Friday, June 20, 2014

The Joel Embiid Situation: Which History Repeats Itself?

Slip Sliding Away
So we've got a mild consensus big man for the top pick in the NBA Draft, but there are health issues. Scared off by the specter of Sam Bowie, Greg Oden, Andrew Bynum and every other 7-footer who breaks down, team after team shies away from the best player available...

And that's how the Sixers wound up with Nerlens Noel with the 6th pick in the draft, who I'm pretty sure no one would trade for Anthony Bennett, Otto Porter, Cody Zeller or Alex Len right about now. Victor Oladipo might be a decent swap at #2, and lo, it was a terrible draft, but I'm thrilled with Sixers GM Sam Hinkie for avoiding all of those guys, and winding up with Noel at six and Michael Carter-Williams at 11. (Seven through ten, for the masochists, were Ben McLemore, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Trey Burke and C.J. McCollum.)

Today, of course, Sixer Fan is aghast at the horror that is Kansas center, Hakeem Olajuwon comp and sudden foot surgery patient Joel Embiid becoming the new Can't Draft This guy, because this was clearly the guy we didn't want (in that he's too similar to Noel), and it's just going to raise the price on the guy we do want (shockingly athletic shooting guard Andrew Wiggins).

Now, a point in passing: I desperately want the Sixers to get Wiggins. He's already on my keeper fantasy league team, in a masterwork of sneaky behavior in the end moments of last year's draft, when the league's owners were unaware that you could draft a guy who wasn't in the league. (My karma from such a move was so bad that I overcame Derrick Rose's explosion to finish second to the guy that's so loaded, he barely needs to show up to the draft.) And yet... I just can't freak out about this just yet.

First off, there are the teams picking ahead of the Sixers. There's Cleveland, who keep getting the first pick of the draft, and haven't seemed to do anything very good with it yet. Put me on the fence as to how good Kyrie Irving is. so far, he just looks like Stephon Marbury II to me. And the less said about last year's surprise choice, UNLV forward Bennett, the better; pretty sure there's never been a top pick with DNP-CDs by his name quite so often in the rookie year. It doesn't seem possible to bone this pick, and yet, well, it's Cleveland. The club that couldn't win with LeBron James, couldn't get anything for him prior to free agency, and then salted the earth with comic sans petulance for the ages, ensuring that no free agent worth a damn will ever want to go there. Hope springs eternal that they'll bone it.

After the Cavs, it's Milwaukee, the team with the actual worst record in the NBA last year, in a season where they were *not* tanking. No, I'm serious. The club that thought the missing piece to a playoff roster that depended highly on Ersan Ilyanova showing up consistently, the team that thought Larry Sanders would try just as hard once he had money in his pocket, the club that was sure Caron Butler would be the missing piece after years of decay in the hyper-stacked Clipper lineup, with a bench that's so bad these guys played in front of them... well, they make the second pick. If you were at a poker game, and the Cavs and Bucks were in your blind, you are loving your table. Doesn't matter who else is there, or what your cards look like.

Finally, there's this. There were three good players in the first eleven picks of the 2013 draft. Sam Hinkie got two of them (and yes, I'm assuming Noel will be good). He turned Jrue Holliday, instantly injury-prone once he got out of town and about to get really expensive assuming he's got any kind of per-game numbers, into the #3 pick in one of the more stacked drafts in recent NBA history. Even if he stands pat and takes a guy that probably won't help them very much next year (I'm thinking Embiid or Australian PG enigma Dante Exum, or even PF Noah Vonleh from Indiana), that's a winning trade. At the 10 pick, assuming once again that they stand pat, I think they'll wind up with something from the enticing range of F Julius Randle from Kentucky, SG Nik Stauskas from Michigan, PF Dario Saric from Croatia, or PF Aaron Gordon from Arizona. All of those guys are going to have NBA careers, and all of them look a lot better then the slugs that populated the non-Sixer picks in 2013. They also have five second round picks and a roster so thin that several of those guys might actually pan out, along with Iranian rebounding machine Arsalan Kazemi, and the potentially useful rehab experience that is Jason Richardson. Put that together with some of the potentially useful flotsam from the end of last year (James Anderson, Jarvis Varnado, Henry Sims) and the long-suffering Thaddeus Young, and that's an immensely more appealing roster than what was here just two years ago. As tear-downs go, this has been quick and evidencing A Plan.

