The 2014 NBA draft is on the horizon this week (Thursday June, 26th) and things are still as murky as they were before the combine and workouts began. This past week, the waters got a bit murkier with star Kansas center Joel Embiid’s navicular bone stress fracture in his right foot. The injury, coupled with his lower back injury late in the NCAA season, have many GM’s dreading the possibility of taking Embiid and having him become the next Greg Oden or passing on him and missing out on the next Hakeem Olajuwon. It’s the type of situation that gets GM’s and front offices fired either way.
Many draft pundits have predicted a big slide for Embiid but have’t specifically said where they believe his rock bottom is. There seems to be speculation that the Philadelphia 76ers would take Embiid at #3 and that the Boston Celtics at #6 would be his worst case scenario….But what if things really hit the proverbial fan for Embiid and he falls right into the laps of the #9 Hornets and Rich Cho?
The Hornets are coming off of their second ever playoff berth and have one of the best young defensive units in the NBA. What they need to get to the next level and win a playoff series is better shooting and offensive consistency. Taking Embiid at #9 would fix neither of those in the short term and have them miss out on top shooting prospects Doug McDermott and Nik Stauskas. But with such a deep draft and a second first round pick at #24, the Hornets could still find a good shooter and quality scorer in the forms of P. J. Hairston or T.J. Warren. Even without drafting a quality scorer/shooter, the Hornets have a lot of cap room (at least $13 million) to add a quality player(s) from free agency that would fill that role. Additionally, Jeff Taylor is back on the mend and word is he’s been spending all his free time in the gym rehabbing and training to be ready for the 2014-15 season. If he can play like he did in last year’s Vegas summer league then he’ll be a huge help in filling that offensive void. On top of all that, the Hornets have the huge fortune of playing in a weak Eastern Conference where a 40 win season will earn a seventh or eighth seed in the playoffs. If fans can stomach another season or two of mediocrity, then taking Embiid for the long run would make a ton of sense.
Embiid is the type of center that could make the center position relevant again in the NBA. He’s a legit seven footer who’s long (7’5″ wing span) and athletic. His rebounding and defensive ability is outstanding for a player his age (14 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per 40 min), but it’s his inside scoring ability and budding mid range game that make him a generational talent. In sum, he’s a seven foot center who shoots, handles and runs like a man half his size. The icing on the cake that is Joel Embiid is the fact that he’s only played competitive basketball for four years! Considering how much he’s learned since coming to the United States at 16 and playing JV ball at Florida’s Montverde Academy, the hyperbole of being the next Hakeem the Dream is not that far off target.