While Joel Embiid has clearly established himself as the leader in the Rookie of the Year race, how does the rest of the race shape up?
Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
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When you think about Joel Embiid, it’s hard to picture him as an NBA rookie. After all, the Rookie of the Year chase, admittedly, isn’t all that exciting at this point. The consistent dominance of Joel Embiid is pushing the remainder of the rookie class to the periphery at times, and the Philadelphia 76ers‘ big man is looking more and more like the undisputed victor–even a quarter of the way through the season.
Embiid’s advantages are clear. He has been involved in the league for two years now, a helpful boost for somebody who has to learn the lifestyle that comes with being an NBA player. The talent level surrounding Embiid is also subpar, and has set him up with a clearly defined role as the undisputed top option offensively.
As somebody who is physically developed in a manner few rookies ever are–courtesy of two years of NBA workouts–Joel Embiid is emerging as a legitimate star-caliber talent on some nights. He’s blocking 2.5 shots per game in just 23.5 minutes, and has put up over 18 and 7 in points and rebounds receptively on the other end.
While he’s still getting his legs underneath him a bit, Joel Embiid’s footwork is incredibly advanced for a “first year” player, and his shooting touch has surprised just about everyone.
Where the rest stack up
At this point, Embiid’s closest competitor is his own teammate–which makes the race even more lopsided in a way. Dario Saric has been on a tear as of late, but is still a clear second or third option on an offense in which Embiid stars.
On other teams, the most talented pieces have been somewhat snubbed out of production. Jamal Murray is receiving inconsistent minutes despite being arguably the most talented swingman on the Denver Nuggets, while Brandon Ingram has had to play behind and alongside players like Luol Deng and Lou Williams.
With a uniquely poor rookie class and a pair of experienced, more-seasoned rookies making their NBA debuts for the Philadelphia 76ers, the race has been relatively uninspiring at this point. It essentially boils down to Embiid then everyone else, with Saric holding a fairly large lead over any secondary contenders in his own right.
Regardless, though, there are some surprising names that have put their name into the semi-conversation. Here are the top 10 rookies as of right now.
Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
SF, Memphis Grizzlies
5.7 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.1 SPG
Troy Williams is performing admirably as the starting small forward for a Grizzlies team that has been ravaged by injuries as of late. While his numbers aren’t all that impressive at the moment, his toughness is a nice boost for a team that thrives off of gritty play. He has shown that he’s perfectly capable of covering top offensive players without getting overwhelmed, and his energy in forcing turnovers has been a pleasant surprise. He wasn’t talked about much coming out of Indiana this summer, but has shown himself to be a quality plug-in at the NBA level. He’s a strong athlete in space, and is beginning to look like somebody who could carve out a long-term niche in Memphis’ rotation. An improvement from his 23 percent shooting from deep would be a necessary improvement, though.
PF, Toronto Raptors
5.9 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.6 BPG
As the unexpected starting four, Pascal Siakam is continuing to produce as a steady defensive presence underneath for Toronto. He doesn’t score much, but positions himself well on the glass and has provided excellent energy for a team that boasts scoring options elsewhere. He doesn’t necessarily rack up blocks, but he utilizes his length to bother a lot of shots. Siakam also hustles in transition, running the floor in long strides and finishing off fastbreaks from time to time. He’s filling a legitimate niche on an elite Eastern Conference team–in the starting rotation. That’s more than deserving of a spot on this list.
PF, Oklahoma City Thunder
6.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.4 APG
Domantas Sabonis continues to provide a surprising boost to the Thunder’s perimeter scoring. Despite flashing only signs of a perimeter jumper at Gonzaga last season, he has shot 43 percent deep thus far in 2016–and has worked seamlessly as a kick-out option for Russell Westbrook as a result. Steven Adams and Enes Kanter carve out the majority of their production in the paint, which has made Sabonis a quality counterpart in the rotation. He keeps the floor spaced, and provides excellent energy on the boards as well–although that can get phased out by the wealth of rebounding elsewhere in the rotation. Sabonis is another starter on a playoff contender, and has locked himself into this conversation.
