Fans and analysts need to stop calling the injured Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers the next Greg Oden.
To start my day on Thursday, after the lovely (but expected) announcement that Joel Embiid would miss the remainder of the 2016-17 NBA season on Wednesday afternoon, I read this lovely article titled, “Joel Embiid is on the verge of becoming the next Greg Oden.”
I don’t mean lovely, if you didn’t catch that. I just couldn’t find a word that was negative enough to describe how I felt.
No, in all reality, the article written by Andrew Lynch was well written, and perhaps well warranted as far as the thesis is concerned as well. There’s reason to be concerned about a player who has appeared just over 30 times in his NBA career that spanned over a time of almost 250 games.
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That said, I don’t think we’re anywhere close to the point where we can call Embiid a Greg Oden-like player for that same reason — we have not seen him play for an extended period of time.
In a way, you can’t count those two years against Embiid. The broken navicular bone in his foot, the setback that occurred to it, it was all out of his control and he didn’t once see an NBA court in a game situation during those first two seasons.
Lynch’s article compared Embiid’s future to the likes of Bill Walton, Greg Oden, and Yao Ming, which is understandable, because these were all big men that had to deal with troubling lower body injuries that more or less defined their careers.
Walton never played more than 67 games in a season and had foot troubles throughout his career. Ming, after the 2005 season, played more than 60 games in just one season and missed one entire year due to a foot injury.
But the most obvious connection to be drawn is, of course, Greg Oden. It’s one that I’m seeing become more and more popular, and I understand it. It’s a comparison I even made one year ago.
I’m here to tell you, though, that the comparisons to Oden are wrong, and shouldn’t be looked at as a sure thing as far as how Embiid’s career will end up.
Oden, a first overall pick in 2007, only appeared in three seasons in the NBA before calling it quits. Those three seasons spanned from when he was drafted in 2007 to 2014. He missed three full seasons.
The major difference that I see between Oden and Embiid is the comfortability on the court and how well they played in their first legs back from the injury.
Let’s look at Oden’s first 31 games in the NBA, and compare them to Embiid’s first 31.
In Oden’s first 31 games, he played 22.9 minutes per game, averaging 8.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 0.7 assists per game while shooting 53.5 percent from the field and not attempting any 3-pointers. His plus-minus was +1.1.
In Embiid’s first 31 games, he played 25.4 minutes per game, averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebonds, and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 46.6 percent from the field and making 36.7 percent from beyond the arc. His plus-minus was +2.3.
The major difference between the two sets is that Oden’s 31 games were all in succession. There were many gaps for Embiid due to the team not playing him in any back-to-backs this year.
The next time we see Oden have to come back for an injury in the NBA will be the last time. He initially gets injured on December 9, 2009, and returns in January of 2015. He never plays another 31 game set, and only appears in 23 more games in the NBA, all with the Miami Heat.
Over those 23 games, Oden plays in 9.2 minutes per game, averaging 2.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 0.0 assists per game. He shoots 55.5 percent from the field and doesn’t attempt any 3-pointers.
Oden’s story is devastating, and the beginning of it looks a little similar to Embiid’s. But even from the start, it was clear that coming off of his initial NBA injury, Oden wasn’t feeling right, and certainly wasn’t looking like a top overall pick. Embiid, on the other hand, looked great, and the numbers are better for Embiid than they were for Oden when comparing the first 31 games.
I’m not a medical expert by any means, but I think that looking at how comfortable a player looks and their performance coming off of an injury is telling of what condition their body is in. Yes, Embiid missed two full seasons. Yes, he will now miss the rest of this year. The injuries, however, are unrelated, and he has not broken a bone, but rather slightly torn a meniscus, a common basketball injury.
All of the three players (Walton, Yao, and Oden) had issues with broken bones throughout their careers. Maybe after Embiid breaks another bone, I’ll let the Oden comparisons slide. But until that day, let’s look at the state of Embiid for what it is — an incredible start that was ended by a normal basketball injury.
My last comment — Nerlens Noel has appeared in 57 percent of the games that he was eligible for as an NBA player. While Embiid’s rate is much lower at just around 13 percent, Noel has shown a much higher rate of injury than Embiid. If Embiid is a Greg Oden type of big, why aren’t we bringing up how much of a bad career Noel will have because of injury?