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2014 NBA Rookie Projection: Joel Embiid

Marc Roberts

Marc Roberts

Marc F Roberts writes about fantasy basketball for RotoWire. He has won no fantasy awards, but his mom thinks his writing is "fantastic". Hubie Brown is a national treasure.

This is Part 3 in a series of articles looking at the fantasy value of 2014 NBA rookies. Each post in this series will focus on a different rookie. For the introduction to the series, here are links to parts 1 (Introduction and Andrew Wiggins) and 2 (Jabari Parker).

Rookies have the potential to be great but also the potential to bust. To better understand the potential value of these players, I've developed reasonable best, average, and worst-case scenarios for each rookie based on comparable players who either had similar college careers (thanks to the work provided by Hickory-High), or who are generally given in the media as comparisons for each rookie (e.g. Jabari Parker is often compared to Carmelo Anthony).

This way, if you think Jabari Parker is the next Carmelo Anthony, you can use this analysis to help you know what that comparison will mean in terms of a projection of fantasy stats, as well as an idea of where those stats would rank in a standard 10-team rotisserie league. Then, when fantasy draft day rolls around, you will know exactly where you want to target these rookies based on your opinion of how their rookie season will turn out.

In this post, I'll take a look at the third overall pick, Joel Embiid.

Joel Embiid - Philadelphia 76ers (3rd Pick)

Player Comparisons Considered: (Draft Year & Pick, Similiarity Score)
Hakeem Olajuwon(1984 - 1, N/A), Tyrus Thomas(2006 - 4, 868), Greg Oden(2007 - 1, 817), Joakim Noah(2007 - 9, 863), Al Horford(2007 - 3, 838), Ed Davis(2010 - 13, 838), Cole Aldrich(2010 - 11, 838), Derrick Favors(2010 - 3, 856), Robin Lopez(2008 - 15, 831), Meyers Leonard(2012 - 11, 810), Alex Len(2013 - 5, 805),

Prior to suffering a foot injury, Embiid was considered a heavy favorite to be the first overall pick. As a result of the injury, Embiid fell to the third pick in the draft and will need five to eight months to recover. In addition to recovery time, Embiid will also need time to get into game shape and to become familiar with the 76ers offensive and defensive sets, which means he likely won't be ready to play until well after the 76ers are mathematically eliminated from next year's playoffs. In fact, it's possible that Embiid will miss the entire 2014-15 season.

Rather than just say Embiid has next to no value in fantasy leagues next year (which is true), I've chosen to present a best, average, and worst-case scenario for Embiid's first season's worth of games, whether that begins at the end of the 2014-2015 season, or more likely, at the start of the 2015-2016 season.

Minutes Per Game and Pace

Aside from Embiid's current injury concerns, he also suffered a back injury in college. There are reasons to believe that he won't play big minutes right away in the NBA. For one thing, big men with one year or less of college experience rarely play big minutes as rookies. Take a look at the average minutes played by rookie big men taken in the top five picks of the draft who also had one year or less of college experience (past 10 seasons only, courtesy of basketball-reference):

Player

TEAM

Year - PK

MPG

Dwight Howard

ORL

2004 - 1

32.6

Anthony Davis

NO

2012 - 1

28.8

DeMarcus Cousins

SAC

2010 - 5

28.5

Kevin Love

MIN

2008 - 5

25.3

Andrea Bargnani

TOR

2006 -1

25.1

Jonas Valanciunas

TOR

2011 - 5

23.9

Tristan Thompson

CLE

2011 - 4

23.7

Greg Oden

POR

2007 - 1

21.5

Derrick Favors

NJ/UTAH

2010 - 3

19.7

Tyrus Thomas

CHI

2006 - 4

13.4

Enes Kanter

UTAH

2011 - 3

13.2


Only three of these eleven players averaged more than 26 minutes per game, and only Howard averaged more than 30 minutes per game.

Another concern with Embiid is his high college foul rate. He had a higher foul rate in college than any player that I compared him with (5.6 fouls per 40 minutes). In fact the only player I could find who even came close to that foul rate in college was DeMarcus Cousins who averaged 5.5 fouls per 40 minutes. Last season in the NBA, Cousins averaged more fouls per game (3.8) than any other player.

