I was driving on the Shoreway toward downtown yesterday. The sunroof was open and radio on as I glanced out over the lake. It was another beautiful day in Cleveland, but in my mind it was June 26. ‘Joel Embiid is going to love it here,’ I thought to myself. ‘I wonder if he’ll wear that same red bowtie Hakeem did when Adam Silver calls his name.’
A few miles away in Independence, the 7-foot, Cameroonian phenom by way of Kansas was meeting with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Under the watchful eye of general manager David Griffin, and his team of talent evaluators, Embiid would leap, dunk, spin and shoot while demonstrating an on-court potential unlike any other player in the 2014 NBA Draft. His highly scrutinized back would be then dissected and prodded by a team of medical experts from the world-famous Cleveland Clinic.
According to my friend, and a player whose drawn comparisons to Embiid among Lakewood YMCA Men’s Leaguers, the big man passed every test.
News is positive in Cleveland after Cavs examine Joel Embiid’s back and see no longterm concerns, according to a source.
— Probasketballdraft (@Probballdraft) June 11, 2014
There is still an obvious injury risk associated with drafting Embiid first overall. It’s impossible to truly know the long-term effects of an injury severe enough to sideline the 20-year-old from postseason play with the Jayhawks. Despite that inherent risk, however, his talent, upside and skill-set is too much to dismiss.
Even with an athletic freak named Andrew Wiggins sitting next to him in the green room. For me, there is only one pick David Griffin can make on draft night: Joel Hans Embiid.
Fit is the new mantra for the Cavaliers of the future. Building a cohesive unit that is stronger than the sum of its parts is now the goal. Kyrie Irving is the franchise. He is a ball-dominant superstar capable of creating for himself and others. The next best player on the current roster is a promising young shooting guard who also needs the ball to be most effective. As a center, who doesn’t need those same touches to impact games at both ends of the floor, Embiid has demonstrated the unique ability to fit what Cleveland is building.
If he does nothing else, Embiid will add a dimension of shot-blocking, paint defense and rim protection that the Cavaliers have not possessed since Jim Chones. The Cavs ranked 29th in the NBA last season with an average of 3.7 blocks per game as a team. While obviously recorded among amateurs, Embiid averaged 2.6 blocks himself in only 23.1 minutes per night. He projects to be a shot-blocker and rim protector at the next level, and Cleveland is in desperate need of what he can deliver.
Embiid will help erase the defensive mistakes made by Irving, Waiters and others on the perimeter. With an elite shot-blocker anchoring the paint, the Cavs guards can now afford to survive as average defenders. Any improvement from there on the perimeter is a bonus. An athletically commanding paint-presence would close the turnstyle-defense that doubled as a glorified layup line for the last four years. Embiid can be that presence.
Shooting 62 percent from the field is a staggering number. Besides the defensive prowess, this was the number Joel Embiid hung on the board at Kansas. He doesn’t need the basketball to impact games. But when he has it, he is more than capable of finishing in multiple ways.
Like this, for example.
He will dramatically improve the Cavaliers’ rebounding efforts at both ends of the floor. He will create second-chance opportunities that didn’t exist in prior seasons. He is still young and still raw and still growing, but at the same time he’s ready to contribute.
The comparisons to Greg Oden or Jared Sullinger or any other big man who entered the NBA before him with injury concerns are inapplicable. What does Greg Oden have to do with Joel Embiid? How are they the same person? I am not willing to penalize Embiid because Oden’s body tragically gave out him. But at the same time, I understand the risks involved with drafting a player who missed the time that Embiid’s injuries forced him to miss last year. I’m not ignoring the impact that injuries could have on Embiid’s future. I simply believe that his talent, potential, floor and ceiling far outweigh all of those concerns.
Andrew Wiggins is a special talent. To a lesser extent, so is Jabari Parker. But Embiid is the pick Cleveland must make at number one. I also believe he will be the eventual selection later this month. He is the best fit for the Cavs. He is the best prospect. He offers the best chance of truly becoming great. He’s worth all of the perceived risks.
I’m glad he enjoyed his time in Cleveland yesterday as much as I did. Hoping to see him around here for years to come.
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images