Simmons: Joel Embiid is going first overall



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

  • saggy

    Troll. Studio Gangster. No street cred. Bill Simmons is at it again.

  • saggy

    and….”Embiid wasn’t just playing with anyone, he was playing with WILL PERDUE!!”

    oh, wow – throw out the numbers, folks, he was playing with Will Perdue! whew. well, in that case, get the plaque in Springfield ready.

  • Harv 21

    Know who else is “once in a decade”? Me, Simmons. Freakin’ me.

    Bill Simmons: Even When He’s Right, He’s Wrong.

  • 240

    Gary Parrish on his podcast said “I talked to someone at Kansas that said Embiid looks great one day and like an 80 year old man the next.” This seems like too big if a risk for the reward with Wiggins sitting right there.

  • Natedawg86

    Suprised you referenced Sullinger and not Oden

  • Scott @ WFNY

    Sullinger fell. Oden didn’t. No other real reason.

  • Steve_Not_Chad

    “By the way, Embiid’s back is fine. I watched him work out last week.”

    Welp, that’s that. Now let’s wash our hands of all this back nonsense.

  • Natedawg86

    Sullinger was never projected to go in the top 5. He was a possible lottery pick (maybe in the teens). Oden had known issues going into the NBA and was still drafted #1, and then was injured a lot. Sullinger was never referred to as a one in a ten year type of guy

  • Natedawg86

    Why would any CLE team worry about previous injury history?

  • tsm

    I would expect the Cavs to do their due diligence and have the experts at the Cleveland Clinic tell them what the deal is with the back problems. This should be resolved before the draft. There is no excuse for not being certain.

  • Sports Guy

    …and the Cavs should still have taken D Williams over Kyrie.

  • boomhauertjs

    And the Magic should’ve taken Okafor over Dwight…

  • RGB

    I feel so much better now that Simmons has issued his expert diagnosis on Embiid’s back.
    Thanks Dr. Bill!
    Draft him Mr. Griffin. It’s all good now.


  • B-bo

    So Bill Wennington must not have been available?

  • TomWFNY

    Bill Simmons? That guy who freaked out that the Cavs won the lottery?

    Yeah, don’t care about what he has to say at all. He could have a time machine and tell us who is guaranteed to be the best — still wouldn’t care. He’s an unabashed homer and a troll.

  • BenRM

    This line killed me. Simmons is either completely without logic or he doesn’t understand the NBA as well as he professes.

    “The same incompetent teams get rewarded — repeatedly, over and over again — for being incompetent.”

    DUH! That is the entire point of the DRAFT. The bad teams get the best picks. The bad teams are often bad because they are mismanaged. This is how it is in EVERY SPORT!

  • steve-o

    I’ll concede that Embiid w/o any health issues should be the #1 pick. He may be perfectly healthy right now, but a history that includes a back injury/stress fracture indicates a serious vulnerability that could re-emerge at any time during the course of a long NBA season. No one should need a doctor to realize this.

  • BenRM

    If he left a year earlier, he probably would have.

  • TomWFNY

    Yet, if the Celtics were to fall on hard times, he would be the first one to shout “The System works!”

  • saggy

    well, after reading that latest Simmons column, and reading about his idea for a potential deal with Minnesota (which would bring LeBron back, however unlikely), could you get on board with this 2015 Cavs lineup?:

    (from Simmons)”LeBron, Love, Kyrie, Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Jarrett Jack, Dion Waiters and their choice of three ring-chasing veterans who would commit murder to play on that team.”

    I’d pay to watch those guys.

  • saggy

    right on. and, if Parker were 7-5 he would be the first pick. but he isn’t. and Embiid isn’t healthy.


  • cmm13

    I swear Simmons wrote this piece in direct contradiction to what is coming out locally on purpose.

    @SamAmicoFSO Sounding as if Joel Embiid basically out of running for No. 1 pick. Sources say #Cavs extremely leer of potential longterm back issues.


  • cmm13

    I guess I need to read the article because it’s my understanding that if you go after Love, Minny wants the pick AND Dion/Tristan or Dion/Varejao.

