Foot Injury Turns Joel Embiid Into Ultimate High-Risk, High-Reward Pick

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Reports that Kansas big man Joel Embiid has suffered a stress fracture in his right foot have sent experts and fans back to the drawing board as we approach next Thursday's draft.

The top big man in this year's NBA Draft has a potentially serious problem with injuries. Stop me if you've heard this one before.

Reports filtered out Thursday morning that former Kansas Jayhawks center Joel Embiid, considered a strong candidate to be the No. 1 overall selection come June 26, has a stress fracture in his right foot. Combined with his prior back issues, the implications of this latest turn of events on his draft stock aren't yet clear. How does the order at the top of the draft between Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Dante Exum change, if at all? If Embiid does fall, how far are we talking?

If there's one thing the NBA world seems to enjoy flipping out about, it's how a big man's injury history can impact have a franchise-altering pick. After Greg Oden, the narrative of the draft bust with an unfortunate musculoskeletal structure has been a steady drumbeat facing teams at the top of the order, causing them to be more cautious.

At least that's what they'd like you to believe.

In reality, teams are just as hopeful when it comes to draft selections as they ever have been. Whether it's broken feet or broken jumpers, teams have reached for players in instances where their team situation, draft order and needs have all weighed larger than potential issues.

It's not hard to see this in effect. Last year, projected No. 1 overall pick Nerlens Noel had his draft chances thrown up in the air after tearing his ACL in February of 2013. The story around Noel turned to injury potential over defensive potential. The result? He only fell to No. 6.

But it wasn't just Noel where concerns were trumped by expected value. Anthony Bennett was taken even though he was overweight and dealing with asthma and shoulder issues. Victor Oladipo couldn't score. Otto Porter wasn't a great athlete. Cody Zeller was soft. Alex Len broke his ankle.

Yes, because of the structure of the new CBA, teams have coveted first-round picks even more when it comes to trade time. Does that mean they are more conservative when making a Top 10 selection for a potentially franchise-altering player? Not necessarily.

When it comes down to it, Embiid is a major talent, one capable of potentially becoming a dominant NBA player. He's big, athletic, and can pass and move in an offense the way you just don't see very often in true centers.

His college statistics are frightening. He had a net rating between his offensive and defensive production of +25.7, grabbed 20.5 percent of all rebounds when he was on the floor, had a 65.6 true shooting percentage and assisted on 11.5 percent of his teammates' plays. If he can live up to his potential, he will be a game-changer for whomever drafts him.

There was some panic in the immediate aftermath of Embiid's injury becoming public, but the reaction among analysts hasn't been over the top. Upon the hearing the breaking news Thursday morning, DraftExpress updated their mock draft with Embiid "sliding" to the Orlando Magic at No. 4. Hardly the dip we've seen in, say, big time college football quarterbacks.

This is a process that begins with ping pong balls and ends with teams giving millions of dollars to men who have never played a single minute in the NBA. Without busts, there wouldn't be much left up to chance, and without teams taking those busts, the narrative surrounding all-time greats and teams passing over them on draft day wouldn't exist.

A top selection in the NBA Draft is already a high-risk, high-reward proposal. With the price of  first rounders skyrocketing since 2011, using that pick on a potential failure can kill a team's rebuilding process, leaving a wake of fired GMs and coaches.

Will a team be justified in passing up Embiid? Definitely. Will a team be justified for taking a shot at a center that has the potential to become a perennial All-Star? Absolutely.

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