This year’s Rookie of Year award race has been blown wide open when the Philadelphia 76ers announced that Joel Embiid would miss the rest of the season.The 2016 NBA Draft was filled with so much talent and promise but the play of most of the rookies have been underwhelming. There are probably only two rookies that have a legitimate shot at beating Embiid out for the award. The thought that is crazier than Embiid who only played in 31 games two years after being drafted is that both potential Rookie of the Year winners were not drafted in the first round of the 2016 draft.
The Case for Embiid
Playing in only 31 games, sat out back to back, and was on a minutes restriction all year did not stop Embiid from putting up 20.2 points a night, shooting 36.7% from three while averaging 7.8 rebounds a game. There is not a rookie that within nine points of his scoring average. His 2.5 blocks a night, not only leads rookies but also leads the entire NBA. He dazzled fans with moves like Hakeem, threes like Dirk, blocks like Mutombo, and the agility of Shaq. His play on the court and fun antics on social media turned the Sixers into must-watch basketball as well as an immediate fan favorite.
Unfortunately, his season has been cut short and after waiting for two years, all we got was 31 games. Patrick Ewing won Rookie of the Year while only playing 50 out of the 82 games, and that is the fewest games played for a winner of that award, Embiid will challenge that. If he played in 50 games I think he would have won the award hands down because every time he stepped on the court it was clear he was the Rookie of the Year.
The 36th pick in the 2016 draft has been a pleasant surprise for the Milwaukee Bucks this season. He has stepped into his role and has been very productive. Second round picks are generally a hit or miss prospect and Brogdon has been a hit. He’s third amongst rookies in scoring averaging 9.8 points and leads them all in assists with 4.2 dimes a night. He’s also a 42.3% three-point shooter and playing a role on a team fighting for a playoff spot.
All of his talents were on display in their recent game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. First, he came off a ballscreen, hesitated for a split second and drove the lane hard once it opened up while absorbing the contact he finished with is left hand to get the And-1. Then he drove in the open space and whipped a one-handed pass right into the shooting pocket of a waiting Jason Terry who drained the three. The last clip he drilled a wide open three as the Iman Shrumpet closes out on him.
Drafted in the same class as Embiid, was traded to the Sixers by the Orlando Magic on draft day. He made his debut this season after playing overseas the past two years. His blue-collar work ethic has won the fans over in Philadelphia and with Embiid out is going to have the spotlight on him. His 11.3 points and 6.2 rebounds a night, has him second behind Embiid among Rookies in the NBA. He has struggled from there three-point line but as he continues to adjust from the European game expect that to go up. In the month of February, he averaged 17 points and 7.9 rebounds so he’s beginning to come on strong.
Against the Golden State Warriors, Saric showed off his toughness and skills. First, he took future Defensive Player of the year Draymond Green in the post and finished with a nice right handed jump hook, then cut to the rim and while on the move found Robert Covington for an easy dunk. Lastly, he drove the lane in transition and got the And-1.
Although the 2016 draft class has not delivered a sure-fire Rookie of the Year, there are definitely signs of rookies impacting their team. In time Kris Dunn will take over as the point guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Brandon Ingram is beginning to show flashes of brilliance for the Los Angeles Lakers, and Jaylen Brown has carved out a small role for the Boston Celtics. That said none of these guys has had a Rookie of the Year type of season.
Voters are going to be in a weird spot, do they go with the guy who only played 31 games this year but captivated the league every time he was on the court or do they go with a rookie who hasn’t really wowed anyone in the NBA? The most likely scenario is that Joel Embiid will win the award. Should the voters decide between Brogdon and Saric, I think the latter has the edge since he will be the focal Sixers’ offense and have many more opportunities to impress.
There is still time to impress with around 20 games left in the season a rookie can explode onto the scene and take the award like a boxer stealing a round with a flurry in the final seconds.
- Jaylen Brown’s Role – As mentioned above, Brown is coming on strong for the Celtics. Just look at the amazing Celtics-Cavs game from Wednesday evening, he drove on Richard Jefferson for an And-1, hit a three, and had a play drawn up to get him a dunk. Those are the obvious plays but he made two great plays defensively as well. He first pre-rotates when LeBron James has Kelly Olynyk on him, he deflects the give and go pass but also blocks Derrick Williams shot attempt all in the same possession. Later in the game, he pre-rotates again when Kyrie Irving is in an isolation situation, he sprints from the opposite block to get to Williams in the corner, and then contests Irving’s three-point attempt. These types of plays will earn this young man a ton more playing time.