  • cmm13

    They put him up against Oden and Sullinger….SEE SEE, HE’S NOT AS HURT AS THESE GUYS!!!

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    If his back is fine and we pass on another big man for like 3 straight years or whatever it has been (Drummond, Noel, and now Embiid) we’re going to regret it. Only if his back is really messed up should we take Wiggins or Parker.

  • B-bo

    Which is just the measuring stick I want used when evaluating who to take #1 overall–“not as hurt”! I AM TOTALLY REASSURED NOW THANK YOU!

  • B-bo

    DR. WILLIAM SIMMONS, M.D., writing for the prestigious medical journal GRANTLAND. I am reassured.

  • cmm13

    Uhm… Simmons says not once, but twice. TWICE. His back is fine.

    Where’s my pen and draft card?

  • Clown Baby

    Too much of this “who should go #1” stuff is only being looked at through the lens of who is/is going to be better and not who fills a need on the Cavs. Does anyone want to see Alonzo Gee dribbling off his feet? Does anyone want to pay Deng to keep getting older? When will Cleveland have the opportunity to draft another potentially elite SF?
    On the flip side, the Cavs can re-sign Hawes, go after Gortat at the same price as Hawes or try to put together an appealing trade for Asik. What are the SF options outside of Wiggins? Bill Simmons can eat it.

  • Rocko

    IMO… No passing on KD35 2.0.

    Gotta shut this Embiid nonsense down.

    #22 – repeat – it’s #22…

  • B-bo

    What kills me is that he talks about this as if the league itself is just handing these top picks over to the Cavs year after frustrating year. IT’S A LOTTERY SYSTEM! I understand that huge odds were overcome to not only get the top pick this year, but so many top picks over the last four years. BUT IT IS RANDOM CHANCE, NOT THE LEAGUE DOING CLEVELAND ANY FAVORS. Just say you’re upset that the Cavs got the top pick in what should be a great draft and you’re bitter because the Celtics weren’t the ones beating the odds, instead of struggling to create some jumbled embarrassment of an explanation devoid of logic.

  • architrance

    Andre Drummond had a back stress fracture last year and it sure didn’t seem to slow him down this year. I know it’s a risk, but I’d trust a Dr.’s opinion on this and if it’s a green light – you HAVE to draft him.

  • umyeahaboutthat

    Wiggins is nowhere near the skillful scorer Durant is or ever was.

  • ehhhh

    he was always a tweener tho

  • mgbode

    gotta love how he smashes prospects he doesn’t like for playing against a chair, but props up a prospect he likes playing against air.

    anyway, Embiid “if healthy” is a monster. I want to draft him if our medical people say it’s okay.

  • Horace

    Did you actually watch either durant or wiggins in college? Durant was a 6’10, 7’5 wingspan SF with great athleticism who was a deadly outside shooter, could take it inside, rebounded like zach randolph, and lived at the free throw line. Wiggins is 6’8 with a below average jump shot, below average ball handling, no left hand whatsoever, and a passive attitude.

    Not convinced? Then compare their stats from their freshman years. College Durant makes Wiggins, statistically, look like a bench player on OSU.

    On top of that, they really don’t even play the same positions: wiggins is projected to be a SG while durant was a SF who could play some PF or even C in small-ball, Nellie-type lineups. Dumb, dumb comparison.

  • mgbode

    at #1 overall, I don’t think we have to give it to them anymore though. we’re talking basically 6yr minimum of controlled cost potential superstar.

  • Pat Leonard

    Don’t forget Val-an-choo-niss! 4 straight years hombre!

  • Pat Leonard

    Phew… good to know that the Cavs can forget about Embiid’s back injury because Bill Simmons saw the guy work out and his back looked okay at that moment in time. Newsflash Simmons: “chronic back injury” does not mean a guy is constantly humped over holding a cane and clutching his back. I’m not saying I know Embiid has a chronic back injury, but I will say that it’s asinine to believe that what you saw on one day will be the same for every day moving forward.