It’s fair to suggest that the 2016 NBA Draft class has been a little underwhelming so far. Number #1 pick, Ben Simmons, has followed in the footsteps of recent Philadelphia draftees and won’t play in Year 1 due to injury. As is often the case within the lottery choices, the remainder of the top 5 are either on struggling teams or stuck behind veterans in their team’s rotation. Brandon Ingram has struggled on a relatively poor Lakers team while at the other end of the spectrum, Jaylen Brown, Dragan Bender and Kris Dunn have all struggled for minutes.
The remainder of the first round hasn’t been much better. It takes the addition of first-year players from prior drafts; Dario Saric and Joel Embiid, as well as second-round draftee Malcolm Brogdon before you liven the Rookie of the Year debate up at all.
As detailed in last month’s Award Race article, the Rookie of the Year is generally reserved for the first year player who averages the most points per game on the season. The 2016/17 season and subsequent award voting is a little more complicated this year, thanks to Joel Embiid’s rookie season that unfortunately only lasted 31 games. Despite being 20 games short of the low mark set by previous winner, Kyrie Irving, it’s still hard to deny Embiid’s 31 game resume.
Those numbers are remarkable from a first-year player, albeit within a small sample size. Here’s why a case for Embiid as Rookie of the Year still remains with just 31 games played.
Who are the only other players to put up 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks & 2.1 assists or better, in any season during their career? Robinson (7 times), O’Neal (3), Abdul-Jabbar (9), Duncan (5), Olajuwon (7), Ewing (4), Mourning, Davis, McAdoo, Lanier and Brand.
That’s special and while it’s unlikely Embiid ever manages to be a 36 minute a night player, just to add further context: Who are the only players who have put up his per36 numbers of 28.7 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks? Shaq in 99/00 and Kareem in 74/75.
That’s why it’s worrying if Embiid isn’t the 2016/17 Rookie of the Year and why it is equalling worrying if he never becomes a regular occurrence on the NBA hardwood.
The Embiid A.D Rookie Race
Presenting an alternate rookie race.
It is clear that Embiid dominated the rookie race while he was on the court. So any award handed out where Embiid is deemed ineligible, should only take in game data after he played his last game. January 27th, 2017. The day his rookie season died and the mark in which the ROY award race was blown wide open. Embiid A.D, if you will. A look at the totality of the 16/17 season presents 6 clear candidates and one clear winner, Saric, if the aforementioned PPG rule is used.
Unlike the history of the ROY award, PPG is used only to create the field for this race. The stats of Saric, Brogdon, Hield, Murray, Ingram and Chriss from Jan 28 – Apr 14 are then assessed with a deeper look at factors other than just points. Apologies to Jaylen Brown and Caris LeVert who have had solid seasons playing decent minutes all year but just missed the cut-off. As well as Tyler Ulis and Skal Labissiere, who have put up very good stats of late but only began featuring regularly well into Embiid A.D.
Player (Team): Dario Saric (Philadelphia 76ers)
Draft #: 12 (’14 Draft)
Stats for season: 12.8PPG / 6.3RPG / 2.2APG / 0.7SPG / 0.2BPG / .411FG% / .311TP%
Stats since Jan 28: 16.2PPG / 6.8RPG / 2.9APG / 0.8SPG / 0.4BPG / .439FG% / .284TP%
Embiid A.D ROY Ballot: 2nd
The unfortunate shutting down of Embiid should have spelled a quick end to any hope of Philadelphia playing basketball worth watching in 2017. Along came Dario Saric. The Sixers have managed to chalk up double-digit wins and Saric took his game to another level post Jan 28, with several career games in February and March. None bigger than his 29/7/5 effort against the Lakers or his 32/10/2 victory over the Bulls. Points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks have all risen since Jan 28 but perhaps more importantly, so have Saric’s shooting percentages. The form on his shot has looked quite flat and laborsome at times but it is good to see things improving. An improvement that will need to continue if the Sixers hold out hope of moving him to the 3 when Simmons returns to action.
Saric is unlucky to be edged out of 1st in this ROY race. He moves like a 10+ year veteran and his previous professional experience shows. It has been an impressive rookie season overall and having the spotlight late in the season has highlighted several key areas of Saric’s game. Ultimately if the Sixers are 100% healthy, Saric should step back into a slightly lesser role where he can use his vision, IQ and great overall feel for the game to be a glue guy for Philadelphia.
