Up, Down: Joel Embiid and the NBA Draft’s Biggest Movers

  • The NBA Draft speculation has officially entered crazyland. There are three days left to one of the most anticipated and volatile drafts in recent memory and teams are scrambling to make personnel moves like your newly single friend at last call. There’s no consensus top talent, and now that Joel Embiid has a bad wheel (to add to a rehabbed back), no pick in the top five is certain. Even beyond Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, who it figured would gain some ground with Embiid hurt, other players have slid up and down mock drafts around the Internet thanks to workouts and testing. To keep track of all the movement, we compiled a list of some of the players who’ve made the biggest gains or losses and did some fun fancy stats work to project what players they might resemble.

  • Max Flux: Kansas C Joel Embiid

    What a difference a few months make. Embiid’s stock has roller-coastered since March, when a stress fracture in his back had him slide down draft boards. Embiid’s subsequent recovery had impressed the Cavs enough during workouts to make most draft analysts believe he’d be the first overall pick. He’d risen three spots on ESPN Insider’s draft boards as of Thursday morning. Then he suffered another stress fracture, this time in his foot, that was discovered by Cavs staff. All the kid can catch are breaks. Subsequent draft board edits have his status in quantum flux in the first five spots. Maybe the Cavs are still committed to Embiid. Maybe they’ll listen to offers for the pick. Maybe he falls past Dante Exum and Noah Vonleh. The green room is gonna be a blast.

    And when you consider statistics and the measurables we do have, it’s clear that with a likely floor of a more offensively-gifted Tyson Chandler and a ceiling of Tim Duncan if Embiid’s touch comes along, you can’t blame a team that wants to spend a high pick on him. He already looks the part of a legitimate rim defender with prototypical size, and as everyone knows “you can’t teach size.” But you have to be, well, ambulatory in order to play in the NBA (unless you’re Arvydas Sabonis) and history tells us that centers that enter the Association with nagging injuries often leave quickly. Especially back and foot injuries. And he’s got both now. Yikes.


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  • Rising: Louisiana-Lafayette G Elfrid Payton

    At some point you can’t be considered a “sleeper” if enough people are whispering it in the room to wake everyone up. And it sure doesn’t look like anyone is sleeping on Elfrid Payton now. In April he was considered a fringe late first-rounder by most mock drafts, but he’s shot all the way up to twelfth on DraftExpress.com and in the mid-teens on most others. He had a few strong workouts and possesses true talent at a skill that usually heralds at least some level of success as an attacking point guard: the young man can draw fouls.

    As a strong, athletic point guard with a poor jumper, a good wingspan and good defense/rebounding, it’s natural that people compare him to Rajon Rondo. But he projects most favorably to Delonte West and Avery Bradley because of his height, and while he’s naturally a point guard, his size (6’4” but young and possibly likely to grow another inch or two), wingspan, and slashing he could be useful as a primary point who can slide over to a combo role in small lineups. His jumper is more broke than a college kid. Despite this weakness, it’s highly possible a team chooses him early over some of the more polished names in the draft.

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  • Falling: Kentucky F Julius Randle

    It’s important to note that this post accounts for more than simple changes in draft position. We’re talking about economic and player value here. A player projected first overall that went fourth would face a greater loss in value than a guy projected at 20th who fell ten spots. Julius Randle is one of those guys whose draft spot has shifted slightly but has carried with it some real value loss. Randle has gone from clear best power forward in the draft to an almost consensus third choice behind Aaron Gordon and Noah Vonleh.

    The projections get a little strange here. Randle has a similar build to both Kevin Love and Kris Humphries, and he’s a virtuoso at the skill that both have found considerable success at: rebounding. He’s a brute of an athlete and is superb at finishing around the rim, but like Love especially, his defensive skills are lacking. While he’s certainly strong in the post and has the look of a bruiser who will come in and get tough buckets from day one, he initiates a lot of his game from the perimeter…but just isn’t that good of a shooter. He’ll get cooked early in the NBA once defenders know he’s not a shooter and just sag off. The foot injury that his camp is swearing up and down doesn’t need surgery has probably been a blow to his draft stock too. But on the plus side, I don’t think any team that can nab Julius Randle closer to the tenth pick can complain much. Sixers fans, cross your fingers.

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  • Rising: Indiana F Noah Vonleh

    This list wouldn’t be complete without Noah Vonleh. Very few players have done themselves as many favors as Vonleh, whose stock took off after a strong draft combine which saw him measure in at a legit 6’9”, 247 lbs with a 7’4” wingspan and solid hops for his position. At 19 he’s poised to grow some into a truly elite NBA body. Vonleh is now predicted to go inside the top 5 after being projected closer to 10th or the late lottery.

