With the news that Kansas’ Joel Embiid had surgery Friday to repair a stress fracture in his navicular bone, the NBA draft among lottery teams has become quite intriguing. It is rare to have a consensus No. 1 pick experience such untimely misfortune.
The top pick will earn a rookie salary of $5.51 million. The No. 5 pick will earn $3.61 million. And that is just in Year 1 of a four-year rookie scale deal.
Taken out over the full four years, the No. 1 pick will earn roughly $22 million to the No. 5 pick’s $14.3 million. So Friday’s procedure could cost Embiid something in the neighborhood of $8 million.
Or more. It depends how far he falls.
Embiid had been the likely top pick before the injury. Despite his back injury, teams I spoke to were comfortable with Embiid’s health and ability to recover.
However, the teams I spoke to in the wake of Embiid’s surgery Friday were very concerned about the foot injury. This is the same sort of injury that ended Yao Ming’s career, derailed Zydrunas Ilgauskas in multiple seasons, sidelined Brook Lopez last season and even hampered Bill Walton and Kevin McHale.
Word began to spread Friday from Embiid’s camp that the surgery was successful and his recovery could be four to six months. It is not out of the realm of possibility that the team that selects Embiid sits him the entire season – just like Philadelphia did with Nerlens Noel – to ensure that he suffers no setbacks.
I spoke to two executives of teams in the lottery that said Embiid’s medicals will be heavily scrutinized post-surgery before they would consider taking him. Another executive said Embiid is effectively off their draft board.
As things stand, Cleveland will not take Embiid first overall but is open to selecting Embiid if it could trade down or acquire an additional lottery pick. Also, sources tell me the Cavs have ramped up their efforts to make a deal.
As I reported Thursday, the Cavs and Jazz have discussed a Derrick Favors deal that would include a pick swap, and Philadelphia has been linked to the Cavs with a reported offer of Thaddeus Young to entice Cleveland to drop two spots to No. 3.
Embiid’s injury has had a massive ripple effect on the top five. The 76ers have scrambled to work out Marcus Smart and are considering Dante Exum at No. 3, if Wiggins and Parker are gone. Orlando at No. 4 is the first reasonable spot for Embiid right now, barring trades. The Magic are intrigued by pairing Embiid with Nikola Vucevic and there is no denying the upside. If Embiid slips, the Jazz are a possibility at No. 5, and I see the Celtics at No. 7 as Embiid’s floor.
Word is spreading that the Warriors are discussing a trade of Klay Thompson to the Lakers for the seventh overall pick that would be used as part of a package to acquire Kevin Love. Also, the Sacramento Kings are very open to dealing the eighth pick and have been looking to upgrade over Isaiah Thomas. One potential deal to watch is the New Orleans Pelicans sending Jrue Holiday to the Kings for the pick. The Pelicans have been looking for a pick in the first round and have been shopping Holiday.
Here is how I see the draft going:
1. Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas, 6’8″, 200 lbs
Philadelphia is hot for Wiggins and would be devastated to see this shake out, Cleveland was impressed on Wednesday by Wiggins’ explosion and athleticism and if it stays at No. 1, as of today, I see Wiggins being the pick. With newly hired coach David Blatt, the Cavs will be looking to play a more balanced team offense. Wiggins is a lockdown defender who will be excellent in transition. I still think the chance of a trade here is very real and the Cavs could be in play for Embiid if they move down on draft night. I expect the Cavs to make a splash on draft night and in free agency as they attempt to transform the organization.
2. Jabari Parker, SF, Duke, 6’8″, 235 lbs
With the news on Embiid, it seems unlikely Embiid would be a realistic option for the Bucks since he never worked out for Milwaukee and GM John Hammond is on borrowed time. The Bucks really like Parker and could slide him into a frontcourt with building blocks Giannis Antetokounmpo and Larry Sanders, who are great defenders but struggle offensively. If Parker were to go first, I see the Bucks taking Wiggins.
Exum is the top international prospect in the draft. Any team looking for help at point guard surely will be intrigued by his size, athleticism and basketball IQ. While he has not played against top competition, Exum oozes potential and could have some team pull the trigger on him for his nearly limitless potential. Exum has the length and athleticism to also slide over to shooting guard, which should add to his value. Exum was the top prospect to appear at the combine and has shown the athleticism and polish necessary to secure his position as the top prospect of the second tier. I hear that the 76ers feel comfortable with Exum and Michael Carter-Williams sharing the backcourt. I see the 76ers choosing between Exum and Smart, if they don’t move up.
4. Joel Embiid, C, Kansas, 7’0″, 250 lbs
There is a chance Exum going to Orlando could create a run on PGs, and the Magic do like Marcus Smart. However, Rob Hennigan can’t pass on a player with Embiid’s potential to pair with Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo. There is a slight chance Embiid could slip past here if doctors are concerned with his foot, but I feel strongly that this is his spot as of now. Marcus Smart is very much in play here for the Magic. No player’s stock is as volatile right now as Embiid’s.
Only 19 and blessed with excellent size, length and good athleticism, Vonleh is a prospect who is moving up boards after an impressive NBA combine in which he showcased special skills as a big that can play inside or out and handle the ball. Still raw offensively, Vonleh has the physical measurables that teams salivate over. While Vonleh is still raw, he has flashed enough potential that it will be hard to pass for many teams. While Marcus Smart is a possibility, I think Vonleh is the choice. Pairing him alongside Favors would be wise as they could play well off of one another.
6. Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State, 6’4″, 220 lbs
One year ago, Smart might have been the top pick in the draft but opted to return for a disappointing sophomore season, highlighted by an embarrassing on-court incident when he shoved a fan in the middle of the game. While most scouts I have spoken to said it’s a teachable moment for a young man, there will be some who might have reservations about Smart’s maturity. As a basketball player, Smart is physical, athletic and a competitor. The Celtics will be active and could try to move up to get Embiid if he slips but with their attempts to trade Rajon Rondo in the past, grabbing Smart would be wise. Aaron Gordon is a possibility as well.
7. Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky, 6’9″, 250 lbs
Before Embiid supplanted Randle as the top big in the draft, scouts and executives around the league raved about Randle’s combination of size and athleticism. After an impressive freshman campaign highlighted by the Wildcats’ run in March, Randle is right on the cusp of the top five. Executives around the league continue to ask about Randle’s shot selection, as he tended to make questionable decisions at times as a freshman. Randle still needs to be coached up, but if he is, he could reach his potential, comparing favorably to Zach Randolph. While Randle’s biggest wart is ball security, that can be easily fixed, and it’s hard to imagine a team passing on him. Playing alongside Kobe Bryant could be great and Randle could be the first post-Kobe building block for the Lakers. Rumors are circulating that the Lakers could swap this pick with Golden State for Klay Thompson.
Looking at Gordon, it’s hard not to get excited about his potential as he is an athletic and explosive forward. From a size standpoint, he is an undersized 4, but as teams start to open up offensively they can create mismatches with Gordon’s athleticism. Gordon reminds me a lot of Blake Griffin, and I can see some team in the high to mid-lottery falling in love with his highlight reel dunks. Others see a Shawn Marion type of super-athletic forward that can be a matchup nightmare. Coming from a family of athletes, Gordon has an impressive basketball IQ and is savvy beyond his years. The Kings are said to love Gordon and covet him but a trade for a point guard is possible with this pick and Doug McDermott is gaining traction here but I see Gordon’s upside as too hard to pass on.