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Celtics 2014 Draft Targets: Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid (Greg Nelson/SI)

For other candidates to be taken by the Celtics with the sixth overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft, read our profiles on Arizona PF Aaron Gordon, Kentucky PF Julius Randle and Oklahoma State PG Marcus Smart.

Name: Joel Embiid

College: Kansas

Position: Center

Age: 20

Stats: 7’0″, 250 lbs.

Background

Embiid, a native of Cameroon, was widely expected to be a top three pick in the Draft until he underwent right foot surgery and had two pins installed in his navicular bone, an injury which is expected to keep him out for at least four to six months, if not longer. The setback has thrown mock drafters, as well as team front offices, off, but his potential when healthy remains unaltered.

Embiid only started to play basketball at age 16, and he played just one year of college ball at Kansas, helping the Jayhawks to the Big 12 regular season title with 11.2 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. Despite being perceived as a raw talent, he scored on 62.6% of his field goal attempts, a sure sign of a poor shooter (68.5% from the free throw line) knowing his limits and not forcing shots. Embiid, however, missed the last six games of Kansas’s season, including the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, with a back injury.

Does he fit the Celtics?

The concern with Embiid is, of course, his health. Teams were pleasantly surprised by his pre-Draft workouts and came away reassured about his back issue, but news of his foot surgery brought back ghosts of Yao Ming due to Embiid’s seven-foot frame. There is little doubt that whatever team picks Embiid will be taking on a certain amount of risk, but it is just as true that he is still one of the best players in the draft, and there’s a reason why he was competing with his college teammate Andrew Wiggins for the top pick, with some reports suggesting that the Cavaliers were, in fact, leaning towards Embiid prior to his surgery.

It’s really anybody’s guess, at this point, where Embiid will be taken – of the teams with picks at the top, only Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry has publicly suggested that Embiid will not be their selection at number two, and the Cavs have to be off the table, because their recent string of questionable (to say the least) draft choices should make new general manager David Griffin wary of taking such a gamble in his first Draft at the helm.

Of the other three teams ahead of Boston, both Philadelphia and Orlando will, according to reports, still consider taking Embiid, but if he’s available at number six, don’t be surprised if Celtics GM Danny Ainge pounces on him. Despite the Yao precedent, Embiid’s injury does not have to be career-threatening, and if he fulfills his potential, he could turn out to be a steal a few years down the road.

Ainge and head coach Brad Stevens have made it clear that they are only entering year two of what they see as a lengthy rebuilding process – unless Boston can pull off the much-discussed trade for Kevin Love, the Celtics brass does not consider its team a contender for 2014-15. This could make them more receptive to a player who will miss training camp and a good chunk of the season, perhaps even all of it, especially one who can help the C’s down low, where they often struggled mightily last season.

Whoever takes Embiid will be setting themselves up for plenty of second-guessing until he actually takes the floor in an NBA uniform, but the more teams pass on him come Draft night, the more difficult it will be for those on the clock to talk themselves out of acquiring a clear top-three talent.

About Nick García - @N_A_Garcia

Nick is the Celtics and college sports editor at Sports of Boston. He writes about basketball, football and anything else that comes his way. Follow him on Twitter @N_A_Garcia

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