    He rebounds and excels in transition offense, a strength of many dominant big men, but his offensive game looks like a budding Raptors Chris Bosh, with a tantalizing mix of post moves, range, and ballhandling. He should be able to shoot the three well enough in time to stretch defenses we’ll be ready to make Noah’s Arc jokes). He won’t be as much of a defensive stalwart as Dwight Howard or Derrick Favors—their frames were more solid from the start—but he should develop a much more capable all-around offensive game than either in a short time. In other words, this guy’s going early.

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  • Falling: Wichita State F Cleanthony Early

    Things got ugly in a hurry for this guy. Mr. Clean has fallen about 12 spots in most rankings. Nobody quite knows what to do with Early, even after a good tournament run with Wichita State, and it’s not unlikely at this point that he might even fall out of the first round. It’s strange that most scouting reports you’ll find on him rarely say anything bad. Early’s problem is that he possesses typical size and skill at a position where talent distribution is relatively flat.

    Most small forwards look like the average small forward and have similar skillsets—6’6”-6’8” guys who can guard two positions, finish in transition and either shoot the three decently or slash and draw fouls decently. Early’s a year older than Finals MVP/third-year player Kawhi Leonard and doesn’t handle the ball well enough for an NBA wing. But he looks like a very useful “three and D” guy at least and every team could use one. Just not in the top 20. Looks like Early…might go late.

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  • Rising: Tennessee F Jarnell Stokes

    After some solid recent workouts, the imposing Tennessee forward has established himself as a fixture late in the money round. The problem with Stokes has always been that he’s an undersized power forward: a classic “tweener.” Standing at 6’8” or 6’9” in shoes and without much of a perimeter game, he’ll have to make his bones as a traditional power forward. Recent workouts showed that he has the rebounding, power and the skill at the rim to be effective and the size and strength to be good on defense against taller post players. Projecting undersized forwards physically is a tricky task since there’s such a wide variety of skillsets within the pool, but the player Stokes reminds most of is Dejuan Blair.

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  • Falling: North Carolina G PJ Hairston

    Hairston’s plight might be upsetting to Tar Heel fans but in-state NBA enthusiasts (Hornets!) should be compelled by his up-and-down stock. After leaving the North Carolina program on the heels (sorry for the pun) of a major scandal around traffic charges and impermissible benefits, Hairston wound up in the D-League with the Texas Legends, where he averaged 22 ppg. Despite a great D-League season, a clear adjustment to professional players and dimensions, a spotless record since the incident and a great combine, Hairston has actually fallen on many draft boards, with many folks citing “character issues” as his reason. It’s like analysts and scouts want to punish him themselves.

    At 6’5” 230, Hairston is very solidly built and he actually posted unexpected explosiveness in the combine. Of course he possesses great scoring ability, and we know it translated at least beyond college. He is comfortable with the NBA three-point line, shooting 36% from three in the D-League, and he can draw a ton of fouls and convert at the stripe. And he doesn’t play a lick of defense. It’s no wonder that he projects out physically as a James Harden-lite. He could thrive in a role like Harden’s in OKC: as a third scoring option off the bench who preys on second units. With the Hornets’ lack of wing scoring he could immediately fill this role and maybe slide into the starting spot (although Hairston and Kemba would get baked regularly by any offensively proficient guard combos).

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  • Rising: Duke F Rodney Hood

    Hood was projected as an end-of-first-round-pick before, who’s now rumored in the late lottery (he even got a green room invite from the league.) That jump is based largely on workouts since Hood has welcomed all comers in any NBA gym that would have him. There, he measured well—he’s a legit 6’8″ with decent size and movement to defend wings (he’s 208 lbs and got a 36-inch vertical)—but also worked to prove that he can score consistently in the NBA. Hood hit 42% of his threes at Duke and showed that he can translate that skill for the pros. For a team looking for a scorer who can stretch the floor, Hood’s a 22 year-old finished product.

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  • Falling: Syracuse G Tyler Ennis

    The 6’2” Syracuse freshman Ennis is the model of the floor general type. He’s a preternatural and cerebral talent, and he runs an offense and distributes with a poise and efficiency that’s rare in NBA veterans, let alone for a 19-year-old kid. His outside shot is certainly capable and he never turns the ball over. So just why has he gone from a potential lottery pick to maybe falling past the top 20? The kicker is, it’s really not his fault.

    Ennis’s slippage is directly attributed to the rise of other point guard prospects, like Elfrid Payton, and the tantalizing Dante Exum. The more scouts get excited about Payton and other guards’ athleticism and defensive edge, the more time they have to pick apart Ennis’s game and note his lack of size and ability to slash and score. Ennis could develop a supplementary skill (his shooting percentages suggest that maybe he could grow into a three-point assassin), but he doesn’t project as a beast. In fact he projects about at the athletic level of Steph Curry and Jeff Teague. Not bad by any stretch, but those guys can score (one of those guys can score REALLY well) which gives them starting value.

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