Because of the limited minutes rookie big men generally play, and Embiid's foul problems, I've projected his best, average, and worst-case scenario with an average of 28, 27, and 26 minutes per game respectively.

The good news for Embiid's fantasy value is that the 76ers played at the NBA's highest pace last season, 99.2 possessions per game, compared to a league average of 93.9. To give you an idea of the impact of this difference, a player who plays 28 minutes per game with the 76ers will play the same number of possessions per game as a player who plays 30 minutes per game playing at the league average pace. This will mitigate to some degree his comparatively low amount of playing time.

Best-Case Scenario: Hakeem Olajuwon (Draft: 1984 - 1, Similarity Score: N/A)

Hakeem probably represents the best possible scenario for Embiid (as opposed to a “reasonable" best case scenario), but this is the comparison that is most often given for Embiid, so let's roll with it for a moment. Check out how Hakeem's stats in college compare to Embiid's on a per-40 minutes per game basis (courtesy of sports-reference.com):

Per 40 Minutes

MIN

FGA

FG%

FTA

FT%

3PM

REB

AST

STL

BLK

PTS

Hakeem Olajuwon

27.2

11.8

64%

7.1

56%

0.0

15.7

1.3

2.0

6.7

19.6

Joel Embiid

23.1

10.5

63%

8.5

69%

0.1

13.5

2.3

1.5

4.3

18.6


Surprisingly, Embiid produced almost twice as many assists in college (2.3 apg vs 1.3 apg), but otherwise, Hakeem outperformed Embiid in every other counting category: points (19.6 ppg vs 18.6 ppg), rebounds (15.7 rpg vs. 13.5 rpg), steals (2.0 spg vs 1.5 spg), and blocks (6.7 bpg vs. 4.3 bpg). However, the comparison doesn't seem totally unjustified from a statistical perspective, as Embiid was at least within the ballpark of Hakeem in every category.

Hakeem's rookie season stats (courtesy of basketball-reference.com), adjusted to the 76ers' pace of play and an average of 28 minutes per game, produce the following projection for Embiid:

Player

MIN

FGA

FG%

FTA

FT%

3PM

REB

AST

STL

BLK

PTS

Auction Value

Fantasy Rank

Hakeem Olajuwon

28.0

11.7

54%

5.2

61%

0.0

9.1

1.0

0.9

2.0

15.8

$15

53


This stat line would have ranked as the 53rd best fantasy player last year in a 10-team rotisserie league, worth $15 auction dollars. The value predominantly comes from the strong contribution in blocks (2.0 bpg) and rebounds (9.1 rpg). Because Olajuwon outperformed Embiid in these two categories during college, it's difficult to imagine Embiid outperforming this ranking during his first season. This ranking is probably the ceiling for Embiid's fantasy value when he returns to the court.

Average-Case Scenario: Joakim Noah (Draft: 2007 - 9, Similarity Score: 863)

Although Noah' similarity score of 863 isn't as high as we've seen with other players during this rookie series, it is Embiid's second closest match, just behind Tyrus Thomas (868). Let's take a look at the per-possession college stats of these two players to see how similar they were (courtesy of draftexpress.com):

Per 40, Pace Adj

MIN

FGA

FG%

FTA

FT%

3PM

REB

AST

STL

BLK

PTS

Joakim Noah

25.9

11.3

60%

7.7

66%

0.0

13.0

3.5

1.7

2.8

18.5

Joel Embiid

23.1

10.5

63%

8.5

69%

0.1

13.5

2.3

1.5

4.3

18.6


Noah and Embiid were nearly identical in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, rebounds, steals, and points during college. Embiid did block shots at a much higher rate (4.3 bpg vs 2.8 bpg), and Noah had a higher rate of assists (3.5 apg vs 2.3 apg), but otherwise, Embiid and Noah had very similar levels production in college.

Noah's rookie season stats (courtesy of basketball-reference.com), adjusted for the 76ers' pace of play and an average of 27 minutes per game, produces the following projection for Embiid:

Player

MIN

FGA

FG%

FTA

FT%

3PM

REB

AST

STL

BLK

PTS

Auction Value

Fantasy Rank

Joakim Noah

27.0

6.9

48%

3.6

69%

0.0

7.8

1.6

1.3

1.2

9.2

$2

99


Compared to the best-case scenario (Hakeem) we see a big decrease in scoring (9.2 ppg; 48% FG vs. 15.8 ppg; 54% FG) and blocks (1.2 bpg vs. 2.0 bpg) and a slight decrease in rebounds (7.8 rpg vs. 9.1 rpg). This decreased level of production would be worth roughly $2 in a 10-team standard rotoistree league (10th round pick).

