If you wanted to build a list of potential injuries for any young hotshot prospect to avoid, major stress fractures would likely be near the top. For an elite athlete, practically any injury can heal, but stress fractures often represent something different, something more likely to persist.
That makes the news of Joel Embiid's injury -- a stress fracture to his right foot, per reports -- especially disheartening. An issue of this kind can't simply be located and surgically repaired. To many, it's the kind of information that will ultimately separate prospects at the top of the draft, meaning Embiid's status as the likely No. 1 overall pick has changed.
Some league executives said as much to Sean Deveney of The Sporting News:
"I think there is a point at which you use a pick on him, where you’re hoping maybe these are just fluke things that are not going to be recurring," one general manager told Sporting News. "But that point is not in the Top 5 or so. You can't use a Top 5 pick. I think there are too many other good options there to think about using the pick on one who has these injury problems."
Deveney suggests that it's possible that Embiid falls into the 8-10 range of the draft lottery given the strong depth in this year's class, which also includes Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum and other impressive talents. That may seem crazy considering he was a contender to go No. 1 overall, but it's becoming a more common sentiment.
"With that type of injury, I wouldn't take him in the top-10," one Western Conference executive told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.
It's clear that memories of past big men with similar issues have impacted the thinking of some executives. Stress-related foot injuries ended the careers of two legends, Bill Walton and Yao Ming, while Zydrunas Ilgauskas nearly had his career derailed by similar issues before settling into a long career with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The track record of players with persistent foot issues isn't great, and it's clearly going to scare off some teams in the coming days. That could be smart, but it could also be a massive mistake if Embiid gets past the injuries and reaches his potential, which is surely something teams are thinking about.
As bad as things might look right now, ESPN's Dr. Mark Adickes -- a former team physician for the Rockets who worked with Yao -- says Embiid's situation "is troubling, but it isn't a career death sentence for the Kansas center."
In the article, Adickes explains several differences between the circumstances of Yao and Embiid, including height and games played. Because the former was 7'6 and had to spend significant time playing for the Chinese national team, he stood a greater risk of breaking down.
There's also the little fact that Yao "had extremely high arches in his feet, which, when placed under stress, compressed his navicular bone like a nutcracker." While Adickes has never seen X-rays of Embiid's feet for comparison, "it is highly unlikely that he has similar anatomy as Yao."
So that's the good news, as is a report from SB Nation's Liberty Ballers that the Cavs could still potentially take Embiid first overall, injury warts and all. That would certainly be controversial with guys like Wiggins and Parker still on the board, but stress fractures aside, nobody in this draft class matches Embiid's potential.
It all may come down to the Kansas big man's health, though, which makes an already difficult decision that much tougher. If some team wants to gamble early on Embiid, people will understand, but there's probably not a riskier proposition in the draft now.