Joel Embiid

Potential No. 1 pick Joel Embiid sees back specialist in Los Angeles


If you were looking for reasons that potential No. 1 pick Joel Embiid should forsake another year of college at Kansas and turn pro in the 2014 draft, this is a reminder of what is at the top of the list.

Embiid is out the last few games of the regular season with what was first described as a back strain, but now he has gone to the West Coast to see a specialist, reports the Kansas City Star.

Embiid, sidelined by an undisclosed lower-back injury, was to meet with a doctor Monday morning (in Los Angeles) before returning to Lawrence. If it sounds ominous, well, that’s the nature of back injuries. But Coach Bill Self tried to soothe any concerns Sunday, saying the trip to California was planned since Embiid was shut down for the last two games of the regular season.

For Embiid and his teammates concerns focus around the NCAA tournament — they are the No. 10 team in the country and one that has played better of late as Embiid and Andrew Wiggins (another potential No. 1 pick) have adjusted to college ball. They are certainly a team that could make the Final Four.

Will this injury impact his draft status? Depends on the injury, but probably not much if at all unless it is serious.

While Embiid has suggested he could stay for another year of college, it would be hard to do as he is a potential No. 1 pick — has him ranked in the top slot right now. The Bucks are reportedly leaning toward Embiid if they get the No. 1 pick.

Embiid has excellent NBA center size (7’0”, 7’5” wingspan, 250 pounds with room to grow) and athleticism. He is already a good rim protector and rebounder because of his size and mobility, but he has the potential to be a defensive force in the paint, he can run the floor, and while he is still raw on offense he has shown growth and has a drop step, jump hook and some other moves that take advantage of his mobility. He has a lot of potential, it’s just a question of how much of it he can fulfill.

GMs become enamored with big men who have upside and that pretty much defines Embiid. Which means you can be sure he is going high in the draft. And this injury is a reminder of how fragile that big payday can be. Too many guys who are not ready come out too early for the draft, but Embiid is one of the guys who should. A lock top three pick, he is risking a lot of money staying back for a year. This injury is just a reminder of that. And hopefully nothing more.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.