As the 2016-17 regular season comes to an end and voters try to parse out who will be the MVP — you can make a LEGIT case for FOUR players — there are other awards that provide intrigue, including who will be crowned Rookie of The Year.
It's pretty amazing that the 76ers had a preseason ROY favorite in Ben Simmons, up until he broke his foot the last day of training, and then they had the clear front-runner for the award, Joel Embiid, who suffered a knee injury on January 20 and was ultimately shut down for the season. Even now, the award will most likely STILL go through Philly, with the awesome play of Dario Saric over the past two months.
Most of the media members and even JoJo himself gave "The Homie" (Saric, for non-Sixer fans unfamiliar with the nickname) his endorsement for the award.
I love everything Saric and everyone knows how much I love JoJo, so I hate to disagree with him here, but let's stop this nonsense and realize that Embiid should still win Rookie of the Year. Yes, despite playing only 31 games, that trophy should still be on Embiid's shelf in his Philly home. I've seen a lot of reasons, explanations and just pure, baseless and not-so-great arguments for why Embiid shouldn't win the award. Let's go over some of the often used excuses.
But Embiid hasn't played enough minutes!
This is the most common argument among the people who think Embiid shouldn't win the award. Adam Silver must have sent out another memo to owners that we all missed, because I wasn't aware that the name of the award had been changed from Rookie of the Year to "Rookie who Played the Most Minutes."
If Embiid had put up the type of numbers he did this year in the 2015-16 season and only played 786 minutes, which is the amount Embiid played this season because of injury, then I could see giving the award to someone else. The 2015-16 rookie class — including KAT, Porzingis, Devin Booker (Booker dropped 70 on Friday by the way), and Justise Winslow — was skilled and had actual depth.
Alternatively, as The Ringer's Kevin O'connor pointed out in a truly great article, this season's batch of rookies have been historically bad. Think about it, Embiid and Saric were not even drafted in 2016, but they still are the two best players out of all the rookie-eligible players this year. Now that's not to say we should give up on the 2016 draft class at all — it's still way too early — but why all of a sudden are voters willing to give the award to one of these rookies who have been mostly underwhelming compared to the immense production Embiid displayed in a condensed amount of time? For instance, at the beginning of March, Bucks rookie Malcolm Brogdon passed Embiid for total points for the season and since has become a ROY candidate; however, keep in mind Brogdon has more than doubled the amount of games Embiid played.
I also want to say that Saric has surpassed all expectations this year. He has been brilliant the last two months, and it looks like he'll lock up another Rookie of the Month award for March. With that said, he still hasn't had enough impact, especially when compared to the two-way impact that Embiid provided when he played. From December 8 to late January, before Embiid was effectively shut down for the season, the 76ers (I repeat the 76ers) were top five in defensive rating and eventually worked their way to ninth in opponents points allowed per game.
But Embiid only played 31 games
Yes, Embiid did play 31 games. Have I mentioned that even I — the biggest Embiid fan in the world — am frightened that he has only played 31 games in three years? In those 31 games, however, Embiid had the most impact on his team by far. For that matter, he had more impact than any other rookie-eligible player in the league.
You know what's hilarious about this debate? I've noticed respected members of the NBA media (most of whom have a vote) preface their Embiid-should-not-be-ROY take by saying, "Let me just say that Embiid is clearly the best [insert talented, impactful or whatever other adjective here] rookie out of this class." They then immediately follow that by saying, "but he just hasn't played enough games." Well, which one is it? Because that means that there was clearly a number of games that satisfied the voter enough for them to say, "Well he is clearly the best out of this class," but now that he is out that all of a sudden changes?
Now, if we are talking about the Most Valuable Player award, then the number of games played would matter: you have to play enough games and actual minutes to be considered the MVP of the ENTIRE league. Forget the fact that everyone has 10,000 different definitions of what Most Valuable player means. Is it the best player? The player who has the most impact on their team? Or maybe who is having the best season that year regardless of record?
Rookie of the Year, however, is pretty self-explanatory in my opinion. It's literally "who is the best rookie." It'd be one thing if Embiid played 15 games or something of that nature, but 31 games is more than enough of a sample size to prove that Embiid has by far been the best rookie this year. Also, for the people who want to cut corners and say Rookie of the Year means which rookie had the most impact to their team, I have this to say. First of all, Embiid's impact in 31 games was so immense that it trumps — I'm sorry for using that word — all of the other rookies this year. Secondly, Most Impactful Rookie and The Best Rookie are one in the same because typically the candidates or winners of Rookie of the Year are on bad teams, so the best rookie usually has the bigger impact on their team. You tell me which rookie had the biggest impact when they stepped on the court.
Embiid's counting stats
20.2 points per game (Embiid still leads all rookies with 14 games of 20+ points or more)
7.8 Rebounds per game
2.1 Assists per game
2.5 Blocks per game
46.6 percent/ 36.7 percent/ 78.3 percent shooting splits
Embiid's per 36 minutes stats
I say all of this while acknowledging Jaylen Brown's (Celtics) improved play since the All-Star break, the month of March that Marquese Chriss (Suns) just displayed and Saric's awesome play since the start of February. Even Skal Labissiere and Georgios Papagiannis (both with the Kings) look more polished than some of this year's lottery picks. Once again, however, all of that is relative and just shows how lackluster this rookie class has been. Embiid's peers go beyond this rookie class; his peers were All-Star players. That's how good he has been.
But Embiid's not really a rookie
If you want to debate whether players that miss their real rookie season shouldn't be eligible for the award the following year or in whatever season they are able to play in, then that's a different debate to have for a different day. The fact is that Embiid — and Saric, for that matter — are still rookie-eligible by NBA rules, despite being drafted in 2014.
Whether Embiid will ever put together a healthy season of 70 games in his career or if he can ever realize his seemingly limitless potential are also irrelevant to the discussion of who should win ROY. The clear and obvious winner should be Embiid. Most likely, Saric will end up winning it — and I would be happy if the award still ran through the Sixers organization — but it would still be the wrong person winning the award.