Joel Embiid and Dario Saric lost the NBA Rookie of the Year title to Milwaukee guard Malcolm Brogdon, announced at the league’s annual awards event Monday night.
Brogdon helped lead the Bucks to the playoffs in 2016-17 and benefitted from the two other finalists playing for the same team; a team that won just 28 games.
Did Brogdon deserve to win the award? He had a very good season for a rookie, and was tasked with helping a young team get back to the postseason. His first-year success was about more than just the numbers. It had to be.
By the Numbers
Take the names and teams out of it, and just look solely at each candidate’s season.
Player 1 averaged 20.2 points per game, shot 46.6 percent from the floor and 36.7 percent from beyond the arc and had a true shooting percentage of 58.4 percent. He led all rookies in points, rebounds and blocks per game and his usage rate of 36.3 percent — essentially the percentage of offensive play run through him — was 11 points higher than any other rookie and third-highest in the NBA.
He also averaged 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 2.1 assists, and 0.9 steals with 3.8 turnovers per game.
Player 2 averaged 12.8 points per game, second among all rookies, while shooting 41.1 percent from the field and 31.1 percent from three, with a TS% of 50.8. He had 6.3 rebounds per game, third among rookies, with 2.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.4 blocks and 2.3 turnovers. His usage rate was 24.4 percent, the third-highest among rookies.
Player 3 had a usage rate of 18.6 percent, shooting 45.7 percent from the field, 40.4 percent from three with a TS% of 55.5. He averaged 10.2 points per game, adding 4.2 assists, 1.1 steals — both top marks for rookies — 2.8 rebounds, 0.2 blocks and 1.5 turnovers.
Really, it’s not even close based on per-game averages. Player 1 is far-and-away the best rookie, despite solid years from Players 2 and 3.
Apples to oranges in comparing a center, forward and guard, but it’s hard to say the first player wasn’t the best. And yet, those are averages, not totals.
The whole season
Player 1 scored 627 points this past season, grabbing 243 rebounds and blocking 76 shots. He had 66 assists, 27 steals and turned the ball over 117 times.
Player 2 scored 1,040 points — leading all rookies by nearly 200 points — and grabbed 513 rebounds, also the most for any rookie. He had 182 assists, 57 steals and 30 blocks, with 183 turnovers, and was one of only three rookies to make more than 100 three pointers.
Player 3 tallied 767 points, had 317 assists — 91 more than any other rookie — with 213 rebounds, 84 steals, 12 blocks and 113 turnovers.
Those numbers explain more, but still struggle to show the full impact each player had on his team.
Embiid is obviously Player 1, and had by far the best averages, but played in just 31 games and missed 40 of the Sixers’ final 41 games. Moreover, he played in just 13 of the team’s 28 wins in 2016-17. He played 627 minutes, which averaged out to 25.4 per game he played. But the Sixers played 3,966 minutes as a team, which means Embiid played just 15.8 percent of the season.
Player 2 is Saric, who played in 81 of the Sixers’ 82 games, missing only the season finale against the Knicks due to a lingering heel issue and, honestly, the fact that Brett Brown really wanted to lose that game and he felt playing Saric would have probably given the Sixers enough to beat New York, thus hurting their chances in the NBA Draft Lottery. The Sixers finished with 28 wins and Saric played in all of them. He logged 2,129 minutes, the second most by a rookie, which averaged out to 26.3 per game. He played 53.7 percent of the Sixers’ minutes in 2016-17.
Player 3 is Brogdon, who played in 75 games as a rookie, and totalled 1,982 minutes, averaging 26.4 per game. He helped Milwaukee make it to the playoffs this past season, taking Toronto to six games before losing in the first round.
That’s why this decision was so difficult, and why many people can look at the same stats for the same three players and come up with a totally different conclusion.
The winner is, and should have been…
For our vote (note: we didn’t have an official vote) Embiid is the best basketball player of the three, but Saric had the best year. Frankly if the award was “who is the best rookie based on talent” there’s a case to be made Ben Simmons should have gotten votes over Embiid or Saric for the Sixers. Embiid — who just finished his third season in the NBA despite playing for the first time — is technically considered a rookie, which means Simmons — a rookie this past season — will be eligible for the Rookie of the Year award next year along with Markelle Fultz. That’s assuming he plays, which when we’re talking about Sixers rookies, one never knows.
Yes, Brogdon was an integral part of the Bucks’ 42-40 record and run to the playoffs, but they did win four of the seven games he didn’t play and he was fifth on the team in scoring and third in assists behind Giannis Antetokuonmpo and Matthew Dellavedova. Point is, they were a good team and Brogdon made them better.
The Sixers were a bad team, but without Embiid and Saric, they would have been possibly the worst team of all time. (Point of fact: The basically were the worst team of all time the year before, when Embiid didn’t play and Saric was still in Europe.)
For the Sixers Embiid was first in average points per game, with Saric fourth, just behind Robert Covington and the short-lived Sixers career of Ersan Ilyasova. Embiid also averaged the most rebounds and blocks, while Saric was third in rebounds, just behind Covington.
But when looking at totals, Saric had nearly 200 more points than any member of the Sixers and also led the team in total rebounds by almost 80. Saric also had the fourth-most assists and third-most steals on the Sixers last season.
Brogdon was the odd-on favorite in Vegas to win, and he was able to benefit from those who couldn’t vote for Embiid because of his lack of minutes, couldn’t pull for Saric because of Embiid or couldn’t vote for either because, well, they’re on the Sixers.
At least Philly has two players with a great shot to win the trophy next year. Or split the vote again.