Worst-Case Scenario: Derrick Favors (Draft: 2010 - 3, Similarity Score: 856)

Despite playing the power forward position in college, Favors' stats were very similar to Embiid's, and he rated as the third most similar to Embiid in Hickory-High.com's database. Below, I have the per-possession college stats for the two players (courtesy of draftexpress.com):

Per 40, Pace Adj

MIN

FGA

FG%

FTA

FT%

3PM

REB

AST

STL

BLK

PTS

Derrick Favors

27.5

11.5

61%

5.8

63%

0.0

12.3

1.5

1.3

3.0

18.1

Joel Embiid

23.1

10.5

63%

8.5

69%

0.1

13.5

2.3

1.5

4.3

18.6


As was the case with Noah, Embiid had a higher rate of blocks in college than Favors (4.3 bpg vs 3.0 bpg), but otherwise, the two players match up very well, with Embiid just slightly higher in points (18.6 ppg vs. 18.1 ppg), rebounds (13.5 rpg vs. 12.3 rpg), assists (2.3 apg vs. 1.5 apg), and steals (1.5 spg vs. 1.3 spg).

Favors' rookie season (courtesy of basketball-reference.com), adjusted for the 76ers' pace of play and an average of 26 minutes per game, gives the following projection for Embiid:

Player

MIN

FGA

FG%

FTA

FT%

3PM

REB

AST

STL

BLK

PTS

Auction Value

Fantasy Rank

Derrick Favors

26.0

7.7

52%

3.2

60%

0.0

7.7

0.8

0.5

1.3

9.9

$0

160


Similar to Noah, Favors struggled to score as a rookie (9.9 ppg), but made solid contributions in rebounds (7.7 rpg) and blocks (1.3 bpg). This projection ranks lower than Noah's projection because of Favors' below replacement level performance in assists (0.8 apg), steals (0.5 spg), and free throw shooting (60% FT). The rank for this projection is well outside the top 130, and would not be rosterable in a standard 10-team rotisserie league.

My Projection

To develop my own projection for Embiid, I used a statistical technique that basically evaluates where Embiid ranked in college among his peers in a single category and then projects him to rank similarly in that category in the NBA. For example, if we look at points per game, Embiid had the sixth highest scoring average per possession in college of the 11 players that I compared him with. Therefore, my projection will have him ranked in approximately the same position when compared with that group of players in the NBA. Completing this calculation for all of Embiid's fantasy categories gives us the following projection, which again has been adjusted for the 76ers' pace of play and an average of 27 minutes per game.

Player

MIN

FGA

FG%

FTA

FT%

3PM

REB

AST

STL

BLK

PTS

Auction Value

Fantasy Rank

Joel Embiid

27.0

6.4

53%

4.0

66%

0.1

8.1

1.1

1.0

1.6

9.7

$2

99


This projection has Embiid ranked 99th in standard 10-team leagues. His value in this projection comes mostly from his strong numbers in rebounds (8.1 rpg) and blocks (1.6 bpg).

My Recommendation For Draft Day

As I said at the outset of this article, there is a good chance Embiid will not play in the 2014-2015 season, and so he probably shouldn't be drafted in redraft leagues, no matter how deep. Even if he does make an appearance in the 2014-2015 season, there is a good chance it will be just for a token number of minutes.

At some point though, he will fully return to the court and receive playing time commensurate with his draft position. When he does, it seems almost certain that Embiid will add significant value in the rebounding and blocks categories. If he can also provide contributions above replacement level in at least a few other categories, as was the case in the best-case and average-case scenarios, he will be a valuable fantasy player right away, even in limited minutes.

Over the next few weeks, a similar breakdown will be provided for several other rookies. You can check back often for new breakdowns to be posted, or follow me on Twitter for links to the new breakdowns.

If you have thoughts about these projections that you'd like to discuss, or if you'd like me to calculate an alternative scenario, or a ranking for a different type of league, please leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter.