Will Sixers take another big man?

Posted: June 06, 2014

GENERAL manager Sam Hinkie, just over a month into his hiring by the 76ers, showed some serious guts at last year's draft when he traded the backbone of the organization in 23-year-old All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday.

Should Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker be gone when the GM and his staff get ready to make their selection at No. 3 during the June 26 draft, Hinkie will be presented with quite a decision. Does he take Kansas center Joel Embiid? Does he take yet another big man with a recent history of injury?

With the injuries to Andrew Bynum and Nerlens Noel fresh on the minds of Sixers fans, with the two of them having combined for no games played over the past two seasons, could Hinkie be brave enough to hand Embiid's name to commissioner Adam Silver?

There are pros and cons. Embiid's back stress fracture, suffered this past season, which caused him to miss the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, is the con that overshadows everything. In a recent phone conversation, Embiid's college coach at Kansas, Bill Self, assured that Embiid was fine. Plus, the 7-foot, 250-pounder worked out for all to see recently in Los Angeles and glowing reports followed.

Which is much different than the report Self gave about Embiid after seeing him for the first time at an AAU Tournament while actually recruiting other players. "I didn't fall in love with his game by any stretch, then," Self said of the 2012 recruiting trip.

At that time, Embiid, a native of Cameroon, had only been playing basketball for about a year. He had grown up playing soccer, which played a heavy role in the athleticism Self saw that day. At the time, Self saw the raw big man as "someone who might be able to run the floor a little bit," but he still was not intrigued. Then, after he wasn't particularly thrilled with the big man recruiting list he had compiled over months, Self took another look at Embiid later with assistant coach Norm Roberts.

"We watched him and the improvement was unbelievable," Self said. "I said to Norm that this is going to be the best big man we have ever recruited."

On a team filled with big-time players, none larger than Wiggins, Embiid was able to make his stock rise in the eyes of NBA scouts by posting 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks while shooting 62.6 percent from the field. Still a bit raw offensively, Embiid has shown some fluid moves around the basket and is able to step out as far as the college three-point line.

The progression of his game, and the heights that it still could reach, project him to be one of the top three players taken in the draft and maybe one of the game's premier centers of the future. Comparisons to Tim Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon have been floated around - but should probably float away. Yet that is a testament to Embiid's athleticism and the reason for so many to be optimistic about his future.

"His intellect is off the charts," Self said. "He is unbelievably bright, a lot like the Morris twins . Those guys all had some kind of basketball feel and an IQ well ahead of everybody.

"You could show Jo a play that we're running and he would ask if maybe a fade screen would work better in that situation. He really could play any position mentally, because he knows the game so well. He just has a natural feel for the game. I think soccer has really helped him, understanding angles and where he should be."

His 7-4 wingspan and anticipation make him a natural on the defensive end as far as blocking shots. Could the thought of him combining in the frontcourt with Noel be a possibility the Sixers are considering?

"That would be an awful combination that I wouldn't touch," said an NBA scout. "There just isn't enough meat or offensive skill there between those two."

Another scout disagreed, saying: "With a team that needs so many pieces, how could you not want a guy who is 7-feet and could be a dominating center in the league for years to come?"

Such is the dilemma that might face the Sixers, should Embiid fall to them at No. 3.

"He's real comfortable with the big game," Self said. "His strength has to improve to play the bigger game more, especially in the NBA. But his skill set is such that he is a terrific passer and has a really nice touch.

"Everyone says that he's a center, but he's really a 4-man. But if you put him and Nerlens together, I think it might work well. Jo is going to be able to do some things defensively that a lot of guys could never do.

"Nerlens is a freakish athlete and Nerlens' expertise is on the defensive end. Of course I don't know how much Nerlens' perimeter game has improved, but he seems to be better suited near the basket, from what I saw in high school and college. Jo can take defenders away from the basket and he's versatile enough on defense to play with anyone.

"You know, originally Jo was going to redshirt this season. I thought that one day he would be the top pick in the draft, but I thought it would be after a few years in college. Now he might be anyway."

Or he could fall to the Sixers. Then it could be a third straight season of concern about the health of the team's big man. That is, if Hinkie would dare travel that road again.


On Twitter: @BobCooney76

Blog: ph.ly/Sixerville

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