Former Kansas big man Joel Embiid worked out in front of several NBA types Friday in Santa Monica and the general consensus is that the 20-year-old was impressive. Yahoo! Sports Adrian Wojnarowski, usually light on opinion, tweeted that it is "Impossible to imagine passing on him at No. 1."
ESPN's draft guru Chad Ford praised the big man, too.
Embiid quickly re-asserting claim to # 1 pick here. Added muscle, still has quick feet & a beautiful jumper. No evidence of back issues— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 23, 2014
Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 23 minutes per game in his only season at Kansas. He shot 62.6 percent from the floor and 68.5 percent from the free throw line. The talent is there, but so is concern over a back injury.
The Cameroonian tweaked his back on Feb. 8 against West Virginia. He re-aggravated the injury on March 1 against Oklahoma State and missed the rest of the season. The injury was ruled a stress fracture in his lower back.
But Ford tweeted that Embiid told him that his back is "100 percent" and that he's been working out hard for the last three weeks. It wasn't just Ford who reported about Embiid's improved health: Grantland's Bill Simmons reported Thursday that he watched Embiid work out "at a secret location in Santa Monica." Simmons reported that Embiid's "back is fine."
Still, NBA executives aren't concerned whether or not Embiid's back is healthy right now. They are concerned whether or not it will stay healthy for years to come. DraftExpress' Jonathon Givony warned that being healthy in a workout is different than remaining healthy long-term.
Looking healthy in a workout is not the same as being cleared by doctors after a thorough medical examination, unless your eyes can do MRIs.— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) May 23, 2014
Fox Sports Ohio's Sam Amico reported on Thursday that Embiid was out already of the running for the top pick.
Sounding as if Joel Embiid basically out of running for No. 1 pick. Sources say #Cavs' extremely leery of potential for longterm back issues— Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) May 23, 2014
But scouts and GMs love Embiid. Men of his size, skill and athleticism are rare. Ryan Russillo posted a story on Grantland Friday about the top prospects in the draft. In it, Russillo quoted an anonymous GM, assistant GM and an director of scouting about four of the top guys.
All three evaluators agree that Embiid should be the top pick, given that he clears with medical doctors. "Scout 1" was the most blunt in his assessment:
If healthy, I’m taking him no. 1 and it’s not even close.
Strong words, considering how gifted the rest of this the draft class is.