Rookie of The Year is one of my favorite awards, as it recognizes a first year player who who not only had a good first season but a player that shows potential for the future. While this years crop of rookies wasn’t stellar, a handful of rooks showed signs that they can be players in this League for a long time. The three finalists for this award did this and much more; from a second round pick who surprised to an injured big man who finally got a chance to shine, all the way to a sweet-stroking forward from overseas, these three rooks balled out. Let’s take a deeper look!
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers: First off, it would be remiss of me if I did not point out the fact that Joel “The Process” Embiid was in fact drafted two years before he stepped on an NBA court to play. Therefore making the title of “rookie” somewhat tenuous in this big mans case. Nonetheless, Embiid was well worth the wait; in his first year of NBA action the center from Cameroon put up historic numbers, averaging a healthy 20 points, eight rebounds, two assists, a stifling 2.5 blocks and lead all rookies in player efficiency with 24.1. Embiid even etched his name in the history books with his play in his “rookie” campaign; per 36 minutes, “The Process” put up better stats in points, rebounds, and blocks than all-time greats such as Shaq, Hakeem Olajuwon, and David Robinson. Embiid also showed the league that he isn’t your typical center, as he shot an impressive 36% from three and a solid 78% from the stripe. But it wasn’t all roses and daisies for Embiid in his first year; “The Process” needs to work on his ball security and his stamina, as he averaged a paltry 3.8 turnovers per game and was consistently gassed on court. With all that being said, Embiid’s “rookie” year was nothing short of awesome, as he showed with his much-improved jump shot and majestic post moves that he is willing to put in the work to become a potential superstar in the NBA. Joel Embiid has a legitimate chance of winning this award, and would be a lock for it if he had played more than a third of the Sixers games, but regardless of what happens on June 26th one thing is for sure, “The Process” is here to stay for a long time.
Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks: If I’m being completely honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the former UVA guard when the Bucks drafted him in the second round of last years draft. After witnessing Brogdon’s first year, it’s safe to say that Malcolm Brogdon has made me eat my words. In his rookie campaign, the 24 year old from Atlanta proved that he has all of the tools to not only make a name for himself in the NBA, but possibly be a crucial piece to a team on the rise in the Bucks. In 75 games, Brogdon put up ten points a night, four assists, three rebounds per game, shot 40% from deep, and proved to be a staunch defender as he grabbed 1.1 steals a game as well. Brogdon also showed that he can run an offense when he got the start at point for Milwaukee in the Playoffs and kept his turnover numbers down (2.0 per game). Brogdon’s efficient and consistent play was critical in a solid year for the Bucks, as the team was better offensively when he was in the game, and suffered defensively when he wasn’t. While he doesn’t have a big time name or a super catchy nickname, Brogdon was quite possibly the most consistent rookie this year, something the young Buck deserves to be recognized for.
Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers: If you’re a Sixers fan, you have to be loving your chances at this award! A mystery man also drafted in 2014, Dario Saric entered the NBA with a splash in 2016-’17. The forward from Croatia proved that he is more than just project-player in 81 games for Philly; a player who benefited from a trade-deadline move, Saric really had a year after the All-Star break. After All-Star weekend’s festivities concluded, Saric seized his opportunity averaging 17 points, seven rebounds, and three assists, numbers that blew his pre All-Star break stats out of the water. Saric also displayed a sweet stroke in his first year, as he shot a solid 31% from three, 78% from the field, and maintained a field goal percentage above 40%. The 22 year old forward also displayed signs that he can be an effective two way player, as he posted a solid 106.9 defensive rating with an overall player efficiency rating of 12.84 (11th best among all rookies). If Saric can become a more consistent all-around player and improve his outside stroke as well as his finishing ability, I am confident he will be a large part of Philadelphia’s plans in the future. While I think it’s doubtful Saric brings home the ROTY trophy, his improved play over the course of the season should be recognized and noted, and hey anything is possible.
Prediction: While all three of these young finalists had respectable first years, I think Malcolm Brogdon is the most deserving of this award due to his consistent play throughout the entire season.
Honorable Mentions: Willy Hernangomez of the New York Knicks showed me that he is a hard-working big man who, with the right opportunity, will be a solid role player in this league. Phoenix Sun forward Marquese Chriss also had a very underrated season and should not be overlooked. Shoutout to some solid freshman campaigns from Lakers Center Ivica Zubac and Boston’s Jaylen Brown.
Thanks for reading.
All Stats via ESPN.com/BasketballReference.com
All Images via Google