The Cleveland Cavaliers lucked into the first overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft when they hit on they 1.7% chance at the draft lottery. If they had stayed in the #9 slot, they would have likely been looking at a range of decent, but not special prospects. In that scenario, it would have been nice had the Cavs simply gotten a productive starter out of their selection. But now that they have the #1 pick, this decision carries a lot more weight. The player that Cleveland selects could be the the next great all star that this team needs to put alongside Kyrie Irving.
There's a general sense about the Cavaliers' selection at #1 that they cannot really mess it up. As long as they select one of Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, or Joel Embiid, they will be getting an exceptional prospect and a potentially franchise-changing player. I wish that that sentiment gave me reassurance that I won't be sitting here three years from now complaining about who the Cavs took in the 2014 NBA Draft. But it doesn't. And that's because of one prospect in particular: Joel Embiid.
As we've moved closer to the night of the draft, I've become more and more convinced that Joel Embiid is the best prospect available. He's 7 feet tall, incredible agile for a big man, has great footwork despite his limited basketball experience, and can provide incredibly valuable rim protection. If there were no questions about his health, I suspect that this would be a very easy choice for the Cavs' front office. Unfortunately, there are questions about his health. His back issues are well documented and it will be up to the medical staff to determine whether or not these issues are likely to plague Embiid throughout his career. So here you have an extremely talented big man prospect who might have injury issues. I think there's an incredibly low chance of Embiid becoming a bust if he stays healthy. But if he doesn't stay healthy, then you've just missed out on Wiggins and Parker (both of whom I would have been utterly thrilled about getting a month ago when we thought the Cavs would be picking 9th overall). So the increased potential for injury derailing Embiid's bright future makes it terrifying for the Cavs to take him with the first overall pick.
All of that said, Embiid is also terrifying for another reason. If you pass on Embiid because you're afraid of his injury risk and he doesn't get hurt...well, then you've just passed on a guy that might end up being a most dominant center of the next decade and a half. He has all of the tools to go on and be a Hall of Fame big man. He could lock down the paint year after year and present an all-around threat on offense as well. Prospects like Embiid just don't come along very often. How awful would it be to pass on him because you're afraid of his back and then watch him go on to have an Hakeem Olajuwon type of career for the Milwaukee Bucks or Philadelphia 76ers? For as great as Wiggins and Parker are, they just don't have the same ceiling as Embiid. They can be great, all star level players, but I don't think they are as likely as a healthy Embiid to become that kind of transcendent superstar.
And really, this is the biggest predicament that the Cavaliers are facing. They have to decide which is scarier: the possibility that Embiid might get hurt and never reach his potential or the possibility that you pass on a generational big man. They'll get more information than we get. They'll have their doctors look at Embiid and they've done a lot more scouting on all three players than I have. But ultimately they'll have to make a really tough decision. I love Joel Embiid, but he scares the crap out of me. And I'm just glad I'm not the one who has to make that decision.
Best of luck, David Griffin.