Is Joel Embiid worth the risk of a high NBA draft pick?

June 24

Joel Embiid (21) may not be playing basketball this year. (Orlin Wagner / AP)

One of the more intriguing questions about Thursday’s NBA draft centers around Joel Embiid.

Is Embiid, the Kansas center who was once considered a strong candidate to be chosen No. 1 overall by Cleveland, worth the risk now that he has had foot surgery? Can Embiid, who may miss all of his rookie season as he recovers from surgery for a stress fracture, bounce back or will he be the next big man with big foot problems? The Milwaukee Bucks, who have the No. 2 pick, are passing on him.

“It’s hard to take Embiid,” Bucks owner Marc Lasry, whose team has the No. 2 overall pick, told news reporters. “We want somebody who is going to help us on Day One.”

Embiid, at 7-feet, 250 pounds, has been compared to Hakeem Olajuwon, but what if he’s more like Greg Oden?

“If an NBA team picks Joel, they’re getting a fun-loving kid who came across basketball late in life,” Kansas Coach Bill Self said. “If you look at how far he’s come in such a short time, it’s amazing. You hear the Hakeem comparison, and I think it’s right based on so many similarities.”

Last year, Nerlens Noel fell to sixth after suffering a knee injury and Embiid’s stress fracture isn’t his only health problem. His season ended just as March was beginning because of a back injury.

Speculation rose Monday that the Philadelphia 76ers might take Embiid at No. 3 and, as they did with Noel, would wait as he sits out a season. Given that these are the Sixers, Embiid might be a surprisingly early pick Thursday. As CSNPhilly.com’s John Finger puts it: “[W]ith Embiid’s acknowledged upside and talent and the fact that the Sixers aren’t going to win an NBA title in 2014-15, would they force another player to sit out for an entire season? There’s no telling what the Sixers will do these days.”

Actually, there’s no telling what any team will do, with the run-up to any draft filled with intrigue, misdirection and manipulation.

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