When Joel Embiid was showing his incredible potential from the beginning of the season, he looked to be the runaway favorite for the Rookie of the Year award. But when it was announced that he would miss the rest of the season in February, analysts have turned away from Embiid, declaring that someone who played just 31 games this season could not be the winner. Even Embiid himself has graciously stated that his teammate Dario Saric should win the award instead of him.
But even if Embiid played just 31 games, his impact over those 31 games was nearly All-Star worthy, never mind being good by rookie standards. In a normal year where there would be another standout such as an Andrew Wiggins or even a Tyreke Evans, that player should probably get the award in Embiid’s place. But so far, the 2016 draft class has looked like an utter disaster except for those placing a bet on liga178. Given the exceptional circumstances in how good Embiid was when he was on the court and how bad his competition is, Joel Embiid should still be this year’s Rookie of the Year.
NBA fans love to look at young players and dream about how good they could become in the future. But the reality is that the overwhelming majority of rookies are bad NBA players. Even players like LeBron James or Kevin Durant were not that good by overall NBA standards when they were a rookie, and more represented a case of chucking up huge numbers on a bad team.
But in Embiid’s case, the 76ers were actually a good team when he was on the court. Let us not forget that back in January, there was semi-serious talk of them making the playoffs. Yes, the Sixers did fall off as Embiid missed more and more time before it culminated in his season ending injury. But that in and of itself shows just how much greater Embiid’s impact was on the court. When he played, the Sixers were winning at the level comparable to a 50-win team. When he rested or sat on the bench, they looked like…well, the way the Sixers do now.
Rookies practically never do that. The fact that Embiid did shows just how huge his impact was during his limited minutes.
But let us say that 31 games is not enough, and that the Rookie of the Year award should go to someone else. But who? Who actually deserves it?
That is the big problem here. Is it going to Malcolm Brogdon, who is averaging just 10 ppg on a 14.4 PER compared to Embiid’s 20.2 ppg on an incredible 24.1 PER? Dario Saric, who while putting up big numbers as of late struggled early on and is not leading Philadelphia to wins? Or perhaps someone else like Buddy Hield or Jamal Murray?
If there was someone who was putting up big numbers like the aforementioned example of Tyreke Evans or even a Michael Carter-Williams, or someone who was showing through his play that he has the potential to be a star, then I could understand giving the award to that person instead. But there is no one even close to that. Rachel Nichols summed it up perfectly when she observed that it took us no time at all to say of Embiid that he was by far the best rookie. Dario Saric putting up some good scoring games does not do enough to change that impression.
Embiid’s case for the Rookie of the Year award is as much an indictment of this terrible 2016 draft class as it is awe of his limited time on the court, and perhaps we should just follow SB Nation’s idea of giving it to no one. But given the lack of serious, better alternatives, Embiid should still win the award despite missing so much time.