Joel Embiid's foot injury could send him tumbling on draft day
The news that Kansas center Joel Embiid has a stress fracture in the navicular bone in his right foot will have a significant impact on next week's NBA draft. Embiid, the projected No. 1 pick in SI.com's latest mock draft, is expected to slip several spots, maybe more.
"With that type of injury," said a Western Conference executive, "I wouldn't take him in the top-ten."
The injury information was supplied to reporters by Embiid's agent, Arn Tellem, who added that Embiid will undergo surgery to repair the injury on Friday
The navicular bone, which is located at the top of the foot, above the arch, is a critical bone for anything that requires power, running or jumping. And it is a familiar one in the NBA.
Yao Ming suffered a stress fracture in the bone in 2008 and again in 2009, and it was the primary cause for Yao's forced retirement in 2011. Bill Walton battled fractures of the navicular bone that robbed him of all but 14 games between 1978 and 1982 and ultimately forced him into retirement. Zydrunas Ilgauskas dealt with a navicular fracture early in his career but went on to finish with nine healthy seasons.
Based on the information, it's impossible to predict a league-wide reaction to Embiid's injury. There are too many variables: The success of the surgery, the estimated time for recovery, the projected long term prognosis. To date, Embiid's only reported injury has been his back, an injury that caused him to miss the Big 12 Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. Tellem told ESPN that the foot injury occurred within the last few days.
According to Dr. Kenneth Hunt, an Assistant Professor of Orthopedics at Stanford, a stress fracture in a navicular bone is "a classic overuse injury" found often in basketball and volleyball players.
"The most common treatment is to make small incisions to place one or two screws across the fracture to stabilize it," Hunt said. "If the fracture is displaced, a bone graft can accelerate healing."
Hunt noted that despite the high profile examples of athletes who have battled recurrences of a navicular fracture, "the healing rates of this fracture are high."
"The majority of these injuries will heal completely," Hunt said. "Getting to it early is a good prognostic sign. In his case, it appears it was treated early and appropriately. In the cases I have seen, the athletes that have recurrent fractures have high arches and stiff feet. They can develop large spurs in the adjacent bones. But again, to the majority of athletes this will heal and not be an issue in the future."
As for recovery time, Hunt said that players generally resume basketball activities in 4-6 months and are ready to play in nine months, though in some cases it can be closer to a year.
Just the possibility that Embiid could miss parts of next season could be enough to drive several teams at the top away, multiple executives told SI.com.
Take Cleveland. Multiple sources familiar with the Cavaliers thinking believed that Cleveland GM David Griffin was leaning towards using the top pick on Embiid. But Cleveland , which has missed the postseason every year since 2010 and has an impatient owner in Dan Gilbert, may not be willing to roll the dice on Embiid now.
In Milwaukee with the second overall pick, Bucks GM John Hammond and his staff were retained by new owners Wes Edens and Marc Lasry but it's hard to see Hammond taking such a big risk with a pick that Milwaukee desperately needs to pan out. The Bucks got a steal last year in impressive rookie forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and a dynamic wing player like Andrew Wiggins could look even more appealing now, and would give the team a strong young perimeter tandem.
Things get interesting at At No. 3 with Philadelphia. The Sixers have a gaping hole at center and a dearth of talent, well ... everywhere. Philadelphia has been operating under the assumption Embiid would be gone by the time it picked, according to a source. A healthy Embiid paired with 2013 lottery pick Nerlens Noel, the athletic power forward who missed all of last season with a knee injury, would form a frightening defensive frontcourt. But Sixers GM Sam Hinkie was an executive in Houston during Yao's run with the Rockets. He's keenly aware of the devastating effects of this injury.
Again, it's difficult to to determine just how far Embiid will fall until after the surgery, when teams will take a long look at his medicals. Either way though, Embiid stands to lose some substantial money. Per the NBA's rookie scale, the top overall pick will make $4.6 million next season. The third pick will make $3.7 million. The sixth will earn $2.7 million. It's a tough injury for a promising young player.