still needed refinement, but the flashes that he showed were absurd. The footwork, counter moves, and finishes with both hands were tantalizing. And that’s not even mentioning that it appeared as if he were playing on a 9-foot rim with his freakish athleticism.
At a legit 7-feet and nearly 270 pounds, Embiid is everything that you look for physically out of a center. He gets off the ground with the power of a lithe swingman and only has to jump a mere 7 inches to the rim thanks to a 9-5 standing reach. The combination of size, power, grace and desire to improve is what had him as the likely top pick in the Draft…until a few days ago.
“Nobody has seen anything like that kid before,” boasted Cofield of his prized pupil. “We’ve all seen big, athletic guys before, but this kid is a tremendous athlete. He has to be one of the best athletes to ever play basketball and he picks everything up so quick.”
A week ago, Joel looked like he’d be settling in my hometown of Cleveland for the next few years. Now, it’s totally up in the air. His agent, Arn Tellem, has full discretion upon what teams acquire Embiid’s medical records. This essentially gives him near control of what team this potential franchise-changing big man ultimately winds up at. Everything that Embiid brings to the table is well known around the League, and now it’s just a matter of NBA decision makers to decipher if the massive reward is worth the risk that comes along with it.
“I don’t think there’s been any center before him with his athletic ability,” Cofield reinforced. “Now it’s just a matter of getting him healthy, some experience, and teaching him how to play.”