Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Freshmen Focus: Embiid’s Emergence Proves Draft is More Open Than We Thought
When 7-foot Kansas freshman big man Joel Embiid busted out the “Dream Shake” in Saturday’s win over New Mexico, it may have surprised some college basketball fans around the nation.
But it didn’t surprise his teammates.
“If you saw my facial expression on the court,” fellow freshman Wayne Selden said following the team’s 80-63 victory. “I see him do it in practice every day and I’m glad he brought it to the game.”
“He has great moves,” sophomore Perry Ellis said. “The key was to get the ball to him because it opens everything up. He did a great job down there and we have to keep continuing to get him the ball.”
While all the hype this season has focused on the “Big 4” freshmen group of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon, at what point do we start including Embiid and calling it a “Big 5”?
Or, if you include Australian point guard Dante Exum and Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart, why not call it a “Big 7” at the top of the NBA Draft?
Although sources say that Embiid has told people he would prefer not to come out after his freshman season, it may be near-impossible for him not to do so.
A native of Cameroon who has only been playing organized ball for a few years, he is currently projected as the No. 4 pick in the Draft by both Draft Express and The Big Lead — behind Wiggins, Randle and Parker, but ahead ofExum, Smart and Gordon.
Still, one former NBA GM thinks Embiid could crack the top 3 at this point.
“Embiid is definitely going to end up in the top 3 if he declares for the draft this year,” the former GM told SNY.tv. “He is getting better every game.”
The former GM has Wiggins and Parker at 1-2 right now, but if Embiid went in the top 3, it would give Kansas two of the top three picks, assuming Wiggins goes first or second.
“I do not think as of now that [Embiid] would go No. 1 based on all the media hype for Wiggins and Parker,” the former GM said, “because it’s still going to take some time for him to develop even when he does enter the NBA.”
Still, the larger point may be this: Embiid’s entree into this conversation may just reinforce what Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told SNY.tv last week — that there are no transcendent players in this draft.
“The fact that we’re starting to talk about Joel Embiid and his great promise down the road just says that as much as we have hyped this class, there’s not a LeBron or a Kevin Durant in the class,” ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla told SNY.tv Monday after doing the Kansas-New Mexico game.
“So that in my mind the first six, if they’re not fairly cemented yet, they’re close, and that there’s no consensus No. 1, in my opinion, right now. It’s way too early.”
Fraschilla is cautious not to hype Embiid too much.
Yes, he went for 18 points, 6 rebounds, 4 blocks and 3 steals vs. New Mexico, but he was also nearly invisible in the loss to Florida, managing just 6 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks against Patric Young.
“He’s going to have moments of brilliance but there are also going to be nights where he’s going to be invisible because he’s going to be in foul trouble,” Fraschilla said. “It doesn’t eliminate the amount of incredible potential he has.
“It’s just that he’s in the second inning of his game. Kansas fans will never see the Joel Embiid that NBA fans will see three or four years from now.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.