At the end of last season, the Kansas Jayhawks graduated its all time leading shot blocker and defensive, Jeff Withey. The center also held the record for the most blocks in a single NCAA tournament, he is now headed to the NBA. Without Withey, the Jayhawks would be expected to take a step back in their paint presence but Bill Self and his staff were ready for Withey’s departure.
Incoming from the 2013 recruiting class to Kansas is 7”0 center Joel Embiid. The Florida native reportedly only began playing basketball in 2011 but played both volleyball and soccer in his youth. He played his high school basketball at The Rock, a prep school in Florida that focuses extensively on basketball.
Throughout his high school career, he was recruited by many big name schools. Ultimately he was offered a scholarship by Texas, Kansas and Florida. Though he had the option of sticking with the home state, Embiid opted to head to Kansas which has a great history of developing big men (like the aforementioned Withey).
To get an idea on Embiid’s play style, have a look at his highlight video.
For a big man, Embiid has excellent balance, coordination and dexterity. A lot of players his size are lumbering and sort of rely on their sheer strength to get by but Embiid displays the ability to use natural skill combined with his physique. This makes him dangerous when shooting in traffic because he has a built in advantage with his length and is able to control his body in the air and adjust his shot if need be.
As well, most post players do not have the shooting stroke or ability that Embiid has displayed on the court throughout his high school career. He is comfortable stretching out all the way to the college three point line. Though his shot from deep is not accurate like guard’s would be, the simple fact that he is able to take that shot makes him that much harder to defend. Opposing big men normally hate being dragged away from the paint because they are not used to, or comfortable, guarding the perimeter.
Of course, big men need to be able to score in the post to succeed at advanced levels and Embiid has shown the ability to do that as well. He has a hook shot that he is able to release over defenders and he has worked hard on developing a drop step move that he can execute with great footwork.
As a passer, he sees the court well and is very unselfish. His abilities to pass will become important to the Jayhawks when other teams begin to double team Embiid down low to stifle his offensive game. He also has great hands when it comes to catching passes which will be very useful in the transition game because it will allow Embiid to catch the ball on the run and finish in one movement. Too often, big men prematurely end easy fast break points by bobbling a very catchable pass out of bounds.
On the defensive end, he shows great promise as a premier shot blocker. His 7”5 wingspan will allow him to alter many shots at the rim and will probably make a lot of opponents think twice about attempting a shot at the rim at all. Another excellent aspect to Embiid’s defensive game is that his great footwork on offense translates to the defensive side as well. His lateral movement is top notch and that will allow him to be a premier defender on the pick and roll. It is often the case that once a big man gets switched up on a guard through the pick and roll, the guard has a massive advantage due to their foot speed (Shaq for example was always a horrible pick and roll defender). With Embiid, that won’t be the case as he can keep up with his opponent and use his large wingspan to bother the shot.
Embiid’s post game is most definitely a work in progress but it is not quite at the level it should be. He is often mechanical when he goes through his motions, making him predictable and much easier to stop. It would also be good for him to get used to keeping the ball high when he is in the post. Guards love to strip the ball from big men who bring the ball down and Embiid does this too frequently.
At Kansas, it is very likely that Bill Self will ask Embiid to focus solely on playing inside the paint and not stray out on the perimeter like he likes to do. This will be a challenge for Embiid, especially early on as he is not used to being limited to a certain area on the court.
Athletically, Embiid is decent but not great. Obviously some of that has to do with the fact that he is so tall but he could stand to work on his ability to get off the floor more quickly. His explosiveness is important to being able to grab rebounds coming off the rim before his opponent and to block shots at a much higher pace.
Draft.net reports that it is believed that Embiid averaged only 1.9 blocks per game during his senior season, which is a ridiculously low number for a player his size in high school. This could be alarming but the number could also be wrong. Embiid is also at the perfect school to get better in that sense.
What to expect at Kansas:
Big men are often labeled as “projects” because they often have the body type of a basketball player but lack some of the skill. While Embiid may be a little raw in some areas of his game, he is by no means a project.
When he arrives at Kansas, he will be asked to step in right away and try to fill some of the holes left behind by Jeff Withey. He will definitely go through some rough patches and he might try and play in a style that coach Self won’t approve of. Given time and practice though, he will become a great two way player for the Jayhawks.
Odds are good that he will have plenty of opportunity to leave for the NBA after only a year because of his size and skill level. If he stays even one extra year, he could become a serious contender as a national player of the year.
Regardless of that, Kansas is expected to go deep into the tournament, Embiid is a large part of that (Andrew Wiggins might play a role in that too) and by all accounts, he will deliver on his expectations.