How does a seven-foot-tall Serge Ibaka with three-point range sound? Once he was done explaining why Cleveland should not have won the 2014 NBA Lottery, ESPN’s Bill Simmons went all insider, describing a private workout he watched with Joel Embiid, the 7-foot, 250-pound Kansas center who could very well be the first-overall pick in the impending NBA Draft.
By the way, Embiid’s back is fine. I watched him work out last week.
He wasn’t playing against anyone, just going through a two-hour workout with Will Perdue. Here’s what I can tell you: He moves around as effortlessly as a 7-foot Serge Ibaka; he’s such an athletic freak that he’s one of those “still going up as he’s finishing the dunk” guys; his freakish wingspan might make Jay Bilas pass out; he has been playing basketball for only four years (which seems impossible); he gave up a world-class volleyball career; he has 3-point range; he can shoot jump-hooks with both hands already; he couldn’t have seemed more coachable/agreeable/likable; he’s a hard worker with a goofy sense of humor; his voice is just a touch Mutombo-y (deep with a heavy African accent); and his friends call him “Jo-Jo.” And again — his back seemed totally fine.
News flash: As I said on TV before the lottery, Embiid was always going first. None of these teams was passing on him. Repeat: none of them. The amount of smokescreening going on in April and May was high comedy. We keep hearing his back is really screwed up, this could be another Oden situation … Just stop it. This was like sitting at a fantasy football auction next to someone who kept claiming that he wasn’t going to pay big money for a QB … and then, two hours later, he’s bidding $49 for Aaron Rodgers. The truth is, Wiggins and Parker never separated themselves enough this season to warrant anyone saying, “We’re passing on a potential franchise center with a good chance of becoming the 7-foot Serge Ibaka.”
Our own TD (who watches more Kansas basketball than Bill Self) is a huge supporter of Embiid, comparing him to a young Dwight Howard with advanced skills. The back will be an incredible issue leading up to June’s draft as big men and injuries do not typically bode well for long-term success. Boston’s Jared Sullinger was considered a lottery talent in 2012, but questions about his back caused the former Ohio State power forward to slip to No. 21.
If healthy, however, Embiid brings a once-in-a-decade game that marries rim protection (7-5 wingspan, 2.6 blocks per game) with an offensive game that should not be possible given how long he’s been playing the game. Had the Jayhawks not been bounced from the NCAA Tournament before Embiid could return, there’s a chance there would not even be a conversation regarding the No. 1 pick. Two-way centers aren’t a neccesity in the NBA, but they surely are quite the bonus.
Photo: Greg Nelson/SI