To Leave or not to Leave? That is the Question for Joel Embiid

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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.

About the Author

Brandon Pope
KU Business graduate in 2010, KU School of Medicine graduate in 2014. Neurologist in training. Jayhawk for life. Rock Chalk!
  • JS

    If he keeps getting hurt in the NBA he is making money. If he gets hurt in college he is most likely losing money. If he is fragile it would be better to be in the NBA. The doctors are just as good there as here. He could have someone travel with him from his family too in the NBA. Less restrictions than in college. Let’s face it you are a fan of KU basketball and any argument against him going is very weak. If he chooses to stay and accepts the risks then great but for those who want to justify why he should stay self-interest is the greatest motivator.

    • I think I prefaced this post with the fact that I am a KU fan but above that I am a Joel Embiid fan. The point is that if he gets hurt/taken advantage of in the NBA, sure he is making money. The money from his rookie contract. He is guaranteed nothing above that so if he fails, that is all he will get.

      The point is doing what is best for him long term.

      • JS

        If he gets hurt in college and cannot play in the NBA or he falls out of the first round then are you Really doing what’s best for him in the long-term. That is a distinct possibility.

        • Well as with everything, it is risk vs. benefit.

          The risk of his career ending injury next season vs the risk of catastrophic failure in the league from leaving before he is ready. That is the decision he has to have with his family, mentor and coach,

          If they feel that the career security he has to gain from another season as an amateur does not outweigh the risk of losing his rookie contract’s future value then he should go, no question.

          • JS

            Now this is the answer. Risk vs Benefit. Although we want him to come back the Risk far outweighs the benefit IMHO.

      • Vonda

        I don’t think he wants to or that he is physically ready to go to the NBA, so people should respect his privacy and leave him alone. He loves his team, his back needs to heal and strengthen, so he should stay a Jayhawk for as long as he wants to.

  • A Fleming

    I’m not quite sure that I buy that he is any more susceptible to problems with sudden wealth and fame than basically any other 18- 20 year old. He grew up in Cameroon, not North Korea. I’d actually think that someone that grew up in poverty in the US is probably going to have more problems than he might.

  • Lady J

    In my opinion, the arguments in this article for Joel to stay are weak and selfish. I’m a KU alum and lifelong Jayhawk, however, I can be unbiased when I think about whether Joel should declare or not for the NBA. Bottom line is he cannot improve upon his draft stock this year- he will go within the first 5 picks. In other words, he is a lottery pick and will earn millions for his talents whether anyone thinks he is ready or not right now! The only opinions that matter right now are those of the NBA scouts and GM’s- not those from biased and selfish KU fans.

    I can completely understand why KU fans want Joel to come back for another year…but please stop with the “I care about his well-being” or “another year at KU will prepare him for the life of an NBA player”. This just sounds disingenuous and ridiculous to me. Please! We all want Joel back so he can help us win a coveted National Championship-just keepin it real! No one is more concerned about that young man’s well-being than his family and friends not the KU fans- we have ulterior motives. And it’s just hilarious to think that one more year at KU will prepare Joel for the bright lights and big cities he will have to navigate.. I love KU and Lawrence, KS but seriously?? No.

    The question that is not asked or answered is what happens if Joel comes back next season, gets hurt again and has to sit at the end of the season once again? What do you think will happen to his draft stock? If he were to fall from a lottery pick to late in the first round or early in the second round of the NBA draft, are the KU faithful gonna pass the hat to make up the millions that he will lose by coming back to help us win a National Championship? Think about it…would you? No? Probably not. Money isn’t everything, but that’s a lot of money to potentially lose.

    If he decides to come back, I’ll be shocked and very afraid for his future. He will be taking a huge gamble with a lot of risk. On the other hand, I will be happy to see him in a KU uni for another year!

    Contrary to what others believe, Joel can get better in the NBA. They do have excellent doctors and staff available that will work with him. As a lottery pick they will make sure his skills are developed after they’ve spent the money on him. He will also be a millionaire that can hire a nutritionist and a personal trainer to help out with his eating habits and strength training- no one better in the business than Tim Glover. He can also afford to have a family member (or 2) travel with him and be his personal assistants. So, if he declares for the NBA, he will be fine and so will the Kansas Jayhawks without him!

    I hope Joel does what is in his best interest and doesn’t take into account the pressures the KU faithful are putting on him to stay. If he goes, we will all be fine and Joel will end up having a great career in the NBA regardless of when it begins.

    • Lady J

      Oops…typo. The NBA mega-star trainer is Tim Grover.

    • Michael Cardwell

      The NBA sucks regardless of this kids choice! The sport has consistently garnered poor ratings and players act foolish. More and more fans are simply not watching or caring about the NBA anymore and I understand why! Best of luck to Joel either way though.

  • That’s just it. KU will be fine either way. We have Alexander coming in and more than likely Myles Turner will join him should Embiid declare.

    I hold the opinion that Joel may be better served by staying in school another year for the reasons outlined above. That’s not disingenuous or selfish. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion. As am I.

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