It is rare if ever that we as a sport-loving public can accurately predict the success or peak performance and ability of a player, particularly as they head into their respective league’s draft. That has never stopped the sports media community from making lofty comparisons and bold guesses as to how great a given player could someday be. With the NBA Draft just over one week away, there is speculation that former Kansas C Joel Embiid will be selected No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. An NBA GM told Mark Heisler of Forbes that Embiid’s ceiling is Hakeem Olajuwon and his basement is Serge Ibaka. The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy wrote prior to his Kansas career that “[Embiid] owns physical gifts that call to mind Hakeem Olajuwon and basketball skills reminiscent of Tim Duncan.” In October, before the start of Jayhawks’ practices, head coach Bill Self said,
He kind of reminds me a little bit of (Hakeem) Olajuwon early in his career. I’m not saying he’s Olajuwon. I’m not saying that at all. But you know, some similarities when he was real raw when he was young, but always had great feet, light on his feet. I think Joel’s the same way.
I was obviously tempted to take just the first line of Self’s quote and use it out of context to make my point, but I decided I’m better than that. The point of all of this isn’t really that comparing Embiid to Olajuwon before the Kansas big man has stepped on an NBA floor is completely insane — which is definitely true. These comparisons, especially taken out of context, are ridiculous and need to stop.
But I’m not setting the bar at Olajuwon. No, I’m giving Mr. Embiid a different bar to pass and it should be significantly easier. Joel Embiid has a chance to become the best player with the given name “Joel” to play in any of the four major professional leagues in North America. Before we examine his competition, I will set one parameter and that is the player must have been known as “Joel” while playing and not have used a different name i.e. his middle name (Joel Craig Ehlo, for example).
Joel Anthony has done two things of note in his basketball career. 1. He signed a 5-year deal worth more than $18 million back in July of 2010. This came just after the end of the 2009-10 season in which Anthony averaged 2.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, and two fouls per game in 16.5 minutes per game. 2. He was on the Heat’s roster when they won their last two NBA titles. Joel Anthony has two rings. Still, I’d put chances pretty high that after one season – assuming he’s fully healthy – Joel Embiid will have bested Joel Anthony.
Przybilla was born and raised in Monticello, Minnesota, a town of just over 12,000, and attended the University of Minnesota before being selected ninth overall in the 2000 NBA Draft ahead of Michael Redd (2nd round, 43rd overall) and Hedo Turkoglu (1st round, 16th overall). Przybilla played 13 years in the NBA, most of it with the Portland Trailblazers, but also spending time with Milwaukee, Charlotte, and Atlanta. Basketball-Reference lists his career earnings at over $45 million, which is completely insane for who had career averages of 3.9 ppg/6.2 rpg/1.4 bpg in 19.8 mpg and never averaged more than 6.4 points per game in a season.
The 27-year old Englishman just finished his second year playing for the Portland Trailblazers and was far from noteworthy, averaging 3.3 ppg and 4.0 rpg in 14.0 mpg this past season and posting an 11.34 PER. The Blazers are set to pay him a hair over $3 million next season.
We’ve wrapped up the basketball portion of this and are moving on to the baseball players and starting with Joel Hanrahan, twice an all-star reliever with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010 & 2011. Hanrahan also pitched 7.1 innings for the Red Sox last year, but he was bad. You may not have heard of Joel Hanrahan before. Outside of those two seasons with the Pirates, he’s not been very good.
Quite likely my favorite of these Joels, Pineiro pitched for the Mariners for seven years, from 2000-06, with some great seasons from 2001-05. Pineiro had the best season of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, however, at age 30 in 2009, ending the year with a 3.49 ERA, averaging less than 0.5 HR/9 and a K/BB rate just shy of 4:1. So we can rate Pineiro as a 12-year MLB player who had at least five seasons in which he was a quality contributor for his team.
There was apparently a OF/3B named Joel Youngblood who played for five different teams over 14 years, most notably the New York Mets (1977-82) and San Francisco Giants (1983-88) and being named to the 1981 All-Star team while a member of the Mets. In the 1st half of the 1981 season, Youngblood posted a .359/.406/.555 in the first half of the 1981 season. That said, I’d never heard of him. So…there’s that.
Okay so we’ve wrapped up both basketball and baseball players. Joel Dreessen was a Tight End who the Jets drafted in the 6th round of the 2005 draft. Dreessen would play only the one season with the Jets before heading to Houston and playing five season with the Texans from 2007-12, including a 2010 season in which he had 36 catches for 518 yards and four touchdowns.
Mr. Hilgenberg was an offensive lineman out of the University of Iowa, selected by the Saints in the 4th round of the 1984 NFL Draft. Hilgenberg would play his entire 10-year career with the Saints including a Pro Bowl appearance in 1992.
We’ve now concluded our look at football Joels and it is with hockey that things are gonna get interesting. Joel Ward is the first Canadian on the list and the 33-year old just finished his seventh season in the NHL. Ward played in 82 games for the Washington Capitals in 2013-14, scoring 24 goals and accruing 25 assists.
For my money, Joel Quenneville is the biggest obstacle in Embiid’s way to being the greatest Joel in North American professional sports history. There is a caveat to the resume held by the 55-year old from Windsor, Ontario, Canada — Quenneville’s success has come as a coach. While it is true that Joel Quenneville played for 13 seasons in the NHL, most notably for seven seasons with the Hartford Whalers from 1983-90, Quenneville’s greatest success has come as a coach. Quenneville has been a head coach in the NHL since 1996, spending time at the helm of the Blues and Avalanche before taking over as the Blackhawks head coach in 2008. Chicago has been very successful with Quenneville in charge including two Stanley Cup Championships (2009-10 & 2012-13).
I don’t think Joel Embiid ends up being Hakeem Olajuwon. Hakeem Olajuwon is one of the best players of all-time (definitely Top 25 and possibly higher than that) and one of the greatest big men of all-time. In terms of on-field/on-court/on-ice performance? The bar for Mr. Embiid is not very high to be the greatest Joel of all-time.