Joel Embiid left the NCAA as the top player heading into the NBA Draft. His immense talent, combined with his size, overshadowed his history of back and knee injuries. However, his newest, recently discovered injury is forcing teams to think twice about committing their franchise to the young center, at the 2014 NBA draft, tonight.
Embiid has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in his foot, more specifically the navicular bone. The navicular bone is on the medial side of the foot and supports the longitudinal arch. Navicular bone stress fractures are notoriously tough to diagnose. The injury wasn’t discovered until the Cleveland Cavaliers examined his medical records during routine draft preparation. The duration of the fracture is not known, and unfortunately for Embiid, studies have shown that treatment is significantly more successful when the injury is diagnosed and treated immediately.
This could be a brand new injury, or it could be something that Embiid has been dealing with for some time. That said, the injury had not progressed to the point where he couldn’t play through it, suggesting it may have been diagnosed and treated earlier than most navicular fractures. It’s possible that Embiid was keeping the pain a secret in hopes of preserving his draft status. Either way, he’s undergone surgery to repair the fractured bone, and his recovery will take anywhere from 4 to 6 months. He’s talented enough that he shouldn’t fall too far down draft boards, as the team that drafts him will likely be a team that is undergoing a rebuild, and whose presence in 2015 won’t be vital to the franchise.
Like many NBA big men, Embiid is no stranger to injury, although he is relatively new to the sport. He suffered a stress fracture in his back, which forced him to miss the NCAA tournament. While the two injuries are not directly related, having multiple stress fractures is cause for concern. It is possible that Embiid might to be putting more force on his musculoskeletal system than it can handle – pushing his infrastructure to its limits. Navicular stress fractures have a tendency to recur, so it’s likely that this is something Embiid will have to deal with for his entire NBA career. It bears noting that this is the same injury that ended Yao Ming’s career.
When healthy, Embiid is a franchise-changing talent, whose game is only going to improve with time. His talent can take him far, but his ability to avoid future injury will be what determines whether he has the career trajectory of Greg Oden, Hakeem Olajuwon, or somewhere in between like Yao Ming or Andrew Bogut. Right now, one thing is certain. On Thursday night, one general manager will close his eyes, cross his fingers, and cringe as Adam Silver introduces the young center out of Kansas. That GM’s fans will likely have the same reaction.