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NBA AM: Was Drafting Embiid A Bad Decision?

Even in hindsight, was the 76ers decision to draft Joel Embiid really a bad one?

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Was Drafting Joel Embiid A Mistake?:  Hindsight is an amazing predictor of success. It’s easy to predict who will be successful after something has already happened, but the truth of the matter is that’s not how decision making is done, and in the case of NBA Draft picks there are very few sure things.

For the Philadelphia 76ers, time will tell how their choice of center Joel Embiid will play out. But trying to judge the selection now, even going into his second surgery that will result in another missed season, is hardly the entire story.

The 76ers have been under fire for several seasons now because of how they opted to tear the entire franchise down to rebuild around the draft and younger prospects. What’s enraged some is the blatant manner in which the team has selected draft picks that clearly would not play in the year they were drafted – Nerlens Noel missed his first season recovering from an ACL tear, Embiid was drafted days after his first foot surgery knowing full well he’d miss the entire season. What gets missed in all of this was that the 76ers took the chance on the better talent, at the expense of the present.

Looking back on the 2013 NBA Draft, it’s hard to argue that the 76ers didn’t make the right decision with Noel. They ended up with arguably the second best player in that draft class.

As for Embiid, going back to all the pre-draft projections, wasn’t Embiid pegged as the top talent on the board? With Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker off the board, was there really a better option than Embiid’s upside? Jazz guard Dante Exum was in the discussion, but with his recent ACL injury, wouldn’t the 76ers be in the same place today if all things happened the same way?

There is an argument to be made that Magic forward Aaron Gordon may end up being a special NBA player, but at the time of the draft wasn’t Gordon at number four considered an incredible reach? He too missed a big chunk of his rookie season.

Celtics point guard Marcus Smart has not proven to be the player he was hyped to be and Lakers big man Julius Randle ended up missing his rookie season to a broken leg. So were the 76ers really that far out of bounds taking a flyer on Embiid, considering what we know today about the talent that was left on the board?

The lone red flag on Embiid is the nature of his foot injury. Navicular bone injuries in big guys are tough. There was tremendous risk with that kind of injury, but what never gets talked about is that 76ers GM Sam Hinkie was with the Rockets when Yao Ming went through a similar, albeit more severe, version of this injury. Hinkie was well versed with what the injury is, how the injury heals and what the long-term of the injury means.

As the Sixers, namely Hinkie, addressed the situation yesterday it was made clear that Embiid did not re-break his bone, rather that routine checkups showed that the healing process had stopped progressing at the rate both the 76ers and Embiid were hoping for. The option to do a second surgery and include a bone graft sounds scary and more severe, but it’s the means to ensure the best long-term recovery for Embiid.

Missing a second season sounds bad. But with the arrival of Jahlil Okafor in this year’s draft and the continued development of Noel, are the 76ers really in a bad place this season?

Next year the 76ers likely get Dario Saric, whom they also obtained in the 2014 NBA Draft, and what could be a healthy Embiid. Add that to an improved Noel and a full season of Okafor being the go-to guy on offense, and aren’t the Sixers still in a better place than almost anyone else in the middle of a rebuild?

If Embiid never gets healthy, his selection in 2014 was a bad decision, but if he does get healthy and overcomes what’s arguably the worst injury for a big man, was there really a better option available to the 76ers that has the upside that a 21-year-old Embiid still has?

Time will tell if Embiid can get healthy, but even today his draft selection still seems like a good idea, especially considering the 76ers’ master plan of adding as much upside talent as possible.

Hinkie Talks With Reporters:  76ers GM Sam Hinkie held a Conference Call with reporters to go over all the details of the timeline for Joel Embiid’s surgery and all the decisions that led up to this point:

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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