In “Love It or Hate It,” “D and Davis Show” co-host Ken Davis breaks down the most controversial topics in the sports world
I fancy myself as a couch GM with pretend ownership shares. For as long as I can remember my favorite periods in any sports calendar have been the off-seasons, that’s when teams get better. especially since the trade deadline in the big 4 sports suck now in comparison to my childhood (thanks lame CBA agreements).
So, sometime last year, adhering to my responsibilities as couch GM, I began scouting this kid heralded as the best physical prospect since Lebron James, the same kid who had snatched the top high school basketball player spot away from Chicago’s very own Jabari Parker when they were the two biggest high school stars in 2013. I’m referring to Andrew Wiggins.
In seeing Wiggins — who chose to travel to the University of Kansas for his required lone year of college attendance — play for Bill Self on a team stacked with talent, I saw flashes of his great potential. While continuing to watch Wiggins’ athleticism was evident, but even his enjoyable perimeter skills couldn’t keep my trained eye from the post as a previous unknown struck me with his mix of force and agility in the paint.
What I really came away thinking most while watching Kansas in the past year was “is who the hell is this Joel Embiid kid in the middle?”
Who he could be is the No. 1 pick in next week’s NBA draft, but that possibility is looking like a stretch after word got out Thursday that doctors from the team holding the top pick, Cleveland, found a stress fracture in his right foot. Hard news for one of the NBA’s top prospects, but unfortunately not surprising news either.
The Durant Rule
What was not known widely at the time was that Embiid has had back issues since high school: initially Kansas made it seem that Embiid would return towards the end of their season after sitting out a few games to rest but he never returned and nor should he. Then it hit me, I had decided to implement a guideline in my GMing, I would call it the Kevin Durant Rule (maybe you’d want to call it the Greg Oden, Sam Bowie, Ralph Sampson, Bill Walton or Brad Daugherty rule as well).
Essential to the Durant Rule — if you have a chance to draft either a big man with star potential or a player from another position (preferably a four or a wing), you take the big man, except for the exception (and here is where Durant comes in) — if the big man has an injury history you play it safe and take the player at the other position, unless you have another big in the draft with similar potential.
The most famous example of the Durant Rule proceeds his birth by about five years: the 1984 draft, when Portland took an injury prone center Sam Bowie from Kentucky over Michael Jordan. Houston also took a less-injury prone center, Hakeem (then Akeem) Olajuwon before Jordan with much better results to come. Belief became truth in 2007 when the rule’s namesake was pushed behind the scintillating yet scary pick Greg Oden, as dominating a big man as the college game had seen in quite a while, he may have lost to my last truly favorite college team (the 06-07 Florida Gators) but he gave Florida’s future pro pair Joakim Noah and Al Horford fits during the 2007 National Championship Game.
At the time I believe I was wearing my couch GM cap when I said to my friend Ron, who went back and forth with me leading up to that draft, that you have to take a perennial All Star 5 (center) over any other player. Just as people hate on Portland for taking Bowie, you can’t hate on Houston for grabbing Olajuwon first in 84.
In my heart I was more of a Durant guy, but franchise-changing 5s stopped growing on trees back in the 80’s. If you can get a great one, you have to. I had to go with my head over my heart, Oden had more value than Durant, but Oden also had a history of injuries. In sixth grade, Oden needed surgery on to place a pin in his hip, Oden later described the bone that attached his leg to his hip as barely hanging on at the time.
Then the wrist injury in his senior year in high school that held Oden out of part of his freshman season at OSU, which still ended with him playing for a national title, but since going through a micro fracture surgery prior to his rookie season, the closest he’s been to being part of a championship team since has been riding the back of the Miami Heat’s bench.
How High (Can He Go?)
Up until his right one betrayed him, Embiid has always had feet, or as Shaq would say on TNT, “feet work,” going for him. Embiid’s feet work was impressive as I began to study him, it was even more impressive upon learning that he relatively new to the sport of basketball than his peers. Embiid was already 16 when he started playing and on top of that, he comes from Cameroon, which has previously produced only two NBA talents.
Most foreign players who come to the game late are clumsy, not that smooth or too smooth and lacking any weight in their post game. Embiid is well coordinated and plays with the edge of a big man that knows the paint belongs to him — “opponents get your asses out of my lane, of suffer consequences” — and sports a great athletic frame with room to gain productive weight while still maintaining his explosiveness.
Week after week as the college basketball season progressed, more draft experts began to realize that Bill Self’s preseason prediction that Embiid may have a higher ceiling than Wiggins was not only off, it was right on the money. Pretty soon Embiid was at the top of everyone’s mock NBA draft.
I was all about Embiid till his back kept him out for the end of the college season and the NCAA tournament, in which the Jayhawks failed to make it out of the first weekend without him. Here. I had to take my fan cap off and return to couch GMing… sometimes this job can suck the life out you. A battle for my basketball sensibilities began to wage — I had to ask myself if I still favored Embiid over Parker. Already Wiggins was relegated to my third or fourth-best prospect.
How Low (Can He Go?)
All of this has been brought in regards to Embiid’s injury history and the now near-crisis he’s approached as his future calls him. Cleveland wants Lebron James to return home but he Cavs are not ready to contend even if Lebron opts out of his current contract and by some miracle decides to return to Cleveland next season. In a year or two a healthy Embiid with Kyrie Irving (no sure bet to stay in Cleveland himself) could present James with a viable reason to leave South Beach. But, will Embiid remain healthy? What we’re hearing about this still growing big man is not a good sign — chronic back injuries plus what may now end up becoming bad feet.
The Cavs seemed prepared to take Embiid at one point but now they have to be scared of him, scared of being forced to pull off their second straight reach of a pick at No. 1 overall after selecting Anthony Bennett last June. must now figure out if they can take the risk of drafting Embiid going along with their reach in last year’s draft, drafting UNLV prospect Anthony Bennett at 1. So maybe you remove Embiid from your draft board now, maybe now you leave yourself to choose between Parker or Wiggins, much like the basketball public did prior to Embiid’s initial revelation.
I don’t know. What I do know is this, injured or not, I’ll always love Embiid’s game, but if I’m Cleveland I’d have to pass on taking him No. 1. It’s the best, most easiest decision for them now regarding this pick. Its also probably best for Embiid in the long run, maybe he’ll fall to a team with a brighter future, maybe he’ll fall to a team who won’t need him to carry them, at least until his feets get better.
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