The 76ers top draft pick might not play at all this season, but Philly still has a chance to produce its second Rookie of the Year winner in four seasons.
We're just a month into the 2016–17 season, but 76ers center and Instagram legend Joel Embiid is already the runaway favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Meanwhile, the top picks of the 2016 draft class are struggling to establish themselves, let alone challenge the throne for top first-year player.
Let’s remember the obvious caveat here: Embiid was drafted in 2014. Because Mr. Process missed every game during his first two seasons, he’s eligible to win the Rookie of the Year award. I’m firmly in the camp that Embiid has a competitive advantage on the field after hanging around an NBA team for the last two years, but that fact alone does not take away from what he's done on the court.
Embiid leads all rookie in points (18.0 per game), rebounds (7.6) and blocks (2.2) despite playing just 22 minutes per night. When you look at his per-36 numbers—the amount of minutes most stars play—his stat line becomes All-NBA worthy at 29.5 points and 12.4 rebounds per game. The 7-footer has also done all of this while launching the occasional feathery three and Hakeem–ing his way past opponents in the paint. He's outclassing the competition. If Embiid can stay hea—you know, let’s not even say it.
The only rookie who is really coming close to challenging Embiid for top rookie is his teammate, Dario Saric, a 22-year-old who also has a slight leg up on other first-year players after playing in the Euroleague for two seasons. Saric is averaging 10.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, and has exhibited a little bit of a three-point touch early in the season. But once you get past Embiid and Saric, things get bleak.
No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons (another Sixer!) has yet to take the court. The No. 2 pick, Brandon Ingram, is playing decent defense for the frisky Lakers, but his offense needs a lot of work as he’s shooting under 40% from the field. Jaylen Brown has been a sparkplug at times for the Celtics, but he’s not yet a major part of Brad Stevens’s rotation. Dragan Bender is being used sparsely in Phoenix, while Kris Dunn hasn’t been able to take advantage of injuries at point guard to carve out a big role in Minnesota. Buddy Hield has been chucking away in New Orleans (17 shots a game!) but he’s part of the reason why everyone is criticizing Anthony Davis’s supporting cast.
Seriously, what’s going on here? No one really expected this draft class to be deep, but we don’t even have rookies putting up misleading stats on garbage teams. And why is it that so many incoming NBA players seemingly can’t shoot? Of the 2016 lottery picks who’ve played more than 50 minutes, only two are shooting above 45% from the field. Six are shooting under 40%, highlighting how no one in the 2016 class really has an exciting offensive game to speak of (yet.)
Some guys have been decent. Domantas Sabonis seems to be a nice find for the Thunder, and the big man has some nice stretch to his game. Jamal Murray looks like he has the potential to be a building block in Denver. But other than some potential role players, no one has really stood out.
Of course, the NBA’s Rookie of the Year history is a little bit checkered. For every Karl-Anthony Towns, there’s a Michael Carter-Williams. You can ask guys like Tyreke Evans or Emeka Okafor if the ROY award is a ticket to superstardom.
Embiid is certainly deserving of being named the best rookie so far, and it’s been a joy to see what he can do on the court. But it'd be more fun if there were other rookies making similar impacts around the league and giving Embiid a run for his money. Right now, sabotage from Dario Saric might be the only way to inject some drama into this year's rookie race.