It is June 26. The Sixers had won the lottery, and their fans are eagerly awaiting the addition of two new lottery prospects to their team, along with whatever other else their GM Sam Hinkie manages to pull off. Adam Silver walks to the podium to announce the pick.
"With the first pick of the 2014 NBA draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select..."
Surely the selection is Andrew Wiggins. After all, the mocks have been exclusively picking Wiggins-to-Philadelphia since the lottery ended. All their fans (and seemingly their front office too) have wanted him since before the season started. The pain of the season, of a record-tying 26 straight losses was finally going to pay off in this moment.
I think the selection should be Joel Embiid.
Embiid has never quite captured the Sixer fans' imaginations quite like Wiggins has. Ever since Hinkie traded away incumbent all-star Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel and an additional pick in the 2014 draft, Wiggins was the dream. He would fit their team perfectly. They fell in love. And like a lover, they were overwilling to ignore the flaws that showed up, with some proclaiming Wiggins the one and only and anyone else a disappointment.
There is another factor working against Embiid: he plays center. You see, last year, the Sixers drafted Nerlens Noel, a young promising center in his own right. After his selection, Sixers' fans have been envisioning Noel anchoring their defense, swatting away every shot their opponents put up. Having Embiid on the team complicates things. The dissonant image makes some more inclined to underrate how good of a prospect Embiid is.
In this fanpost, I argue that at first overall, the Sixers should pick Embiid. At the very least, I wish to disabuse people from the view that it is Wiggins or bust. Reading this site, I get the impression that many people are rating Wiggins much higher than Embiid, a position I think is clearly wrong.
The argument for Embiid goes as follows:
1. Embiid is a better prospect than Wiggins.
2. We are not in a position to worry about fit concerns.
Embiid is a better prospect than Wiggins
To begin, we should largely ignore the hype Wiggins got from high school. Why? Because high school was a year ago. We have seen him in college games now, and whether or not he looks really good dunking on physically-overmatched high schoolers is largely irrelevant compared to higher quality sample size we have in college. The college game has revealed some very real flaws in Wiggins' game, namely:
-he doesn't have a good handle
-he doesn't have good touch around the rim and doesn't finish well through traffic
The above two points limit Wiggins' effectiveness in the half-court. If Wiggins' never develops his handle, he will be a good starter, but no all-star. He needs to improve his handle and his finishing ability to become a very good all-star, and the likelihood that he becomes Durant good is essentially zero. In essence, the possibility that Wiggins never develops is very real.
I would say Embiid is in a whole tier above Wiggins as a prospect. This is not saying that Wiggins is a bad prospect: he isn't. But a healthy Embiid is just plain better. Consider:
-They are both very raw, yet Embiid is already clearly the better player right now. This isn't Wiggins not being as good as some already-developed four year college player, this is Wiggins not being as good as somebody who has been playing for an even shorter period of time than he has, and who is just as raw. And Embiid is better right now. Ask Self who he would rather have for the NCAA tourney and he will tell you Embiid. Ask any opposing coach who they would rather not see, and they will tell you Embiid. And its not like they have to think about it either: Embiid is cleary above Wiggins as a player right now.
-Embiid has the higher ceiling. Wiggins' ceiling is high: if he develops both his handle and his finishing ability and improve his playmaking ability, he could get to the level of Paul George. Embiid's ceiling is higher: he has not shown his ceiling yet. He is so good so early that he could very well be a surefire Hall of Famer.
-A healthy Embiid has a better chance at being very good IMO. Yes, if Wiggins develops his handle, he could become an all-star. But Wiggins hasn't shown much of a handle yet. Embiid would become an all-star if he improves on the offensive skills he is already showing. So little development time and he already shows a hook shot with both hands and a dream shake. What is more likely: a prospect getting better at things he is already consistently showing he can do well, or a prospect developing something he has shown to be not very good at.
All of the above combine to lead me to the conclusion that Embiid is in a tier above Wiggins as a prospect.
We are not in a position to worry about fit concerns
If you come to the conclusion that Embiid is a better prospect than Wiggins, as I have, then it is silly to not consider taking Embiid at number 1. By taking the lesser prospect, you are purposely devaluing your own asset, which is a bad idea. Over the long run, doing this will set you up for failure.
Some people would argue that you pick Embiid lower than you would otherwise because you already have a good center prospect in Nerlens Noel, and they would be a bad offensive fit next to each other. I might find this argument more convincing if the Sixers were trying to contend next year. From all accounts, the Sixers are not trying to contend next year. The Sixers are rebuilding, which means they should be stockpiling assets they can use to eventually get the pieces to contend.
If you think the window for contention is several years away, as the Sixers clearly do, then there is so much uncertainty that taking the less valued asset is an indefensible proposition. You just plain don't know what you're team will look like when you are in a position to contend. Some things that may happen:
-Maybe Noel and Embiid learn how to play together.
-Maybe Noel doesn't develop as hoped.
-Maybe some team falls in love with Noel and significantly overpays for him.
-Maybe Noel battles knee injuries his whole career.
I would like to point out the probability Noel goes injury bust might be higher than you think. Sixers fans do not like to think about it, so they may underestimate the chance it actually happens. Noel's current knee injury could be related to an injury he suffered to his growth plates in that leg in high school, and injury he rushed back from. Recall how Noel slided to number 6 on draft night, with one executive saying the reason was "the knee looks bad." It is not like other teams couldn't have held him out the whole year either. The Magic weren't contending anytime soon, and they passed up on him. The Bobcats didn't want him and took Cody Zeller, another big man. The Phoenix Suns weren't planning to contend at the time, reportedly have a very good medical staff, and decided to take another center, Alex Len. I know Sixers fans would rather not think about it, but there is a chance Noel has bad knees, something which has ruined the careers of Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum.
Now going back to the previous train of thought, even if both Noel and Embiid develop and they never learn to make it work together, it is not the end of the world. You can trade one of them for pieces that fit better. Good centers are so rare and so valuable that you should be able to trade them for good wings. Remember the team which traded Andre Iguodala for Andrew Bynum? Remember how many of that team's fans believed the trade was a good decision, given what was known about Bynum's health at that time? Basically, you can trade a good center (possibly even a center with an injury history) for a good wing.
In conclusion, if his back checks out, Embiid is a better prospect than Wiggins. He's better now, he has a higher ceiling, and he is already showing the skills needed to be a star center. If you think he is better, you draft him because picking the worse prospect is a long-term losing proposition. You are several years away from contention and are in no position to not pick somebody because of fit concerns.
This is why, at first overall, I think the Sixers should take
"... Joel Embiid."