Joel Embiid suffered the worst loss of his career in a 110-86 thrashing by the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night, an absolute disaster of a game on national television, both for the Sixers organization, and their star center.
Embiid finished the game with 10 points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes, much of which proved to be garbage time as the Sixers were down 61-33 by halftime. For the game, the Sixers shot 37.3 percent, hitting nine of their 32 three-point attempts, while letting — yes, letting — Minnesota hit on 50.6 percent of their shots, which included a pedestrian 23.1 percent from beyond the arc.
Yes, that actually means it could have been worse.
And yet, maybe it couldn’t have been any worse, at least not in terms of perception on the national stage. Charles Barkley began the TNT telecast talking about how Embiid and Ben Simmons, when healthy, could be the start of something special in Philly, comparing their bright future to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
By halftime, Barkley was talking about how Karl Anthony Towns and New Orleans big man Anthony Davis are going to be the two best big men in the NBA for the next 10 years without batting an eye or remembering Embiid is also on this planet.
Maybe it was an oversight. Or, more likely, Barkley is rightly hesitant to put Embiid into a category with KAT and AD after just seven-and-a-half professional basketball games in his career.
The potential for Embiid to be great is clear. But he isn’t great… yet. It’s hard to remember that even though he was drafted three seasons ago, he is technically still a rookie.
Head coach Brett Brown reminded the TNT audience of that, telling Lewis Johnson his star’s somewhat clumsy nature on the court is “part of his growth. You can see his balance — just running and playing — he’s only played, what, eight games now in two and a half years, so it’s just part of his evolution.”
It’s important to remember that as we are clawing over each other to give Embiid the key to the city every other night. He’s a rookie, and he’s just learning how to play the game at this level.
Clearly, as Embiid faced off against the last two NBA Rookies of the Year in Towns and Wiggins, it was obvious he at their level yet. But he’s getting there. And when compared to other rookies this season — be it first year players or otherwise — the big man is flat-out dominating.
Embiid leads all rookies in scoring, rebounds and blocks. He’s ranked second in three-point field goal percentage for rookies attempting more than one per game and he’s attempting, on average, more than double the number of free throws of any other rookie in the league.
Here’s how Embiid stacks up against the other top rookies so far this season.
NBA Rookie of the Year Candidates (through Nov. 17)
Joel Embiid – C – Sixers
Embiid is averaging 17 points per game in 22 minutes, pulling down 7.6 rebounds and blocking 2.3 shots per game. He is tallying 27.5 points and 12.3 rebounds per 36 minutes and 36.7 points and 16.5 boards per 100 possessions, the highest of any NBA rookie to have played in more than 15 minutes this season.
Though he’s played in just eight games, he is the clear favorite for Rookie of the Year right now, if he stays healthy and continues to stay on pace to play 50+ games this season. The only two people who may be able to catch Embiid are two of his teammates.
Buddy Hield – G – New Orleans Pelicans
Hield is averaging 9.6 points in just over 21 minutes per game, shooting half of his 10.3 field goal attempts from beyond the arc, but hitting on just 24.2 percent. Playing with Anthony Davis, Hield’s opportunities will continue to present, but he needs to take better advantage of those chances, as his true shooting percentage — a formula that accounts gives more weight to three pointers and accounts for free throws — is just 45.3 percent.
Dario Saric – F – Sixers
Brown recently called Saric a “bull” and that’s exactly how he plays the game, averaging more minutes per game — 26.9 — than any other rookie in the league. Saric’s 10.5 points per game trails only Embiid for rookies, and his 14.1 points per 36 minutes ranks eighth among rookies and fifth for those who have played 90 or more minutes so far this season.
Saric trails only Embiid in rebounds per game, averaging 6.3 per game and 11.3 per 100 possessions, the eighth-best rate among all rookies, most of whom are not playing nearly the minutes Saric is asked to play. His true shooting percentage is 48.5, and he’s hitting on 41.7 percent of his three-point attempts, which has been a pleasant surprise so far. His effective field goal percentage — weighing three pointers more than two — is 55.4 percent in catch-and-shoot situations. Without Embiid, Saric might be the season’s best rookie.
Domantas Sabonis – F – Oklahoma City Thunder
Sabonis is a bit under the radar in terms of marquee rookies, but he is averaging 7.2 points, 3.3 boards and 1.6 assists per game for Oklahoma City, getting 22 minutes per contest. Sabonis is shooting 46 percent from the floor, including 45.5 percent from three on nearly three attempts per game, while his rebounds, assist and point totals are slightly higher than fellow rookie Brandon Ingram, who was taken second overall by the Lakers.
Brandon Ingram – F – Los Angeles Lakers
There was some debate as to whether the Sixers would take Simmons or Ingram with the first pick, and while Simmons has yet to play this season, Ingram has been playing 22 minutes per game off the bench for the Lakers, averaging 6.9 points, 3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. He’s shooting just 23.8 percent from three so far this season — a knock on Ingram heading into the draft was his range, something he had been working on a lot — while his true shooting percentage is 51.8 percent. Defensively, Ingram is allowing opponents to shoot just 40.5 percent against him, besting their season average by 5.3 percent. The jury is still out on Simmons vs. Ingram, but the Lakers rookie hasn’t taken that much advantage of his career head start.
Kris Dunn – G – Minnesota Timberwolves
Dunn could be the Rookie of the Year if someone other than Tom Thibodeau was his coach. He is second among rookies in assists per game with 3.5 — trailing Atlanta’s Malcolm Delaney, who should also probably be on this list — and Dunn is averaging 4.4 points and a rookie-best 1.5 steals per game in 20.4 minutes per contest.
Dunn has started five games, backing up Ricky Rubio in the other six for Minnesota. His minutes should increase as the year goes on, but Thibs is notorious for overplaying his starters and limiting the minutes of his younger studs. How he handles Dunn will go a long way in determining the kind of season the rookie has.
Jamal Murray – G – Denver Nuggets
Murray is fourth among rookies in points per game, averaging 7.3, while his three-point percentage of 39.0 is third best of any rookie averaging three or more attempts per game. That number should improve as his minutes increase this season. His field goal percentage on catch-and-shoot attempts is 48 percent, but his effective field goal percentage on those shots is 72 percent, as every one of his catch-and-shoot attempts has come from beyond the arc. He has struggled with pull-up jumpers, hitting on just 23.7 percent despite 46.9 percent of his shots coming on pull-ups. Murray can turn into a bona fide NBA scorer, but in terms of the ROY race, he’s not there yet.
Jaylen Brown – F – Boston Celtics
Brown is only on this list because a lot of Sixers fans were interested in the team drafting him. He’s averaging 6.8 points and 2.6 rebounds per game, adding just under one steal and one assist as well. He’s getting just 16.7 minutes per game, so his per-36 minute numbers of 14.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game are better, but still not great. Again…yet.
Malcolm Brogdon – G – Milwaukee Bucks
Brogdon was taken 36th overall in the 2016 draft, but so far this season he’s averaging 7.1 points and 2.8 assists in 20.8 minutes per game for Milwaukee. His minutes have increased as the season has gone along, upping from 17 minutes per game in October to just over 22 in November, and with that his field goal percentage has steadily increased as well, shooting 41.1 percent in November. A lot would have to happen for Brogdon to be this year’s Rookie of the Year, but his play is certainly a bright spot for the Bucks, given where he was drafted.
Ben Simmons – F – Sixers
You never know. #TrustTheProcess