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NBA Saturday: Embiid Going No. 1?

If Joel Embiid’s back checks out, don’t be surprised if he goes No. 1 on draft night … Rick Fox believes Phil Jackson should coach

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Embiid Going No. 1?

Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker have been hyped up as No. 1 pick candidates for years. They have been in the spotlight seemingly forever and their YouTube highlights and mixtapes have amassed millions of views. Wiggins’ first mixtape was released when he was 13 years old, and he has had the “prodigy” label ever since. Wiggins and Parker have been on the NBA’s radar for a long, long time.

But something interesting happened this past season. Joel Embiid, who had only been playing basketball for four years, entered the NCAA season as a raw center but developed quicker than anyone expected. By the end of the season, most scouts around the league agreed that he had leapfrogged Wiggins and Parker as the top prospect in the 2014 NBA Draft, which seems crazy since Embiid came out of nowhere.

In late January, one executive told me that Embiid was clearly the No. 1 pick and that there was a significant gap between him and all other prospects. NBA decision-makers fell in love with his graceful movements, soft touch, exceptional footwork, incredible instincts, high basketball IQ, 7’5 wingspan, extraordinary athleticism and, of course, limitless potential. Believe it or not, he even started to draw comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon, the player he has modeled his game after.

Shortly after Embiid climbed to the top of mock drafts, he suffered a stress fracture in his back and missed the NCAA Tournament. The injury certainly scared some teams and had the potential to hurt the big man’s draft stock. Now, you’re starting to hear Wiggins and Parker come up again, and some people are wondering if Embiid is going to slip on draft night.

However, in a recent workout in the Los Angeles area, Embiid reportedly looked great. This lines up with what he told ESPN’s Chad Ford, that he’s 100 percent healthy and has been working out for three weeks. Scouts who watched Embiid’s workout came away impressed.

“I did not see any issues with his back,” one veteran NBA scout told SNY.tv. “He looked very agile and athletic.”

“He looks great,” a second scout told SNY.tv. “Running, jumping, dunking, bent up like a pretzel in warmups and stretching exercises. Had two ex-NBA bigs [Brian Scalabrine and Will Perdue] banging on him underneath. He passed the eyeball test big time. Move him up. He helped himself today.”

Grantland’s Bill Simmons has also watched Embiid work out recently and he said a lot of the same things.

“By the way, Embiid’s back is fine. I watched him work out last week,” Simmons said in his latest Grantland mailbag. “Yes — at a secret location in Santa Monica. He wasn’t playing against anyone, just going through a two-hour workout with Will Perdue. Here’s what I can tell you: He moves around as effortlessly as a 7-foot Serge Ibaka; he’s such an athletic freak that he’s one of those ‘still going up as he’s finishing the dunk’ guys; his freakish wingspan might make Jay Bilas pass out; he has been playing basketball for only four years (which seems impossible); he gave up a world-class volleyball career; he has 3-point range; he can shoot jump-hooks with both hands already; he couldn’t have seemed more coachable/agreeable/likable… And again — his back seemed totally fine. As I said on TV before the lottery, Embiid was always going first. None of these teams was passing on him. Repeat: none of them. The amount of smokescreening going on in April and May was high comedy.”

If Embiid is, in fact, healthy and his back is no longer a concern, don’t be surprised if he climbs back into the No. 1 spot before draft night. However, teams will still want to see his medical records and put him in front of their team doctors before clearing him.

Here is some video from his workout yesterday:


Fox Believes Jackson Should Coach Knicks

Rick Fox, who played under Phil Jackson for five years with the Los Angeles Lakers, believes that his former head coach should return to the sideline to coach the New York Knicks rather than hire someone else to do it.

“I’m hoping — I keep saying to Phil Jackson — he needs to coach the team,” Fox said, according to Newsday. “He’s the best guy for it. He’s the holy grail of coaches.”

Jackson was hired as the Knicks’ president toward the end of the 2013-14 season and everyone involved stressed that he wasn’t being hired as a head coach. But with Jackson swinging and missing on his top head coach candidate, Steve Kerr, who spurned the Knicks for the Golden State Warriors, some have wondered if he’ll reconsider.

Fox also made it clear that he’d be willing to step in help if Jackson wanted him to serve as head coach or an assistant coach. Jackson is reportedly considering his former players, such as Kerr and Derek Fisher, for the job since they’re familiar with the triangle offense.

“If he needed my support in some way, it’d be hard to turn him down,” Fox said. “Or if he needed me to step in and do the job myself, I’d definitely welcome that.”

Fox is interested in coaching in the NBA, either in New York or elsewhere.

“There are a number of open jobs,” Fox said. “I’ve been looking and in conversations with Phil Jackson, in supporting his vision for the Knicks. I love the Lakers, obviously. They’re a little unsure which direction they want to go in right now. I think you’ll probably get a quicker answer out of New York.”

Fox is an analyst NBA TV, and has never coached. But neither has Kerr, and he just inked a five-year deal worth $25 million for his first coaching contract. The 44-year-old Fox played 13 seasons in the NBA, winning three championships and averaging 9.6 points and 3.8 rebounds over the course of his career.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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