Player (Team): Malcolm Brogdon (Milwaukee Bucks)
Draft #: 36
Stats for season: 10.2PPG / 2.8RPG / 4.2APG / 1.1SPG / 0.2BPG / .457FG% / .404TP%
Stats since Jan 28: 11.9PPG / 2.9RPG / 4.4APG / 1.2SPG / 0.2BPG / .483FG% / .377TP%
Embiid A.D ROY Ballot: 1st
At 24 years of age, Malcolm Brogdon is the oldest candidate on the ballot. He is also the only one drafted in the second round. The full season numbers are impressive on their own but when looking at just the last 3 months, they become good enough to beat out Saric for the award. The rise in PPG on the back of an impressive 48%FG since Jan 28, is too hard to ignore. Although Brogdon was a good contributor almost right away and had some big games prior to Jan 28 (including a triple double), he struggled for consistency while Kidd changed his role and the team struggled. More recently, Brogdon has provided his most consistent patch of play which is evident in the Embiid A.D numbers. Throughout February and March, he has only scored in single figures on a handful of occassions and has been a reliable double digit scorer, facilitator and pesky defender.
Brogdon is proving to be another draft steal for the Bucks. He is solid defensively and a capable shooter, which makes him a great partner for Giannis. Both, on the floor and as draft night bargains. While there may not be as much upside there as some of the other candidates listed, Brogdon is a worthy winner of the award purely for what he has achieved this season. Also the only candidate extending his season in the playoffs.
Player (Team): Buddy Hield (Sacramento Kings)
Draft #: 6
Stats for season: 10.6PPG / 3.3RPG / 1.5APG / 0.5SPG / 0.1BPG / .426FG% / .391TP%
Stats since Jan 28: 12.7PPG / 3.8RPG / 1.6APG / 0.7SPG / 0.1BPG / .467FG% / .411TP%
Embiid A.D ROY Ballot: 3rd
Buddy Hield has the honour of being the only rookie from the ’16 draft class, traded during his first season. However, it may have done him the world of good. Hield started off very slow in New Orleans and only played 10 more games for the Pelicans after Jan 28. Since joining the Kings, Hield has flourished with an increased role improving in just about every statistical category. Perhaps the most impressive rise is in his overall FG% and also 3FG%, which is over 41% since Jan 28 compared to sub 38% from earlier in the season. Hield entered the league as the best shooter from deep in the ’16 class and his new high mark is good enough to top this pool of players as well as the entire draft among eligible shooters.
At 23 years of age, it remains to be seen just how much more Hield can improve. One thing is for sure and that is he looks a much better prospect since joining the Kings. He has set a new career high for points (22), assists (7) and rebounds (8) since Jan 28 and perhaps there is still more improvement to be seen with the extended role. Ironically, the Kings look to have finally got the good 2nd/3rd option they desperately needed when Boogie was around. Hield may never be the outright star his owner expects but he has proven to be a reliable shooter/scorer since joining Sacramento.
Player (Team): Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets)
Draft #: 7
Stats for season: 9.9PPG / 2.6RPG / 2.1APG / 0.7SPG / 0.3BPG / .405FG% / .334TP%
Stats since Jan 28: 12.0PPG / 2.6RPG / 2.3APG / 0.9SPG / 0.3BPG / .430FG% / .355TP%
Embiid A.D ROY Ballot: 5th
Jamal Murray is perhaps a victim of his own early season play when it comes to his Embiid A.D campaign. Despite making slight improvements in most areas since Jan 28, only his PPG has risen with any dramatic effect and the overall numbers struggle against his counterparts. Like Brogdon, Murray needs to be assessed for the role he is playing on one of the better teams in this pool of players. He has the worst post Jan 28 FG% of the field (43%) but by far the best +/- and one of only two players (also Brogdon) to have a positive reading for that measure. The highlight games come in equal measure before and after Embiid A.D but they also come in equals parts with the nothing appearances. Having just recently set a career high of 30 points in April, Murray has by far the most 20+ point games of the field but also just as many low scoring outings. A sign that Coach Malone was happy to ride his hot hand at times but also sit him when cold, for any number of other guards he had at his disposal.
The overall numbers are good without being great and the low scoring outings were far more evident in the pre Jan 28 numbers than after. This shows that Murray was able to bring a consistency to his game the longer the season went on and as he found his role within the team. Currently that role is as a spark plug off the bench and the worry is that although he might be good enough to eventually start, he may not have a traditional NBA position.
