Philly took Joel Embiid with the third overall pick, as it continues to stock up on big men who do not play basketball. But hopefully, Embiid will be back and awesome before long. How likely is that? Our good friend Dr. Matt McCarthy went into some detail recently.
First, you can read his breakdown of why big men in general seem to break down in the NBA
A 17-year review of injuries in the NBA—which looked at more than a thousand players and over three thousand injuries—found no correlation between injury rate and player demographics, including age, weight, NBA experience, and most importantly, height.6 (Injuries and player demographic information were reported by each team's athletic trainer. Criteria for reportable injuries were those that resulted in a practice or game being missed, or those requiring emergency care). So while it seems like big men break down far more often than other players, it doesn't appear to be true. We just take notice when they do.
The takeaway here is that you can't simply look at a tall basketball player and know if he's going to spend his career in the limelight or on the sideline. Some seven-footers play injury free for decades while others seemingly get hurt just trying to get out of bed in the morning. (I'm looking at you, Greg Oden.) We also know big men respond differently to the same injury. A navicular fracture hobbled Yao Ming and Bill Walton, but Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a 7-foot-3 center who played for Miami and Cleveland, suffered a navicular fracture early in his career, and went on to finish with nine generally healthy seasons.
Dr. Matt also wrote up Embiid's spinal stress fracture back in March
A history of stress fractures is a strong predictor of future stress fractures, and any fan of basketball can rattle off a list of big men plagued by back problems. Bill Walton, Brad Daugherty and Ralph Sampson were all taken No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft and were all hampered by nagging back injuries. But that doesn't mean Embiid will be. In fact, Pistons center Andre Drummond suffered the same spinal injury last year and has shown no ill effects this season.
Like Jadeveon Clowney, Joel Embiid will have to weigh his own health and draft status against the need to carry his college team. Returning too quickly puts the Kansas star at risk for displacement of the vertebrae and improper healing, or simply the extension of the current fracture. As a physician, I'd tell him to proceed cautiously. While a number of treatment options are available—pain medications, therapeutic ultrasound, electrical stimulation, shock wave therapy, surgery—what Joel Embiid really needs is time away from the basketball court. Otherwise this injury will continue to follow him. Of course, that's a bit of a catch 22, because even though beginning to play basketball relatively recently is likely what has him injured, it also dictates that he probably needs more hours on the practice court than most.