Saturday, December 21, 2013


Column: Joel Embiid impresses again


Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

Bill Self postgame vs. Georgetown, Dec. 21, 2013

Bill Self postgame vs. Georgetown, Dec. 21, 2013

Download podcast

Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

Tarik Black, Joel Embiid, Naadir Tharpe postgame vs. Georgetown, Dec. 21, 2013

Tarik Black, Joel Embiid, Naadir Tharpe postgame vs. Georgetown, Dec. 21, 2013

Download podcast

Right about the time the nasty weather hit Lawrence, Georgetown coach John Thompson III uttered words that should make us all shift our focus from the future to the present when discussing basketball prodigy Joel Embiid, Kansas University’s 7-foot center from Cameroon.

Thompson said Embiid, “has a chance to be a special player.” Then the coach realized that in a way he had made an understatement and added, “He might be at that point already.”

Embiid’s positive imprint was all over another impressive KU victory Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse, 86-64, against Georgetown.

Expectations have risen so rapidly for Embiid, keeping pace with his improvement curve, that he wasn’t even the story on a day he contributed 17 points, eight rebounds, two blocked shots and a steal in 21 minutes. Tarik Black, scoreless in each of his previous four games, stole the spotlight with 17 points in 20 minutes on a day the two centers combined to make nine of nine field goals and 16 of 21 free throws.

“He gets better, if not daily, it’s weekly, and he’s still just scratching the surface,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He scores 17 points today and takes four shots. What about if he’s taking 12 shots a game? We need to play through him more.”

That can’t possibly be a bad idea. Kansas did find him often enough for him to go to the free-throw line for a season-high 12 shots, a function of the Hoyas not knowing how to stop him without roughing him up. It’s not a bad way to go when facing a guy who shoots .683 from the field. But not a great way, either, considering it’s a prescription for foul trouble and given that Embiid appears to be improving as a free-throw shooter, along with every other aspect of the game. In the past two games, Embiid has made nine of 10 field goals and 17 of 22 free throws (.773).

Numbers don’t capture the extent to which Embiid rattles the opposition, makes opponents dig deeper into their benches because of foul trouble and ignites the home crowd, which energizes teammates.

“He’s efficient, and he can affect the game in many ways,” Self said. “He’s probably not our best passer, but if he’s not, he’s not far off. And then, of course, he’s as bright as anybody on our team, as far as picking things up and reading things. The way he helps is far more than just on the stat sheet.”

Embiid and Black combined for 34 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots and limited Georgetown center Josh Smith to five points and no rebounds in 19 minutes before fouling out. As a freshman playing for UCLA in Allen Fieldhouse, Smith totaled 17 points and 13 rebounds.

Embiid and Black kept the hefty Smith huffing and puffing all day.

“We need to play through our bigs,” Self reiterated. “That’s the strength of our team. We haven’t been a really good passing team so far to take advantage of that.”

That no doubt will be a point of emphasis during the break between semesters, and the guards will become better at feeding the post. Mix in Embiid’s steady improvement, and it’s frightening to think how much of an offensive force he can become by the time Big 12 play starts.

There I go thinking about what he will become instead of appreciating what he is.

It’s very difficult not to look at him that way and very easy to watch him play basketball already.


Joe Ross 7 years, 2 months ago

What if Embiid stays? Wiggins could also stand to stay in school (a la Marcus Smart) to develop his potential. In any case, Embiid's improvement takes pressure off of Wiggins and may let him play better this year. Further, just seeing Joel playing better might be a boost to others on the team, including Wiggins, and raise their level of play from an emotional standpoint. A between-the-ears kind of thing. Further yet, apart from relieved pressure and encouragement, playing with improved players around you creates more opportunities to score on the court (principally by drawing away defense). Kansas is about to enter unlimited practice time, and January is typically when you see freshmen make strides. By February, Kansas could be really scary. At late night, Bill Self testified to this when he said if we as fans are willing to be patient with the team, by season's end we'd have an opportunity to do some really special things. Come March, I predict that nobody in America will want Kansas in their bracket.

Joe Ross 7 years, 2 months ago

One point of curiousity. After reading the fourth paragraph, it's not immediately clear if the fifth is talking about Joel or Tarik.


Doug Merrill 7 years, 2 months ago

He definitely won't be staying, probably even if he were to suffer a season ending injury. He will be the number one pick and will be the subject of a lot of draft position jockeying as he will be a franchise player for the next two decades, barring substantial injury. Wiggins will also go. They are just too good not to get a great contract. I think we have a chance to go all the way but we can't do it without outside shooting and excellence at the free throw line...those are the main differences this team must develop between now and March.

Kevin Huffman 7 years, 2 months ago

Agree...though coming into the season I was of the opinion that Selden would be OAD & that keeps seeming less likely - particularly if they come close but don't win it all as '14/'15 also certainly another contending year AND Selden would probably go from borderline lotto to top 8 or so in that Draft.

Craig Carr 7 years, 2 months ago

Only way Joel stays is if he dad says to him "You are not ready". I t has happened before but nobody can bet on that. He is clearly the #1 pick this year or whenever he chooses to leave and even Wiggins acknowledges the truth. Joel will end up being the best Jayhawk other than Wilt in the pros of all time.

