With the 2016-17 NBA regular season coming to an end, it’s time to review the top candidates for awards season. Here are the top 10 Rookie of the Year candidates.
There’s only one day left in the 2016-17 NBA season, and the 2017 NBA Playoffs get started this Saturday. As postseason matchups get solidified and starters rest for the next few months, there’s still one thing that demands our attention: NBA awards season!
It felt like the 2016-17 campaign would be all about Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Part III, but basketball fans have actually be treated to a thoroughly entertaining regular season, with plenty of awe-inspiring performances and juicy storylines to feast on.
From Russell Westbrook‘s triple-double feat to one of the greatest MVP races in NBA history to a crowded Sixth Man of the Year conversation, there’s plenty to digest with the league’s end of season awards voting.
With the regular season winding down, it’s time to review the top candidates for each individual award and reveal our picks for Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and MVP.
Today we’ll be taking a look at the Rookie of the Year award. Did we really need to cover 10 rookies in such an underwhelming ROY race? No. But we’re going to anyway, if only to highlight a couple of extra rookies’ seasons because we still believe in the 2016 draft class! Let’s jump right in.
10. Brandon Ingram
This season was not really what people were expecting from Los Angeles Lakers rookie Brandon Ingram. Though his skinny frame and that gaudy Luol Deng contact suggested it’d be a slow going for Ingram early in the season, most fans hoped he’d bypass Deng in the starting lineup on a tanking team and submit a strong case for the Rookie of the Year Award.
Averaging 9.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 28.8 minutes per game, Ingram hasn’t really done that. The 19-year-old is only shooting 40.5 percent from the field and 29.7 percent from three-point range, letting everyone know his untapped potential will take some time to unfurl.
However, Ingram has shown glimpses of future greatness over these last few weeks, averaging 13.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game on 49.5 percent shooting since the All-Star break.
His three-point shot still needs work and he’ll have to bulk up a bit, but Ingram shouldn’t be labeled a bust by any means. He may not emerge as the savior this Lakers franchise is waiting for, but his stronger second half of the season suggests he’ll be very good in his own right.
9. Rodney McGruder
Rodney McGruder doesn’t have the numbers to seriously contend for this award, and there’s a fair chance the Miami Heat miss the playoffs. That being said, this undrafted rookie deserves his five seconds in the sun for being an unexpected contributor to Miami’s drastic midseason turnaround.
Though he’s only averaging 6.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game, he’s been a consistent part of Erik Spoelstra’s rotation, playing in 77 of the team’s 81 games so far this season and averaging 25.3 minutes per game.
As Heat fans can probably testify, McGruder has had more of an impact than the raw numbers suggest, especially on the defensive end where he’s becoming something of a designated stopper.
He won’t earn many ROY votes, but he should at least make the All-Rookie Second Team (which is still a thing, for whatever reason).
8. Jaylen Brown
Jaylen Brown is going to be good. The Rookie of the Year Award isn’t based on potential, but we’ve seen enough flashes from Brown in his rookie season with the Boston Celtics to know he’s going to be a tremendous 3-and-D wing in this league one day.
Though he’s only averaging 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, he’s also only playing 17.1 minutes a night. He’s shot an efficient 45.3 percent from the field, a respectable 34.6 percent from long range (especially for a 20-year-old rookie) and he has the makings of an elite defender and freak athlete.
That’s hardly enough to seriously put him in the running for the Rookie of the Year Award, but he’s stepped up to become a regular in Brad Stevens’ rotation — no small feat for a team competing for the No. 1 seed in the East.
Since the All-Star break, Brown has stepped up his numbers to 8.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per game on .494/.391/.622 shooting splits. It’s only a matter of time before Jae Crowder‘s successor makes a name for himself in this league.
7. Marquese Chriss
Marquese Chriss wouldn’t have enjoyed the rookie season he had if he were playing for a halfway decent team. But with the Phoenix Suns going all in on their youth movement and tanking their way to a top draft pick last in the season, Chriss has been able to put up respectable numbers in a starting role.
Averaging 9.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in 21.3 minutes per game, the former No. 8 overall pick ranks eighth in scoring, fifth in rebounds and 11th in minutes among his rookie brethren. He’s also played in all 82 games for the Suns, starting in all but seven of them.
His athleticism is absolutely breathtaking, and though his defense and rebounding need some work moving forward, he’s made steps as a shot-blocker and stretch-4 in recent weeks. Since the All-Star break, Chriss is averaging 12.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game on promising .498/.360/.615 shooting splits.
With Chriss’ three-point shot coming along and his downright freaky leaping ability on display all season long, Phoenix should feel good about its other 19-year-old rookie. For a guy who’s only been playing basketball for a few years, the sky is the limit for his NBA potential, even with glaring areas for improvement during his rookie year.
6. Jamal Murray
Maybe this is a little high for a rookie who’s only shooting 40 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from deep, but Jamal Murray‘s strong finish to the season — which includes taking Emmanuel Mudiay‘s place in the lineup behind starter Jameer Nelson — places him just outside our top five.
Though he hasn’t been the most efficient shooter, this 20-year-old rookie has proven his potential as a dynamite scorer for the Denver Nuggets. Gary Harris is still the long-term solution at the 2, but Murray’s ability to take on more ball-handling as a point guard has helped him stay in Michael Malone’s rotation.
