Embiid, from Cameroon, has only been playing organized basketball for a few years, but he showed enough during his lone season at KU that he was being compared to a young Hakeem Olajuwon because the game, at least in terms of footwork and defense, appeared to come so easily to Embiid. He suffered a back injury late in the season that cost him the Big 12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament, but that had healed and the Cavs were apparently satisfied with the medical report.
Then came the stress fracture in his right foot that required surgery to put screws in. That scared Cleveland off. Foot injuries have ruined or shortened the careers of potential Hall of Fame centers like Bill Walton and Yao Ming, to name a few. Just imagine the stress on the bones in a 7-foot, 270-pound player's feet. The Cavaliers are ready to win next season -- owner Dan Gilbert has mandated a playoff berth in the weak Eastern Conference -- and they can't afford to wonder if Embiid will play at all next season. They also can't afford another bust pick after last year's No. 1 overall choice, Anthony Bennett, contributed nothing.
So whereas two weeks ago Embiid was the solid betting choice at sportsbooks to be the guy, now he's a +1000 long shot. Barring a shocker, the Cavs will choose between two other freshmen: Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Duke's Jabari Parker. Wiggins, who is considered to be a much better athlete and have more upside than Parker but is also more of a project, is the slight -130 favorite on NBA odds. Wiggins really wants to go No. 1 and is said to have had a great workout with Cleveland.
Parker (-110 on NBA odds), meanwhile, doesn't want to play in Cleveland and prefers Milwaukee at No. 2, perhaps because it's a short drive from his native Chicago. Parker's workout with the Cavs wasn't sharp as Parker looked tired and a bit overweight. There were even rumors he may have "tanked" the workout so the Cavs would pass on him. What Parker can do from Day 1 should be score in the NBA and the Cavs have a gaping hole at small forward, where Parker could slot in.
It's also possible a team like Utah, Philadelphia or Orlando gives up a young veteran and its Top-5 pick for the No. 1 spot. The 76ers, who pick third, love Wiggins. The Jazz, at No. 5, likely want Parker because he's a Mormon and that's obviously appealing in that market.
Wiggins/Parker are going to go 1-2 in some order. Where will Embiid fall? One sportsbook lists Embiid's draft position at 'over/under' 5.5 and another at 5. The 'under' is a favorite on both. The 76ers at No. 3 could pair Embiid with another defensive dynamo, former Kentucky center Nerlens Noel. He sat out all last season recovering from ACL surgery and is likely better suited to play power forward in the NBA. It would be awfully tough to get shots at the rim against a Noel/Embiid frontcourt, but both need plenty of work offensively. Also, do the Sixers want to go through a rookie perhaps sitting out another season? Early timetables have Embiid back in six months, but foot injuries can be tricky.
The Orlando Magic at No. 4 have a decent center in Nikola Vucevic so Embiid wouldn't seem to be a pressing need, but the team isn't very talented and needs to take the best player available. Utah, at No. 5, already has two good young big men in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. They need wing players. Utah reportedly is offering Favors and its pick to Cleveland for the top pick.
NBA free picks: Parker is the choice as the top NBA Draft pick and go 'over' Embiid's draft pick slot -- he lands with the Celtics at No. 6, and Boston will be thrilled about that.