As many analysts will tell you, the Rookie of the Year race is down to Dario Saric and Malcolm Brogden. Depending on which city you’re in, either one of them could be the winner. It would be a riveting story if the race hadn’t been decided months ago. Joel Embiid bullied his way to the top of the ladder and then kicked everyone else off of it.
Embiid only played in 31 games, potentially demolishing the record for fewest games played by a ROY winner since Patrick Ewing won it in only 50 games. “But how can someone who played less than half of the games in a season win the award?” you might ask. If all of the candidates performed at about the same level, then prioritizing minutes and games may make sense. The problem with that is this year isn’t even close when it comes to production.
The level of play that Embiid exhibited in that stretch was ridiculous, to the point that he was in a league of his own. He leads all rookies in scoring with 20.2 points per game. His competition, Dario and Brogden, ranked 2nd and 4th respectively, with 12.8 and 10.2 points per game. Expand those numbers to per 36 minute stats and Embiid’s scoring increases to an incredible 28.7 points per game. Dario remains 2nd among all rookies with 17.6 points per 36, while Brogden falls to 14th with 13.9 points per 36.
Embiid didn’t just put up good numbers for a rookie; he put up historically good numbers. His per 36 scoring not only led all rookies this season, but ranks 4th all-time among rookies just behind Wilt Chamberlain. He didn’t just produce offensively either. Averaging 3.5 blocks per 36 minutes, Embiid ranks 3rd all-time among rookie seasons, proving to be a defensive powerhouse as well.
No rookie is averaging more than 0.9 blocks per game other than Embiid. At 2.5 blocks per game, his next closest competitor is Ivica Zubac with 0.9. As Kyle Nuebeck of Liberty Ballers pointed out, that “would be like if [Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner] Rudy Gobert was blocking 6.36 shots per game to [DPOY runner up] Anthony Davis’ current average of 2.26.” It’s a pretty crazy comparison to think about but it absolutely illustrates the point of just how far above his peers Embiid is. In fact, he is so far ahead of the competition that in only 31 games he leads all rookies in total blocks with 76. His next closest competitor? Marquese Chris with 70 blocks in the full 82 games.
Not only the best rookie in the league, Embiid is one of the best players in the league, period. His per 36 scoring ranks him 4th in the league, ahead of superstars like Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Kevin Durant. His presence on the floor for the Sixers made everyone around him better, leading the team to a top 5 ranking in defense during his 31-game stint.
Rookie of the Year is an award given to the best rookie that year. There’s no set formula to choose the winner. It is essentially the MVP of rookies. Looking back at the past season a decade from now, whose game is going to be remembered after the trophy presentation? Who had the biggest impact on their team and the game of basketball? Can you honestly say someone other than Embiid is the first name in your head?
We’re not going to be talking about how Dario’s 12.8 points average carried his team to victory. We won’t talk about how Malcolm Brogdon had the most impactful 4.3 assists per game. We’re going to talk about the giant from Cameroon who absolutely dominated opponents on the court. We’ll remember the man who danced on stage at a concert, hit on Rihanna, and starred in a Jolly Rancher commercial poking fun at him. We’ll remember a man who performed in his rookie season better than most players do in their whole career.
We’ll remember Embiid.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports