Joel Embiid’s freshman numbers compare favorably to Hakeem Olajuwon’s freshman numbers.All of the talk right now is about Joel Embiid’s injury, a stress fracture to the navicular bone in his right foot.
The injury has drawn some attention away from the talk about Embiid’s incredible potential.
Back in October, Kansas coach Bill Self called Embiid, then a freshman who hadn’t yet played a college game, “a young Hakeem Olajuwon.”
Per 40 Minutes as Freshmen
How realistic was that?
Comparing their per-minute numbers as freshmen, Embiid is actually further ahead than Olajuwon was in most categories at the same age.
Embiid averaged more points, rebounds and assists per 40 minutes than Olajuwon as a freshman while posting a better field goal percentage and comparable blocked shots (4.5 per 40 minutes for Embiid; 5.1 for Olajuwon).
Embiid was the only player in the country to average at least 19 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks per 40 minutes this season.
Or is Embiid the next Yao/Ilgauskas/Walton?
A stress fracture in the foot is no joke for 7-footers in the NBA. There have been plenty of examples of that injury for big men, and it usually keeps them off the court for a long time.
Stress Fracture/Navicular Injury in Foot
For Notable NBA Big Men
In 1987-88, Bill Walton missed the entire season and never played again in the NBA. He attempted a comeback two years later but had to retire.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas missed 202 games in his career due to this injury. Foot injuries made him miss nearly four full seasons.
In 2002-03, Eric Montross missed the entire season and was forced to retire after the season.
Yao Ming had multiple occurrences of a stress fracture in his left foot and missed 159 games from 2009 to 2011. He retired after the 2010-11 season.
Brendan Haywood missed the end of the 2012-13 season and the entire 2013-14 season with a stress fracture in his left foot.
For some of these guys, the injury also led to further foot injuries.
So the question is: Could Embiid still be the next Olajuwon, or is his foot injury a sign of the troubles Ming and Ilgauskas went through in the NBA? Only time will tell.