The Philadelphia 76ers are finally reaping the benefits of the 2014 NBA draft with the debuts of Joel Embiid, third overall pick, and Dario Saric, twelfth overall. Embiid did not play the previous two seasons after breaking his foot and it not healing properly. Saric on the other hand, spent two years playing for Anadolu Efes in Turkey. They have exceeded everyone’s wildest hopes and expectations throughout their first season. Embiid looked like a runaway candidate to be the Rookie of the Year, but after missing 16 out of their last 17 games and with the emergence of Saric, it looks like the pair could be battling for the award.
Joel Embiid was the biggest storyline for this team leading up to the all-star break. The Cameroonian big man is averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blcoks per game. Prior to his most recent injury, his game had continued to improve as the season has progressed. Each month Embiid’s points per game average has increased, from 17.0 points a game in two October games to 23.4 points a game in nine contests in January.
Embiid has transformed this team from a laughing stock 10-win team last year, to a competitive competent basketball team. Only a special player could make this type of difference. When calculating per 48 minutes, Embiid ranks fourth in the whole league averaging 38.3 points behind only Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, and DeMarcus Cousins. For clarity, James Harden rounds out the top five. To go one step further, Embiid’s usage rating is 36.3%. A player’s usage rate is a standard analytic utilized to see how effective a player is on the court. Only two players have higher rates thus far this season, Russell Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins. The fact that Embiid is in the same sentence as these two bona fide superstars, just give Sixers fans chills.
At the end of January, there was no question of who the next Rookie of the Year would be – Joel Embiid – now there is some doubt.
When Embiid went down in January with a slightly torn meniscus, no one thought much of it in terms of the award. He was head and shoulders above every other rookie. But that’s changed and his teammate Saric has thrown his hat in the ring.
Dario Saric’s rookie season began very slowly. Over the course of the season, he’s started to feel more comfortable and has already shown significant growth. Just like Embiid, the Croatian big man’s point per game average has increased every month this season. He averaged 9.6 points per game in November, the first full month, but is currently averaging 16.6 points in February.
His meteoric rise has coincided with Embiid’s injury. Saric is playing about 7 more minutes a game this month than before. In the team’s last 7 games, he is averaging 20.2 points a game, scoring no less than 18 points in any of those games. He also has 4 straight double doubles averaging 12 rebounds a game over that span.
When comparing the two Sixers skilled rookies to the rest of the class, they stand out. Embiid and Saric are one and two in points per game and are the only rookies averaging double-digit points a game. Saric’s seasonal average of 11.1 points per game is deceptive. He’s averaging 13.2 points since Jan. 1. Embiid and Saric are also leading all rookies in rebounds per game in that order. The 7’2” former Kansas star has 9 double doubles on the season. Right behind him is his teammate, who has 8. The rookie with the third most double doubles is Willy Hernangomez with 5.
Saric’s role on the Sixers grew with the trade of Ersan Ilyasova. They were vying for minutes. They got rid of the Turkish Thunder when they still thought Ben Simmons would be playing at some point this season. But that won’t happen. So, Saric will be looking at more minutes and a substantially larger role in the offense and defense.
The way the rest of the season plays out will determine who will win the prestigious award. Embiid is expected to play within the next week or so. If that happens and he returns to form, he will win this award. Even with him missing so many games, if Embiid continues to play at the same level, he will have earned it. But should Embiid either struggle or miss more time, the award will be up for grabs the other Sixer big man.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports