Baller Shots presents SIMPLE NBA DRAFT PROFILES
Today’s profile: Joel Embiid
The blue and white balloons still shine bright as the lights of the event center in the Lexington Hyatt Regency begin to dim. The sound of gentle chatter still fills the mostly empty room, as employees pull the dustbuster and vacuum cleaner from the supply closet. The small group of men sitting in the middle of the room ignore the chairs being stacked, as they enjoy coffee, cake, and conversation. They’ve spent most of the night signing jerseys, basketballs, and photos of their playing days, so it’s actually the first time they’ve gotten to catch up with one another. These fundraisers are the only times they ever seem to see each other, outside of welcoming other Kentucky Wildcat alumni into their ranks. As they finish their coffees, they make plans to watch the draft at a local bar one of their old booster buddies owns. They laugh, they reminisce, and then they leave. The tallest of the group, a slightly-hunched seven footer, with the arms that almost go down to his knees, ducks his head to avoid the top of the doorframe.
As Sam Bowie walks to his car, he exchanges texts with his kids, checks in on the progress of the latest horse he bought, and casually looks through the ESPN app on his phone. While looking for the score of England’s World Cup game, he finds something that makes his heart sink. He takes a deep breath, reading through the gruesome, familiar details. Much to his chagrin, he accidentally scrolls to the comments section of the news article, his eyes catching the mentions of his own name. Closing the app and putting his phone back on the charger, he closes his eyes, hearing the soft Kentucky rain upon his windshield as the cheers of thousands filling Rupp Arena. Bowie sits in the moment, the ring of his cell phone bringing him back to reality. As he sees the caller ID read the name of his daughter Samantha, he answers with a smile.
Joel Embiid is a fantastic basketball player, and perhaps the only one of his kind in existence today. There isn’t another true center in the game today who moves or shoots like he does. You can see in both the game footage and the workouts that he is exceptionally smooth at everything he does. One of the biggest problems for big guys in the league is that they don’t understand their own size or power, or what it really means to possess it. They think they have to be pounding bodies down low, with Shaquille O’Neal chastising young men for not protecting the post and Hakeem Olajuwon teaching the “Dream Shake” so today’s centers can compensate for their supposed lack of real shooting skill.
Joel Embiid is not that kind of center. If you must find an NBA comp, and of course you must, you’ll have to go back all the way to
Roger Murdock Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The resemblance in their game is uncanny. Obviously a more finesse style is clear, with Kareem utilizing his skyhook, and Embiid using a step-back jumper or a one-hand toss toward the basket. How they use their body is very similar as well; very wide stances when posting up, making full use of their exceptionally long arms to effortlessly catch and move around the ball. Neither player could ever be described as a stiff, or as “just a body”. Make no mistake, though. These guys can get it done around the rim. I’ve never seen players dunk with more ease and less flash. Just slamming it down for two, then hustling down the court. Yes SIRRRRRRR.
Their offensive prowess and body control makes you forget about both of their defensive games. They both are quick blockers, precise as assassins, showing up from seemingly nowhere to disrupt layups and easy shots around the basket. Futhermore, they both have the uncanny ability to continue moving the ball the other way after the defensive stop, their long strides getting them downcourt, or using that same precision I talked about for the smart outlet pass.
You want a modern NBA comp for Embiid? The closest I can find is Joakim Noah, but even he doesn’t have the scoring skill Embiid has. Noah’s jumpshot is absolute garbage, even if he does manage to score with it, and he’s not exactly known for his fancy footwork. But he does have a similar body, and knows how to use it for (near) maximum efficiency. Noah’s an amazing passer, and an explosive, punishing, relentless defender. Embiid has such an amazing head start though, there really is no telling where his career could go.
For now, the only place he’s gone is to the operating room. A stress fracture to the navicular bone in his right foot has resulted in a plate and two screws being inserted there, and with a previous stress fracture in his back, Embiid’s career is now bringing up the names of Sam Bowie and Greg Oden. It’s a cliche, to be sure, but only because it’s been real. It’s unknown if human beings are even meant to be seven feet tall, and many who live long lives find it filled with pain, regardless of previous occupations. Those who play basketball, a game filled with running and a surprising amount of physical contact can find their bodies failing them far faster.
It’s heartbreaking, because you want to believe. When you see something as wonderful as his talent, you don’t want to see it end so soon. You want to see it play out. You want to see it blossom, and lead this young man to a wonderful life. Time will tell if a team’s faith in Embiid will be rewarded, but one thing is for sure: the rewards that await them are one of a kind.