So, am I thrilled that Embiid is hurt? Hell and no. I was really hoping that the Cavs would take him, especially as they were said to love him, and *then* he'd get hurt, with the Bucks jumping on the NBA-ready and Duke-ceiling capped level of Jabari Parker. But what I know about these guys is what I've learned from the highly suspect NBA media, and they are getting their information from franchises that would be actively penalized for telling the truth. If Hinkie decides that he's OK with rolling the dice on Embiid at 3, well, he knows more than I do. If he flips the script and goes for Exum, that's a pretty exciting backcourt, and the way that the NBA is now, maybe that's the best way to build. Short of trading down to load up on more second round picks, or going all-in on some obvious dead-ended like Carmelo Anthony, in Sam We Trust.

So, disconsolate Sixer Fan? Breathe. Relax. Wiggins is not necessarily the next Michael Jordan or LeBron James. Embiid is not necessarily the new Oden or Bowie or Bynum, and 7-footers don't always stay hurt. If the club winds up with him, it could easily be the second straight year where the club winds up with the best big man in the draft. Hell, even if they wind up with Parker, there have been good players from Duke, and his skill set works well in terms of creating an entertaining team.

He made a trade last year that no one is complaining about, in re Holliday. He also got rid of Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner for anything at all, and nothing in their post-Sixer play showed this to be a bad move. He drafted Michael Carter-Williams at 11, in a draft that looks worse with every passing day.

In short, he's earned your trust.

So... just ignore everything that happens between now and the draft, and check out what Hinkie does then. It's all you can do anyway.


snd_dsgnr said...

"There's Cleveland, who keep getting the first pick of the draft, and haven't seemed to do anything very good with it yet."


Ok, so obviously you were talking about the last two picks they had. To play devil's advocate, there are extenuating circumstances regarding those picks. I'm inclined to agree that Irving has been overhyped, but the only guy from that draft that you could even make an argument for taking over him is Kawhi Leonard. Irving wasn't exactly a bad pick. The Bennett pick was worse, obviously, but how many guys from that draft could you see starting for a contender? I'm probably judging too early, but on paper that's a terrible draft.

Anyway, I think you're right about the Sixers winning the Jrue Holliday trade, and I don't think there's even much a debate to be made about it. However, I would be terrified of picking Embiid. I think it's justified to be scared of a 20 year old big man whose already had both back and foot problems after playing the shorter college schedule, and probably not at the weight he'll eventually end up at either. I would be very, very nervous about him.

DMtShooter said...

All true. Though picking James at 1 is right up there with choosing to cash in a lottery ticket in terms of skill.

My fever dream today is the Sixers get Embiid... at 10. And he's Hakeem II, and the Cavs take Exum at 1, and the Bucks take Parker, leaving Wiggins to be Jordan II.

A man can dream.

Snd_dsgnr said...

Well if you're gonna dream you may as well dream big I suppose.

I'm too young to remember, was Hakeem that raw offensively when he came out of school?

DMtShooter said...

He played for the immortal Guy "Roll the Basketball Out And See What Happens" Lewis at Houston, who somehow lost an NCAA title to a NC State team with no NBA players of note, while having Olajuwom and Clyde Drexler.

At least, that's my memory. Probably wrong; I'm old. And yes, Akeem had no offensive game. Only when he became a pro and got the H did he learn how to score.

Snd_dsgnr said...

Oh I know all about the 1983 NCSU team, I did grow up in Durham after all. Hell for that matter I could sit down and write you a list of every NCAA champ in order. Just wish I could remember my high school Spanish classes that well.

But I was an 8 month fetus at the time so I wasn't exactly watching the games back then.

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