I've been debating this ever since the news came about Joel Embiid's foot. How far do I drop him? How much long term concern is there over either of his major injury issues? How much, if at all, does his availability next season factor into my ranking?
My initial reaction was negative, as was the case with most people, both in the Philadelphia area and nationally. This pick was far too important, far too franchise defining, to miss because of an injury. When Rich and I spoke last Thursday, just hours after the injury was announced, he wasn't in the top 3 of my big board. I've been burned too many times in the past. It was the first time in 6 months that the top 3 of my board had changed.
Since that time I've read every article about the injury that I could, from recapping the other athletes that have fought through the injury to medical journals. My ability to understand medical journals borders on nothing, but I couldn't help it. I had to look.
I've talked to everybody I could about their opinion on the injury. Most also not qualified to make a medical prognosis, but many who have at least consulted with people who could. I don't think there's anything definite. He could let the injury heal and play many healthy seasons, or he could be a ticking time bomb. I may have slightly more hope now than I did last week, but I can still see either scenario playing out.
Initially, when submitting my big board for version 3 the composite big board, I had moved Embiid back up to second. I had stumbled upon enough to give me enough hope that, with his talent, I couldn't let him far any further. However, after hitting submit and sitting there knowing that I wasn't comfortable passing on such a talent, I sent an email at the last minute switching Embiid and Wiggins back to 1 and 2 respectively.
The Sixers having received the medical reports certainly helps ease my confidence in their ability to make a decision, and I've been told that, as far as medical reports on broken navicular bones go, it was relatively positive. That doesn't mean there's no risks, of course, but it's better than the alternative, I guess. But what ultimately won out was my evaluation of him as a prospect. I'd rather draft Embiid and have him struggle to stay healthy than miss out on a generational talent because I was scared.
Injuries are not the only risks when submitting a name to Adam Silver on draft night. Mediocrity is as well. That's not to say that Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, or Dante Exum are mediocre, but each of their games carries risk that they won't be a franchise altering talent.
Wiggins is a virtual certainty in my mind to end up averaging 18 points with good defense, and perhaps sooner than some think, but he needs substantial improvement in his ball handling and finishing at the rim to be the type of dynamic player to carry an offense. This could happen, but it's far from a sure thing. Exum needs significant refinement in his shot to really carry a team, and we've seen prospects not be able to make that jump. And I can't see Parker having either the ability to create shots for his teammates at a high enough rate, nor the ability to defend any position on the court well enough to ultimately have the impact many are projecting him to.
That doesn't mean that those risks each player has have a higher chance of turning out negatively than Embiid's back or foot do. They don't. But none of them have the upside that Embiid does, either. There was only one player in this draft who I thought, if he's healthy, it's hard for me not to envision him becoming a franchise player. That player is Joel Embiid. And with how frequently you can end up at the top of the draft and there not be a franchise level prospect available, passing on him carries significant risk as well.
The Sixers are in a relatively fortuitous position in that they have a general manager with the job security to not hinder long term building for short term gain. Not many are afforded that luxury. The chance that Embiid may miss most, if not all, of next year is enough to knock him out of many teams plans. But as long as Hinkie thinks he has the best chance of becoming a franchise player, as long as Hinkie thinks he can contribute the most in years 3, 4, and 5+, he has the leeway to do so. That's an advantage few have in this day of immediate gratification.
Injuries are scary because we lose the illusion of control. We like control. But I think we undersell the risk in the other prospects as well, because those risks are not as scary. I hear a lot that we have to move the rebuid forward, but the best way to move the rebuild forward in a significant manner is to get a franchise level player, and missing out on that player is a huge risk as well. There's only one player whom I fully believe can be that player. And lucky for us, he can be there at 3.