Joel Embiid reportedly is ambivalent about his impending NBA draft decision, but here’s a clearer decree: It’s always a good idea to go if you can't benefit from staying. There are no picks better than No. 1 in any draft. There is virtually no shot that a 7-foot prospect likened to Hakeem Olajuwon isn't selected in the first few picks.
Still, the Jayhawks’ freshman center told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman on Monday that he is "definitely considering coming back to school," and even if it is early, the comments shouldn't be ignored. In a way, they demonstrate that Embiid might be more ready than he knows.
Any team that selects Embiid will get a prodigious talent in his basketball infancy. As a result, there ought to be a long-range plan involving patience and teaching rather than demand for instant domination. But even if that is in place and well understood, Embiid will have his hand held only so much. His accountability for preparation and practice and conditioning and nutrition will ultimately be his own. He will be expected to act like a man and not a teenager.
If he realizes that, and that is part of his apprehension, he has a level of awareness that might better prepare him for what’s to come than other would-be one-and-done prospects. There may be anxiety about what’s to come, but at least Embiid knows it’s coming.
But if Embiid decides being a college kid for another year sounds fun, he's entitled to make that choice and not be derided for it. Kansas fans may need bibs to collect their drool over the idea of Embiid and incoming five-star center Cliff Alexander patrolling the pain together. But it's difficult to imagine that happening, because Embiid seems thoughtful enough to realize that his NBA stock won't improve.
Consider last month's comments from Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, as astute a judge of NBA prospects as any coach in the country. “I think Embiid is the best player in the country,” Hoiberg deadpanned. “Did you see him play tonight? That’s why. He’s huge and he’s got great length and he can shoot and he’s got incredible footwork and he’s been playing the game for about two years.” As Embiid considered his future Monday, he scored five points on 1-of-6 shooting against Baylor, his second straight game with single-digit scoring and iffy efficiency from the floor. He may be the No. 1 player chosen in the NBA Draft. In the mind of at least one coach, he should be considered the No. 1 player in the country. Still, he has a lot of work to do. Recognizing that might may mean, after all, that Embiid is prepared to move on.