SG, Miami Heat
6.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.3 APG
Rodney McGruder has been another surprising name here. The former Kansas State star emerged as a team favorite during Summer League, and has been able to carry that over into the regular season with success. The Heat have been plagued by injuries on the perimeter, thus opening up plenty of playing time for McGruder. He has stepped in as the starter lately with Justise Winslow and Jason Richardson missing time, and is the type of gritty defender that has found ways to be productive. He’s shooting a respectable 31 percent from deep as well, and finding room as a cutter offensively. He’s a solid athlete, and a legitimate contributor for a Heat team that has struggled around him.
PG, Milwaukee Bucks
7.9 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 2.8 APG
Malcolm Brogdon was the 36th pick in this year’s draft, but has quickly caught on as on the most productive players from his class. With the Bucks not boasting much point guard depth, Brogdon is playing second fiddle to Matthew Dellavedova in the rotation–and doing so at a high level. Like Delly, he doesn’t play flashy basketball, but finds ways to produce. He’s a strong spot-up shooter, shooting 47 percent from deep, and has developed into a well-calculated passer. Perhaps his best contributions, however, come on defense. As his calling card on a defensively-based Virginia squad last season, Brogdon’s ability to cover multiple positions at a high level has been a needed boost off the bench for an improved Bucks squad.
Brandon Ingram is kicking it up a notch as of late, and has worked his way into the top five as a result. The Lakers’ bench is performing at a high level, with Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams leading a heavy burst of offensive firepower in reserve–and Ingram is finally becoming a contributor to that notion. His thin frame still causes problems, but his shooting stroke has begun to finally hit it’s stride. He’s now hitting on 30 percent of his threes, and has had a positive plus/minus in 5 of his last 7 games–the two negatives coming in rough losses to Golden State. He’s finding a niche in one of the better benches in the NBA, and is beginning to show flashes of what made him the 2nd overall pick.
PG, Memphis Grizzlies
7.0 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 3.8 APG
After spending last year out of NBA competition, former Kentucky star Andrew Harrison has worked his way into prominence with Memphis. With Michael Conley out with injury, Harrison is the starting point guard for the Griz, and is executing at a high level. Averaging 7 points per contest, Harrison’s strength and quickness has allowed him to excel as a cutter. His field goal shooting is abysmal percentage-wise, but he has found avenues towards getting others involved as his acclimates. Defensively, Harrison has been an absolute stud. His size allows him to cover either guard spot, and he has done so with great success. This is a Grizzlies team that prides itself on defense, and Harrison has filled the Conley void admirably in that category.
SG, Denver Nuggets
9.6 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.0 APG
Jamal Murray could be an easy number two here if the Nuggets used him more. The playing time he receives seems to fluctuate on a nightly basis, and his production has done the same as a result. As a stellar perimeter shooter, Murray’s ability to space the floor off the bench has been a nice boost for Denver. He’s shooting 38 percent from deep on solid volume, and has shown the same scoring instincts that led to massive success with the Wildcats last season. His passing on the wing is also a solid boost to the offense. The Nuggets struggle to move the ball at times, so Murray’s crisp passing from the perimeter is a quality catalyst in the offensive regime. He has his defensive woes, but is the best offensive guard in the Nuggets’ system at this best.
PF, Philadelphia 76ers
10.2 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.7 APG
Dario has picked it up as of late off the bench, emerging as the Sixers’ second most effective offensive piece–outside of Embiid. His versatility in reserve is something Brett Brown has lacked in seasons past, which has made his presence with the team all the more beneficial as of late. Despite coming in behind Ilyasova, Saric’s improved play as of late has made him the clear better player from a purely skill perspective. He offers a stellar spot-up shooting option from the 4 spot (39 percent from deep), and has a playmaking ability that has genuinely helped open up the offense. Despite the growing pains, he has separated himself as number two in these rankings.
Duh. Joel Embiid, from his stat line alone, is the undisputed frontrunner here. His dominance on both ends of the floor is something rarely seen out of rookies, and his emergence as the clear top option in Philadelphia has only reassured is standing in this race. Embiid would be the third leading shot blocker in the league if he qualified based on games played, and has a level of offensive versatility and physical prowess that’s incredibly unique at the five spot. He’s in a class of his own here, plain and simple.