As a report by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports surfaced this morning that Joel Embiid had decided to forgo his sophomore season at Kansas and enter the NBA draft, Jayhawk Nation was abuzz with opinion both for and against the decision. It turns out that no decision has been made according to Embiid himself and his mentor and fellow Cameroonian Luc Mbah a Moute confirmed this on Twitter as well.
Regardless, a decision has to be coming soon and there are so many ways to look at this. I thought I would take a minute to explain my position on the matter, for what it’s worth.
Let’s start by getting this out of the way. I think Joel should stay in school for one more year minimum. I say this not as a KU fan who realized that having a healthy sophomore Embiid in the lineup may spell national title favoritism for KU next year. I also say this knowing that it would be one more year at the most. In addition, I say this with a complete understanding of the value of money and I can sympathize with how hard it might be to turn down a multi-million dollar payday at the age of 19 or the age of 39 or 69 for that matter. But most importantly, I say this as a fan of Joel Embiid, and as someone who wants to see this kid succeed to the best of his ability. He may very well go to the draft this summer, and I couldn’t blame him although it would make me nervous for his future. Why?
Joel Embiid is fragile.
He is physically fragile right now. He has a stress fracture in his spine after only playing one college basketball season. It is a common injury for athletes like him, but it is a nagging injury and of he goes to the NBA where the seasons are longer and more grueling, I think the likelihood of re-injury goes up. Another year with Hudy at KU will help strengthen him physically overall, but he will get that kind of attention and more in the league. It is more about avoiding a professional schedule for 12 months in concert with rehab and Hudy’s tutelage. I think physically, he is just not ready at this point.
His game is fragile too. I think the best NBA players are 1 part pure, unabated talent and 3 parts groomed skill. That grooming comes from years and years, hours upon thousand of hours of gym time over the course of a career culminating in the final product along the lines of a LeBron James or Kevin Durant. Joel Embiid has the potential to be a transcendent player like that. He has more of a potential than any prospect I have seen in the last 5 years. But, he was about 9 parts raw talent and 1 part groomed skill when he arrived at KU. He may be closer to 3 parts talent and 1 part skill at this point. Another year at KU wont get him where he needs to be, but I think it can get him close enough. He is at a point where he is just starting to figure things out and there is so much potential for bad habits to form right now. Habits that will not be easily broken. In the NBA he will not get the kind of one-on-one coaching of the fundamentals of basketball that he so desperately needs. I think Self and his staff have proven that they can develop talented big men better than anybody else in the country, including NBA staffs. And those NBA staffs are not going to want to spend the time teaching him how to play the game. If Embiid is left to his own devices, it could ruin him.
He is fragile socially as well. This is a kid who spent the better part of his lifetime living in a small foreign country in a strict and structures military environment. This is America, land of the free and home to capitalism, greed and every vice under the sun. As soon at Embiid goes pro, everyone is going to want a piece of the action. His agent and his friends will try to shield him, but it is impossible to put and bridle on greed. People will approach him with sinister intentions, and I worry that he isn’t ready to handle that. Again, another year in the spotlight at KU may help prepare him for it. This is my greatest fear for Joel Embiid should he go to the NBA this year. The fear that he will be eaten alive.
Embiid may very well leave this season. In fact, I think its about 60-40 that he goes. And that is ok. I would wish him all the best because he has been one of my favorite KU players to cover in the last decade. I want nothing more than for him to succeed. I worry that he wont though. I worry that he will keep getting hurt. I worry that his development will stunt. And most of all, I worry that he will be taken advantage of. Sure, the $4 million he may turn down is a lot of money, but if he stays healthy he will be a top 3 pick regardless of when he goes and the money will be there then. My fear is that he may be trading the tomorrow, a career worth more than $100 million, for the quick $4 million of today.