Joel Embiid is rapidly cementing himself as the #1 pick in the eyes of the public, as nearly every game he puts on a show with his surprising coordination, offensive skill, and defensive rim presence. I compiled this video to focus on the latter, along with the mistakes that he is prone to on defense that demonstrate how he remains somewhat raw in spite of his high level of skill and production:
Note that I give audio commentary to describe each play as opposed to having a table of contents this time.
1) Embiid is better at contesting shots without fouling than people realize. People see his exorbitant foul rate and assume that it largely stems from contesting shots, but he racks up fouls in a variety of ways, including battling for position in the post, going over the back on rebounds, committing technicals (which count as personal fouls in college), and in this game a perimeter handcheck. He also does foul on contests, but 8 blocks and several other solid contests without fouling against a top team is extremely impressive, even if it is an outlier performance.
2) In spite of his errors on offense, Embiid still made a huge positive impact on defense. Oklahoma State shot 14/38 on 2 pointers, attempted just 16 FT’s, and had to resort to bombing 3’s and hitting 12/28 to stay in the game and eventually lose by 2.
3) As an NBA rookie he won’t be able to dominate as much on natural ability, but if he even shows an average ability to learn and grow he has favorable odds of being good on both ends. Based on signs thus far that he was able to be better than expected and was able to quickly pick up on the simple detail that Oklahoma State was using Murphy as a passer to keep him away from the rim, he has shown enough to set himself apart from the Javale McGee/DeAndre Jordan low IQ types. And if he proves to be a fast learner and hard worker, he will inevitably become one of the all time greats.
This is just one game where he did set a career high in blocks, but overall his stats measure up favorably to the historically elite defensive big man prospects in their final season of college. This is with Kansas having played the 2nd toughest schedule in the nation thus far:
These players were all drafted 1st or 2nd overall with the exclusion of Hibbert who went 18th. Defensive stats are not the ultimate indicator of NBA success (see: Thabeet), but Embiid is making plays against tough competition as much as anybody else has, and he has the physical tools to translate as he stands 7′ 250 pounds with a 7’5 wingspan and nimble feet.
His offensive game merits similar analysis that I will offer in the future, but for now suffice it to say that it mirrors his current defensive disposition. He offers great skill, college production, and a world of upside, but he also has plenty of fat to be trimmed with his exorbitant turnover rate.
Overall he has elite two way player upside, and it’s easy to see why he is rapidly emerging as the obvious #1 pick in the draft. There is plenty of uncertainty with respect to his learning ability, but this uncertainty doesn’t necessarily mean that he is a significant bust risk. Given that he is already this good this soon, it is difficult to envision him not becoming a competent NBA player. He may not be a lock to become a superstar, but I do not believe he carries the same downside risk of players such as Thabeet or Darko who were merely NBA bodies that never demonstrated much basketball skill or acumen. Embiid does carry the same injury risk that everybody else does, and it is possible his fiery personality will cause issues along the way. But there is far too much working in his favor for him to be a complete flop, and I believe he has the highest floor in the draft on top of the highest ceiling. As far as I am concerned he should be locked into the #1 pick, even if he tears his ACL or is revealed to be 22 years old.