By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) —The 76ers tanked a season, trudged through the embarrassment of going 19-63 and a 26-game losing streak to take Joel Embiid—a talented 7-footer out of Kansas who’s been compared to Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon—with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft Thursday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
With the 10th overall pick, the Sixers made a trade. They originally took Elfrid Payton, a 6-foot-3¾ point guard out of Louisiana-Lafayette (same school as Andrew Toney), passing on shooter extraordinaire Doug McDermott, the 6-foot-8 forward out of Creighton who led the nation in scoring, averaging 26.9 points per game. The Sixers traded Payton to Orlando for the No. 12 overall pick, 6-foot-10 Dario Saric.
In addition to Saric, the Sixers also received a future first-round and second-round draft pick.
Embiid underwent surgery on his right foot last week to repair a stress fracture in his right foot, inserting two screws into the navicular bone and is expected to be out four to six months.
But who did the Sixers really get?
The truth is—no one knows.
Embiid, who’s had a history of back problems and suffered a sprained left knee early last season at Kansas, was considered by many to go first before the surgery. Most experts believed Embiid was the most talented player in the draft.
Embiid could be another Olajuwon, or, considering his injury history, he could turn out to be Jeff Ruland, Greg Oden, or Sam Bowie—all big men who were debilitated by leg and knee injuries.
One thing is for certain, when healthy, Embiid is a game changer. He’s 7-feet, with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. He can run the floor, he possesses great hands, and great feet, again, when healthy. He’s not just an intimidator around the rim, he can move from the lane and block shots. He can score with his back to the basket, he has a jump hook and he’s shown rapid improvement in the short time he’s played basketball.
Embiid hurt his back Feb. 8, 2014 in a game against West Virginia and reinjured his back again playing Oklahoma State on March 1, forcing Embiid to miss the last six games of 2014.
There is a great deal of risk in taking Embiid, who represented by Arn Tellem, who also represents Chase Utley and is originally from the Philadelphia area.
If Embiid works out, Sixers General Manager Sam Hinkie will look like a genius. If not, it’s a matter of starting all over again for a franchise that couldn’t land any lower than it did last year.
As for Saric, the Sixers will have to wait. On Tuesday, he signed a three-year deal with a Turkish team, Anadolu Efes. Saric was named the FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year in 2013, the Croatian League Finals MVP in 2013, and in 2014, named both the Adriatic League MVP and the Adriatic League Finals MVP.
As expected, Cleveland took Kansas superstar Andrew Wiggins, the 6-foot-8 shooting guard, with the first overall pick. Wiggins was the primary aim of the Sixers entering the draft.
Wiggins is explosive. He can score in transition and has great ability to get off the floor. He’s an outstanding defender, who can guard multiple positions and scouting reports say he has a great first step. The opponents he guarded shot only 32-percent last season.
Wiggins isn’t a great shooter, but possesses a decent shot and good range. He has a tendency to settle for jumpers, when he should drive more to the basket.
After Wiggins was selected, that opened the door for Jabari Parker to go to the Milwaukee Bucks with the second pick, which was also not a surprise.
Parker, the 6-foot-8 Duke small forward, is considered the most polished offensive player in the draft. He can score around the rim, can post smaller defenders and has a good mid-range game. He’s also a very good rebounder—and it seems a perfect fit for Parker, who expressed strong feelings about going to Milwaukee.
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