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Joel Embiid declares for the NBA draft, leaving Kansas to wonder what could have been

Joel Embiid averaged 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds a game before missing his final six games with Kansas. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Joel Embiid

What Joel Embiid will be has always been the important part. He is a 7-footer with fast-developing skills and adroit footwork, all while having played just a few years of organized basketball. His potential is limitless.

So there is no surprise in the news that Embiid has decided to enter the NBA draft, per a Yahoo Sports report, an event in which he is a top candidate to become the No. 1 overall pick.

But what he could have been is the part that nags and aggravates Jayhawks fans. Or maybe more accurately, it's what Kansas could have been with Embiid for just one more month. A stress fracture in his back limited him down the stretch and forced him out of the Big 12 tournament and the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. He might have returned for this weekend's games, but the Jayhawks didn't make it that far, having been upset by Stanford in the round of 32.

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Kansas had its flaws -- most especially its erratic point guard play -- but with Embiid the Jayhawks nevertheless were national title contenders. Without him, they were something much less. Embiid played 20-plus minutes in 17 regular-season games. In those games, opponents shot 41.9 percent (288 for 687) on two-point attempts. He played 20 or fewer minutes on 14 occasions during the regular season. In those games, opponents shot 46.6 percent (235 for 504) on two-point attempts.

Eliminate the stats from overmatched No. 15-seed Eastern Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, and Kansas' three postseason opponents -- Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Stanford -- shot 49.6 percent on two-point attempts. His rim-protection ability changed everything, from teams' willingness to attack the lane to teams' willingness to ignore the other big man and swarm forward Perry Ellis.

Now that Kansas is without him, at least Self has the luxury of rolling in a replacement model. In comes Ciff Alexander, the 6-foot-8 five-star forward who is a consensus top five recruit nationally. He is not quite a precise trade-in for Embiid, but presuming Ellis remains on campus, Kansas' frontcourt should still be a strength. The Jayhawks also will return Wayne Selden Jr., for another year, who could emerge as a frontline, All-Big 12-type talent. Meanwhile, five-star shooting guard recruit Kelly Oubre arrives more or less to take the vacancy that will presumably be left by Andrew Wiggins when he makes his own decision to go pro. Should Naadir Tharpe find consistency as a senior, or should Conner Frankamp take a leap as a sophomore, Kansas could make another run at a conference title and potentially a national title.

The Jayhawks will roll on without Embiid. But as he leaves, everyone else is left to wonder what they would have become with him.

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