Player (Team): Brandon Ingram (Los Angeles Lakers)
Draft #: 2
Stats for season: 9.4PPG / 4.0RPG / 2.1APG / 0.6SPG / 0.4BPG / .402FG% / .294TP%
Stats since Jan 28: 11.4PPG / 3.83RPG / 2.2APG / 0.9SPG / 0.5BPG / .459FG% / .309TP%
Embiid A.D ROY Ballot: 6th
The highest drafted rookie from this list of candidates currently comes in last on the pretend ballot paper. A big reason for that is Ingram having the least impact on his individual stats since Jan 28, compared to the rest of the field. Despite a nice rise in FG% and points, the remainder of Ingram’s game has remained largely the same. At least on the stat sheet. The eye test says Ingram has grown in confidence as the season has carried on and as Luke Walton has given him much more responsibility, Ingram has managed to have some of his biggest games for LA. Case in point: Ingram’s top 5 scoring games have all come in the Embiid A.D portion of the season. Furthermore, all but one of those were after Luol Deng also joined Embiid in being shut down for the season.
What he currently lacks in size and strength, he manages to make up for with skill and competitiveness. Importantly, Ingram doesn’t look scared out on the floor and has shown a great feel for the game with the ball in his hands. The extra strength will come for help on the defensive end of the floor, as will the NBA range on the other. Whilst he wasn’t forced fed early like some rookies, Ingram has shown he is growing in proportion with how much the team trusts him on the floor.
Player (Team): Marquese Chriss (Phoenix Suns)
Draft #: 8
Stats for season: 9.2PPG / 4.2RPG / 0.7APG / 0.8SPG / 0.9BPG / .449FG% / .321TP%
Stats since Jan 28: 11.7PPG / 5.4RPG / 0.9APG / 1.0SPG / 1.27BPG / .468FG% / .325TP%
Embiid A.D ROY Ballot: 4th
Chriss has had arguably the toughest route in his rookie season of all the candidates above him. After just 7 games, Chriss was inserted into the starting lineup and given full-time PF duties on one of the worst teams in the league. A full 75 games, which is important from two perspectives. Firstly, Chriss was drafted a very raw prospect and needs all the game time he can get in his first year and secondly he has shown incredible durability to average 20+ minutes a night and not miss a single game. Significant rises to points, rebounds and steals since Jan 28, show a reward that comes from the exposure to minutes.
The fans have been rewarded too. Chriss is a blocking (1.2bpg Embiid A.D) and dunking (47%FG Embiid A.D) machine. Since Jan 28, Chriss has had single-game blocking numbers of 5 and 4, both on two occasions and 5 games over 20 points or more. Overall, Chriss’ inconsistent play doesn’t quite stack up to some of the other rookies on this ballot which ultimately lands him in 4th place. However, given his steep learning curve there is a chance he leaps them all in just a few shorts years. The Suns did the right thing in drafting Chriss and also made the right decision to start him so early in his career. While it may have hurt his numbers early on, it certainly hasn’t hurt his growth.
It’s clear that there are three possible candidates for the ROY award, using three different methodologies.
- Quality Over Quantity: Joel Embiid deserves the award for his stellar play, even if it was only on display in 31 games. His 20.2 PPG also puts him well ahead of the chasing pack using the normal PPG rule in ROY award history.
- Quantity Over Quality: Dario Saric. If Joel Embiid can’t win the Rookie of the Year award, then his teammate certainly deserves the spoils. Whether it’s using the entire season of data or just Embiid A.D, Saric still comes out on top in the traditional PPG stakes.
- Quality After Embiid A.D: Malcolm Brogdon. Taking the next best 6 candidates after Embiid A.D and looking at more than just PPG, results in a win for the Buck. This system provided a much tighter race but the quality and importance of Brogdon’s play shone through.
The shortened race and emphasis on stats other than points, certainly makes things more interesting. Saric and Embiid should be joined by Simmons next season and the ’16 draftees of Brogdon, Chriss, Hield, Ingram and Murray have shown there is plenty to work on for next season. Not to mention the likes of Brown, Bender, Ulis, LeVert and Labissiere who have all shown promise towards the end of this season. Add in the breakout play of TFPP favourites Thon Maker and Taurean Prince in the Playoffs and perhaps there is still hope for this draft class after all. Don’t quit on the ’16 Draft Class just yet.
Final note: pray to whichever god you worship that Joel Embiid can return in 17/18 healthy. His rookie season may have been killed off early but hopefully Embiid can rise from Hinkie’s ashes. They can’t both be taken for our sins. We are going to be robbed of one of the best big men of our generation if he can never put together a 70+ games-per-season type of career.