Nov 8, 2013; Lawrence, KS, USA; Kansas Jayhawks center Joel Embiid (21) walks to the near end of the court during the second half of the game against the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas won 80 - 63. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Player Profile: Joel Embiid

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Joel Embiid
Freshman
7’0, 240-250 lb. C, Kansas

Overview: Embiid could be the best center available in next year’s draft. He’s averaging 9.3 points, 2.1 blocks and shooting over 65 percent from the field in 19 minutes. Despite lacking overall experience, Embiid’s combination of size, athleticism and defensive readiness could be hard for teams to pass on in next year’s draft.

Strengths

  • Prototypical size for center position
  • 7’5 wingspan
  • Good athlete
  • Very productive per minute
  • High-level rebounder
  • Mobility
  • Motor
  • All-around defense
  • Potential as a low post scorer
  • Good touch around the hoop
  • Underrated passer
  • Doesn’t need to score to have an impact

Weaknesses

  • Extremely foul prone
  • Lack of overall experience
  • Free throw shooting
  • Perimeter shot
  • Hasn’t emerged as a scorer
  • Not polished in the low post
  • Tendency to play out of control at times
  • Still needs to add more strength
  • Years away from being a legitimate NBA starter?

In a draft class absent of size, Cameroon native Joel Embiid is Andre the Giant. Embiid is one of the nation’s top freshman recruits and has immediately filled the void in the Kansas Jayhawks lineup left by Jeff Withey. At a legitimate 7’0, and around 240-250 pounds, Embiid has great size for the center position, as well as a unique skill set for a player with limited experience.

Nov 19, 2013; Lawrence, KS, USA; Iona Gaels guard Tre Bowman (21) shoots against Kansas Jayhawks center Joel Embiid (21) in the second half at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas won the game 86-66. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Embiid’s defense has been the main source of his upside. Embiid is an excellent shot blocker, averaging 4.5 blocks per 40 minutes. Embiid is a load to deal with at the rim and frequently alters shots with solid timing and his 7’5 wingspan. Embiid covers a lot of space and has good defensive awareness in general. 

Though he’s proven to be a big-time rim protector, Embiid is still vulnerable to committing fouls. He has four or more fouls in six games this season and is averaging a hefty 7.6 fouls per 40 minutes. Embiid’s fouls can largely be attributed to his overall inexperience, as most of the time it seems he’s playing on instinct and motor.

On the glass, Embiid is a big time rebounder. He’s averaging just under 14 rebounds per 40 minutes and 4.5 offensive rebounds.  Embiid isn’t likely to be a prolific offensive player in his first two or three seasons in the NBA, but provided he can stay out of foul trouble, his rebounding and defense will keep him on the floor.

Despite being raw offensively, Embiid has shown plenty of encouraging signs. Most surprising is Embiid’s passing ability. He has solid vision in the low post and knows when to dump it off to a cutter or pass out of a double team. Embiid is averaging 2.6 assists per 40 minutes, which is a very solid number when you consider his inexperience. Embiid has also made some good outlet passes. 

Nov 12, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Kansas Jayhawks center Joel Embiid (21) and Duke Blue Devils center Marshall Plumlee (40) fight for the ball in the first half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Embiid has shown early confidence with his back to the basket. Most opponents don’t have comparable size to Embiid, so he’s able to establish deep position in the paint and go up strong without a dribble. Embiid is a good finisher at the rim and doesn’t seem bothered by physical play.

On the low block Embiid can go left or right and finish with a soft touch. He has a surprising array of moves for a player of his experience. He’s displayed some nice spin moves as well as the ability to go up and under. Though there have been times where Embiid has looked a little out of control in the post, overall he shows good footwork and presence there.

Don’t expect Embiid to take many jump shots at this stage. While he’s capable of knocking down a few, that stage of his game will come later in his development. If Embiid can develop a reliable 15-18 foot jump shot, he could become a big force offensively. Think of what Brook Lopez does for the Brooklyn Nets currently, or what Zydrunas Ilgauskas did during his peak years with the Cleveland Cavaliers. A jump shot is more important now than ever for frontcourt players and teams love to see their center step out beyond the free throw line to make shots. 

Embiid’s production in spite of inexperience is similar to Pittsburgh’s Steven Adams, who was selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round this past summer. Though he wasn’t always looked to offensively, Adams was a good contributor on the defensive end, played with a high motor and was very athletic for his size. Embiid has similarities as a prospect, but ultimately could be a Roy Hibbert type of player down the line. Hibbert also struggled with fouls early on in his career, but was able to cut his fouls down at Georgetown, and with the Indiana Pacers. 

Embiid isn’t necessarily a lock to declare for next year’s draft. He would benefit from staying in school a few more seasons to gain more experience, though his stock may never eclipse what it is currently. In all likelihood, he will be the first center off the board. 

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