Kansas center Joel Embiid is scheduled to have surgery Friday to repair a stress fracture in his right foot, a stunning development that could affect the top choices in next week’s NBA draft.
Embiid, one of the top three candidates the Cleveland Cavaliers were considering for the No. 1 overall pick, fractured the navicular bone in his right foot, agent Arn Tellem said Thursday. Embiid will be unable to participate in any additional workouts and will not attend the draft in New York.
Prior to the injury, Embiid was widely considered to be the front-runner to be taken by the Cavaliers. The versatile 7-footer had a jaw-dropping freshman season with the Jayhawks, averaging 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds while blocking 72 shots to earn Big 12 defensive player of the year honors.
His combination of nimble feet, powerful athleticism and the soft touch on his jumper prompted comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon, the former Houston great who led the Rockets to two NBA titles in the 1990s. Embiid impressed teams and scouts during workouts in California earlier this month, helping him show he was fully recovered from a stress fracture in his back that caused him to miss the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments.
Embiid worked out for the Cavaliers last week. Fellow Kansas star Andrew Wiggins worked out for the Cavs on Wednesday while Duke’s Jabari Parker was expected to audition for the top pick on Friday.
Exactly when Embiid injured his foot was not immediately clear, but the combination of last season’s back injury and this summer’s foot injury could give some teams pause on draft night. Now what seemed to be a sure-fire selection in the top three picks, if not the first overall, could turn into a mini-slide down the draft board if some teams worry about taking a player with a history of injuries.
That could open the door for swingman Wiggins or Parker to jump into the top spot. Even though the Cavs do have Kyrie Irving as one of the focal points of the team, Australian point guard Dante Exum is another candidate who could surprise and be picked first overall.
Parker is described by scouts as the most NBA-ready player in the draft, a moniker that could appeal to the Cavs as they look to solidify a young roster that missed the playoffs for the last four seasons.
The Milwaukee Bucks pick second and the Philadelphia 76ers are third while the Orlando Magic, who have promising young center Nikola Vucevic, pick fourth. If the Utah Jazz, who have Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors as part of a young frontcourt, pass on Embiid with the fifth pick, it would be hard to imagine him getting by Boston at No. 6 or the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 7.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter: