Because of Joel Embiid‘s injury, voters are going to make a difficult decision when it’s time to crown the 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year.
There is no question that Embiid has been the best rookie. He plays with poise and a skill set that is head and shoulders above his contemporaries, but he also doesn’t play with his contemporaries. Because of a knee injury, Philly will be without the Process for the remainder of the year.
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Even before his season came to an end, Brett Brown and the medical staff kept Embiid on a minutes restriction and didn’t play him on the second half of back-to-backs.
At the time of this writing, the Sixers have played 60 games total. Just 31 of them have featured Embiid, and that’s sparked a huge debate among those who follow the NBA. Never in the history of the league has the Rookie of the Year played less than 50 games — Vince Carter and Patrick Ewing played exactly that many, and Carter’s shouldn’t even count because it came during the lockout season of 1998-99. Something else we haven’t seen is a first-year guy play so few minutes, and Mike Miller‘s 29.1 minutes a game back in 2001 is the lowest ever.
Voting wouldn’t be an issue if the 2016 class were stronger, but there is almost no parity between Embiid and the field. He ranks first among rookies in point (20.2), rebounds (7.8), blocks (2.5) and was playing less than 26 minutes a night before getting shut down. Furthermore, he shot 46.6 percent from the field with a 24.2 PER.
There are, really, only two choices you can go with if you decide not to reward Embiid for playing roughly 38 percent of his team’s games — Dario Saric from the Sixers or Malcolm Brogdon from the Milwaukee Bucks. Both guys are second and third in scoring with 11.3 and 9.8 points a night, respectively, while Saric is second in rebounds (6.2) and Brogdon is first in assists (4.2).
Those numbers are for the length of the season so far, and with more than 20 games left for most teams, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a few other rookies toss their names into the hat.
Saric and Brogdon have remained the two best over the last 10 contests, but Buddy Hield, Jaylen Brown, Marquese Chriss and Willy Hernangomez have almost eliminated the buffer zone between themselves and the two frontrunners.
Hield falls to third on my leaderboard, and the Stephen Curry comparisons haven’t bothered him one bit. Buddy’s found his stroke over the last 10 games and is looking like the sharpshooter we saw at Oklahoma. He boasts a 49.4 percent clip overall, and it’s inflated by his outstanding mark of 43.2 from downtown. The Kings have done a tremendous job in turning Hield loose, and he’s noticeably more aggressive in a purple jersey. It’s almost like Ranadive went into the coach’s office and forced Dave Joerger to find a way to make the Buddy system work.
One of the biggest risers is Brown, and he’s developing at a rate that should make him a solid two-way player in a few seasons. He’s also cracked the 10 points per game plateau, but he’s an elite defender by rookie standards, and that’s what warranted him going so high in the draft. According to NBA.com, Brown shuts down opponents better than any other rookie over this most recent stretch. The differential between the league’s average field goal percentage and what those players shoot when matched up against Brown is a rookie-leading -5.8 percent. Saric is the next closest at -2.6.
As for Chriss and Hernangomez, their teams, Phoenix and New York, haven’t improved in conjunction with them. The Knicks acquired Hernangomez on draft night, and the Spaniard is just shy of averaging a double-double with 10.1 points and 8.8 rebounds over his last nine. Chriss doesn’t get much attention because he plays in Phoenix, and it’s a shame. He’s someone who could’ve benefitted from staying in school, but his offense is beginning to come around, and he’s another double-digit guy the Suns can utilize on the break.
Will it be a travesty is Embiid brings home the Rookie of the Year award? No, he’d deserve it. Contrarily, giving it to someone else doesn’t mean that Embiid got snubbed. Consistently showing up over the course of the season means more to some than dominating for less than half of it.
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