Gerry Butler 7 years, 2 months ago

I have to agree with doug, I don't think there is any way joel stays, the way he is developing soooo fast, marked improvement EVERY GAME and the NBA uses potential as one of the things they look for and he has unbelievable potential, one thing we have to realize when players like joel and Andrew come to play you know its usually 1 and done, every year they come backthey face the possibility of an injury that could really screw up their chances of playing in the NBA and all the money lets face it its all about the money for these guys, and who can blame them for that? why take that chance? we all know joel is gone, Andrew is gone, the one I think that could use another year at this point of the season anyways is wayne I think he needs another year, good player but struggling a little at this point I think

Joe Ross 7 years, 2 months ago

I think many people have the wrong idea about when is the right time to make the jump. First things first. Joel is making progress quickly, yes; but his skill set may not be fully developed by season's end. Secondly, even if it is there is some value in staying in school for some players even after they have made big strides. You pick up some mental things. The game slows down. Confidence in your game solidifies. And you learn to impose your will as opposed to just taking what a defense gives you. I don't necessarily think all players are best served this way, but if Marcus Smart--a veritable lottery pick last year--saw wisdom in coming back, then certainly a player who's been playing only 3 years can see the point in returning for a second campaign.

I don't mean to suggest that the 7-footer will be stomping the pavement in Lawrence next year, but the player that Embiid is most often compared to--Hakeem Olajuwon--was not a OAD and certainly benefited from multiple years in school. And we may be talking apples and oranges. There is a difference between what people think SHOULD be done and what WILL be done. For those thinking that Embiid makes the jump at season's end, I find no fault with you. But for those who say he SHOULD, I argue that the jury is still out and the verdict is presently being considered.

Aaron Paisley 7 years, 2 months ago

Something people don't realize when they talk about staying in school to develop their game is that the time they can spend with a coach working on stuff is limited by NCAA regulations. In the NBA, a player can hire a private coach to help them work on weak spots in their games. This is the difference between the flame outs and the players who stick around in the league. Joel Embiid grew up in a military family so it can reasonably be assumed that he is a pretty well disciplined individual and would could develop his game even quicker without the time constraints being a college student places on him.

As for Wiggins, his biggest strengths are playing in the open court in an up tempo style of play. This is why I thought he was going to end up at North Carolina back when he was making his decision because Roy's system was the best fit for him at the college level. This is also why his game is better suited for the NBA in general than it is for the college game. The 24 second shot clock dramatically speeds up the NBA game from the college game and makes games much more up tempo because a team can't stand around for 20 seconds before really initiating their offense like we frequently see with college teams. Don't be shocked if Wiggins proves to be a much better NBA player than college player because of this. I will say that his biggest issue (besides not naturally being a alpha dog) is that he doesn't have very good hands and most of his turnovers have been the result of his hands not being very soft.

Joe Ross 7 years, 2 months ago

In the pros, a player simply doesn't have a lot of time for extra sessions. They have team practices, and unlike college they play nearly twice as many games and travel more extensively. An NBA offseason is a little more than four months. In college it's more than six. I, for one, can not even believe that we are having the discussion about whether or not players get better from year to year at KANSAS where we have seen the likes of Thomas Robinson, Cole Aldrich, Jeff Withey, the Morris Twins, Darnell Jackson, Nick Collison, Raef LaFrentz and other big men make HUGE strides in second and subsequent seasons (I only mentioned the bigs because it is relevant to Joel Embiid, but the same is true for most all of the guards as well). Bottom line. If Joel stayed, his development would not be in question. Going to the pros and trying to develop fundamentals there is not ideal. For one, the expectation when you go to the league is that your skill set is nearly developed. If they have made an error in judging your readiness, then you are sent [guess where?] to the DEVELOPMENTAL league. Secondly, repetition is key while you are learning. It is a whole lot easier to get the reps in college as opposed to when you are facing world-class athletes like Lebron James, Kevin Durant, CPIII, and so on. Finally, developing one's game needn't be viewed as an either/or proposition. Joel COULD (again, not saying he WILL), take full advantage of his development on the college level, which is advantageous by virtue of his lack of PT, and after he makes the jump avail himself of all the opportunities at the pro level. Sideways thinking has pushed players in the league too early. MANY of these players dont last in the league. Every year, there is a crop of new and upcoming talent that gets selected out of a thing called a draft which, not surprisingly, creates turnover in the league. It just makes sense to be NBA-ready before making the jump. If you are, you should go. If you are not, you shouldn't. As I posted earlier, the player that Embiid is most often compared to is Olajuwon. He HIMSELF improved from year to year in the college game. Similar ability, similar skill set, etc. The decision about whether Embiid should stay or go should come at the END of the season, based on an evaluation of his talent level and development at that point. Not hype.

Doug Cramer 7 years, 2 months ago

There isn't a single player on this team ready for the NBA.

Take a look at most of the players that left early. Selby, Julian wright, Xavier, etc...these by no means are tearing up the NBA.

Look at guys like Chalmers, Collison, and Heinrich. They didn't rush college...and they all had good careers in the NBA.

Really hope we keep everyone for next year. Enjoy your time at KU...because it really is special...and once it's's gone forever.

Rian Ankerholz 7 years, 2 months ago

Very thoughtful posts, J.R. I always enjoy your perspective. I think most of us agree that 1) Joel has potential that we have rarely seen before; 2) Joel would benefit from staying in the Self big-man school for at least another year; 3) Our self-interest makes us indulge in the hope that Joel will stay another year; and 4) for lottery picks, money talks. I think Joel is the kind of person who will always be a great ambassador for KU and for the basketball program. Happy Holidays to all Jayhawks. Enjoy the ride.

Joe Ross 7 years, 2 months ago

Ankerholz, as a true Jayhawk fan, your anchor holds! Merry Christmas.

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