Joel Embiid: Dare to Dream

At the beginning of the college basketball season, I suspected that those calling Joel Embiid “the next Olajuwon” were guilty of making a comparison solely on the basis of career trajectory. But after breaking down the stats and watching him do stuff like this:

and this:

Hakeem appears to be as good of a comparison as any. Embiid’s career path as an unknown, inexperienced big man is an interesting one, but it’s not as though Olajuwon is the only precedent. Below are the freshman year Per 40 numbers for a few 7-footers with a similar career trajectory who would go on to have varying degrees of NBA success.

Player

FG%

FT%

REB

AST

STL

BLK

TOV

PTS

Joel Embiid

.626

.685

14.0

2.3

1.5

4.5

4.1

19.4

Roy Hibbert

.469

.662

8.8

2.4

0.9

3.2

4.6

12.9

Samuel Dalembert

.503

.518

11.1

0.6

0.5

6.7

3.9

11.1

Hakeem Olajuwan

.607

.563

13.5

0.8

2.0

5.4

3.1

18.1

Hasheem Thabeet

.554

.513

10.5

0.6

0.3

6.3

2.6

10.1

As you can see, Olajuwon is the only other such player to be this good this early in his development. In addition to being statistically dominant, Embiid is stunning to watch. Kansas’s towering teenager is extremely skillful and graceful for a center. He also plays with a competitive fire and, dare I say, swag, that is very uncommon for an inexperienced foreigner.

An interesting side-note is how predictive these stats were of the pro careers of the players in this sample. If I had done this exercise back in 2009, there is a good chance I would have pinned Hasheem Thabeet as a lumbering Sam Dalembert, saving the Grizzlies from a notable draft blunder. And check this out:

Player

FG%

FT%

REB

AST

STL

BLK

TOV

PTS

Roy Hibbert (Fresh.) Per 40

.469

.662

8.8

2.4

0.9

3.2

4.6

12.9

Roy Hibbert (’11-’12) Per Game

.497*

.711

8.8

1.7

0.5

2.0

2.0

12.8

*Career average is .471

We should’ve known!

I don’t feel confident projecting Joel Embiid as the next Olajuwon since I wasn’t even alive to watch The Dream play at Houston, but a more fleet-of-foot Roy Hibbert looks to be the lower bound of his potential. Adding a flashy wing scorer will always be enticing to a flailing NBA franchise, but it is tough to match the on-court value of a dominant two-way big man. Barring any major injury red flags, Embiid should be the first name called in the 2014 draft.

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