By: Mark Scarlett
Joel Embiid was the Rookie of the Year. It was an absolute lock. But he’s shut down for the season and logged just 31 games. As much it hurts, I can’t justify picking him to win ROY. Even with this awful rookie class. So who is even left to be Rookie of the Year? Let’s find out.
First, let’s establish the candidates. Candidate #1, another key piece of the Process in Philly, is the leading scorer and rebounder among rookies outside of The Process himself, which from here on will go without saying. If you didn’t catch on, Candidate #1 is The Homie: Dario Saric.
Candidate #2 is second in scoring, first in steals and assists, and third in minutes. He is also first in 3-point percentage and fourth in field-goal percentage. Candidate #2 is the only player on the Bucks with a wingspan under 9 feet: Malcolm Brogdon.
Candidate #3 is a darkhorse. He is only averaging 16.2 minutes per game, but that’s gone up to 25.4 in 10 games played since the beginning of February. He’s been averaging 10.2 points per game in this stint, which would be good for second among rookies in points per game. This candidate is only in the running because the Celtics are a contending team, and with this rookie class, anything can happen. That makes Candidate #3 the only player that really contributes to a winning team: Jaylen Brown.
OK, now let’s really start to dig for some rookies that are flying under the radar for ROY.
Yogi Ferrell? He’s been amazing for the Mavs. But wait, he’s only appeared in 24 games. That’s not going to cut it.
Marquese Chriss or Domantas Sabonis? Both have started majority of the games for their respective teams. Eh, both of these guys haven’t scored or rebounded enough to really make a strong ROY case.
What about Jamal Murray or Buddy Hield? Murray has had some great games for the Nuggets. And Hield could close out the season strong with Sacramento. But then again, both have been less efficient than Brogdon, while still putting up fewer points. So, they aren’t going to make a push either.
How about Rodney McGruder? Yes. It has to be Rod. Wait… *Looks up Rodney McGruder’s stats* Shit, nope, not Rod.
I guess we’re stuck with 3 candidates: Dario Saric, Malcolm Brogdon, and Jaylen Brown
So, it’s worth noting that the Rookie of the Year this year will be a consolation prize. It’s a winner by default. It comes with an asterisk. I say this because voters will have to get creative when finding the winner after Embiid (I know what you’re thinking and the answer is yes, Rodney has a shot). So let’s look at the argument for each candidate.
As much as I love everything Process-related, I will put my bias aside and try to look at this objectively. Saric isn’t your average Rookie of the Year candidate. He was a lottery pick that stayed overseas for two years, before coming to the States. He isn’t a freak athlete or the best shooter on the floor. Just a 6’10” Croatian Magic Johnson. Too much? Maybe a little, but Saric is a creative player who is capable of shooting 3s, making some flashy passes, and giving you 110% on every play.
The argument for Dario is obvious: his stats are the best out of the rookies. It’s actually that simple. “Dario Saric” is the most common name when you look through rookie statistical rankings. He’s the only first year player in double digits for points per game, and he leads all rookies in rebounding and double doubles.
The argument against the Homie is largely driven by his shooting percentage, success of the team, and his hair (facial hair included). The easiest one to refute is the argument against his hair. Look, it adds to his adorable persona. He’s just your average Croatian dude. He likes to pal around with the guys and doesn’t really see anything wrong with having facial hair that looks ready to blow away with a gust of wind. Let the man live. Moving on, Dario is shooting just 40% from the field and 31.5% from 3, which are both roughly 5% below the league average. They are also both well below Brogdon, if we are matching up stats here. The third argument is that Dario is essentially playing garbage time minutes, considering the Sixers don’t do a lot of winning. I understand the point, I really do (trying not to let my bias take over). BUT, when is the last time a candidate for Rookie of the Year was on a true contending team? Boom, roasted.
Saric has been a different player since the All-Star Break. In five games, he’s averaging 18.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 4.4 assists, while logging 32.6 minutes. If Dario can close out the season with these numbers, then he has a good chance at keeping the Rookie of the Year where it was going to end up anyway, the City of Brotherly Love.
Brogdon is not your ordinary ROY candidate either. He was selected 36th overall in the 2016 NBA draft, after a long collegiate career at University of Virginia. Brogdon’s game is smart and boring. He knows what he can and can’t do. He’s the anti-Dion Waiters. While Dion is chucking 35 footers and running the other way celebrating after the release, Brogdon is jump stopping in the lane and throwing a ball fake before bracing for contact and finishing an and-one.
Brogdon’s case for ROY is very simple: he’s consistent. He has done the same thing all year. He just contributes. Unlike Dario, there is competition in Milwaukee for Malcolm. Is it good competition? No, but there are capable bodies there that are lacking in Philly. Tony Snell and Delly compete with Brogdon for minutes, which I guess is better than just Richaun Holmes. To Brogdon’s credit, Delly was brought in to start at the point for the Bucks and Jason Kidd has turned to Brogdon, who isn’t even a natural point guard. That’s how smart his game is.
The knocks on Brogdon are also what make him good: he’s knows his role and sticks to it. This self awareness is great when we are talking about how a player will contribute to winning, but it’s not great at winning awards (which I’m 100000% sure Brogdon doesn’t give a shit about). Brogdon’s stay-in-my-lane mentality has him looking like a great role player, both by the eye test and by looking at his stats. But Rookie of the Year doesn’t get awarded to the players with stats that label them “role player”, which is where Brogdon’s ROY campaign takes a hit.
Brown is the type of player that usually gets ROY. He is a top 3 pick with a high ceiling. He was a projected top 10 pick since his senior year of high school. His talent is what you see in most Rookie of the Year winners.
However, he doesn’t play the minutes that Rookie of the Year winners play. In fact, he’s only being considered because the voters are in a weird spot and may start looking at this like we look at MVPs. That would mean the voters ask themselves, “How good is the team?” This is very favorable for Brown considering all eleven of the rookies ahead of him in scoring are on teams currently outside of the playoff picture. In fact, the closest team to the playoffs is the Heat at the 9 seed in the East and their rookie is Rodney McGruder (make that 2 McGruder references in one article). So, obviously there is a shortage of rookies that play for contenders.
That’s Brown’s only shot at winning this thing, realistically. If the voters make it more of an MVP race than the statistical showdown it is, then Jaylen Brown is the only player in the mix. Brown’s stats don’t match up to the Brogdon or Saric. His facial hair looks much more attached to his face than Dario’s, whether that’s a factor or not. He’s a longshot, but with what’s left in the rookie class after Embiid, who knows?
This is down to a 2-man race between Dario and Brogdon, with Jaylen barely in the mix. I have no idea how the voters will look at it. Will they think Dario is legit or just a product of being the only option in Philly? Will they appreciate Brogdon’s self awareness or make that his biggest knock? Will Boston’s success be enough for Jaylen or will his stats be too underwhelming? Will Rodney McGruder make a push and take what is rightfully his? I don’t have a clue, but I sure am eager to find out.