Murray is averaging just 9.7 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game on the season, but he’s one of only six rookies this season to play at least 60 games while posting a positive point differential (+1.0), joining Davis Bertans, Malcolm Brogdon, Malcolm Delaney, Domantas Sabonis and Rodney McGruder.
Murray made the most of his opportunity when Harris was sidelined by injury, but he’s continued to create minutes for himself by outplaying Mudiay at the 1. If he can learn how to play that position, he and Harris could form a very interesting backcourt tandem in the future. Even if he doesn’t though, he still projects as a very dangerous sixth man, and either way he deserves some ROY votes.
5. Buddy Hield
It’s hard to endorse a ROY candidate when he was traded halfway through his rookie season, but considering the Sacramento Kings thought he was worthy of being the centerpiece in a DeMarcus Cousins trade, perhaps that actually strengthens his case.
Of course, that Boogie trade was still horrendous from Sacramento’s perspective, but Hield has put up decent numbers with the Kings and the New Orleans Pelicans despite having to adjust to so many different roles.
He’s averaging 10.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in 22.9 minutes per game for the season as a whole, but he’s stepped up his numbers to 15.1 points and 4.1 rebounds per game in his 24 games with the Kings — all while shooting a blistering 48 percent from the field and 42.5 percent from deep.
Now, 24 games does not make a season, which is why Hield’s ROY case falls a bit short of where most experts thought it might be heading into the season. However, with Hield usurping Ben McLemore in Sacramento’s rotation, his steady numbers over the course of the season should earn him some votes.
4. Willy Hernangomez
Who? is what you’re probably asking. Unless you’ve been paying extra careful attention to the train wreck that has been this New York Knicks season, you might not be familiar with Willy Hernangomez. The Knicks’ current predicament may be Phil Jackson‘s fault, but at least he’s fared well in the drafted during his tenure.
This 6’11” center may have been a second round pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, but he’s come out of nowhere to submit one of the league’s stronger Rookie of the Year cases (in an admittedly weak race, but whatever).
Averaging 8.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists doesn’t seem like much on paper, but he’s also shooting 52.9 percent from the field, has managed to crack Jeff Hornacek‘s rotation despite a crowded frontcourt and is averaging 11.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game since the All-Star break.
Even though he’s already 22 years old, Hernangomez has been a pleasant surprise in an otherwise gloomy season for the Knicks. Hield and Murray will probably get more votes, but Hernangomez deserves to be somewhere in the top five of voting.
3. Dario Saric
This may a controversial landing spot for Dario Saric in our top-10, since a lot of voters have him at the top of their ballots. Joel Embiid‘s availability will prevent most people from considering him, leaving Saric and his extremely strong post-All-Star break numbers to represent the Philadelphia 76ers for ROY.
The Sixers might have had three Rookie of the Year candidates if Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot had gotten more minutes earlier in the season, but for now, Saric and his 81 games played seem like their best bet for winning the award.
That being said, can we really say Embiid’s awe-inspiring 31 games this season don’t deserve ROY votes when Saric’s candidacy heavily leans on a 25-game sample size following the All-Star break?
The Homie has been tremendous in that stretch, don’t get me wrong. He’s leading all rookies in scoring, is second to only Hernangomez in rebounds and is fourth in assists since the break, putting up an eye-opening 17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.
But Philly is only 7-18 with him being the team’s go-to guy on offense, and although that’s not enough to knock his ROY case, it is enough to open the door for Joel Embiid and Malcolm Brogdon. Winning isn’t as important for ROY as it is for an award like MVP, but whenever an awards race is close, shouldn’t the edge go to the player(s) who helped their teams win the most?
After all, Saric is only averaging 12.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game on .411/.311/.782 shooting splits for the season, so let’s not act like he should be a runaway favorite compared to Embiid’s limited brilliance or Brogdon’s contributions to an actual playoff team.
2. Joel Embiid
If Joel Embiid had played even 45-50 games, I wouldn’t have had a single problem making him No. 1 on this list, and I think most voters would probably agree. That’s how incredible his rookie season was, even if it only lasted 31 games.
For some voters, Saric’s 50-game advantage should give him preferential treatment over Embiid, and even on this list, it’s hard to drop Malcolm Brogdon to the No. 2 spot considering what he’s doing for a playoff team.
But everyone knows Embiid was the best rookie to take the floor this season, going as far as inspiring “Can the Philadelphia 76ers sneak in the playoffs?” columns in January, when the team went 10-5. The Sixers were also 13-18 this year with him on the floor, compared to 15-35 without him.
Though he played on a minutes restriction for his injury-shortened season, The Process still averaged a jaw-dropping 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 2.1 assists and 0.9 steals in just 25.4 minutes per game with a Player Efficiency Rating of 24.1. Those numbers lead all rookies in scoring, rebounds, blocks and PER, while also placing him fifth in steals and 10th in assists.
That kind of production in limited minutes would’ve been unprecedented and made him the unanimous ROY favorite if he could’ve played for even half the season. Simply put, it was historic, putting him in the same company as some of the game’s all-time legends:
Throw in the fact that this seven-foot phenom was making 1.2 three-pointers per game on 36.7 percent shooting from deep and you’ve got a unicorn-in-the-making. If he were to win the award, it’d be hard to gripe too much.
Unfortunately, more knee trouble prematurely ended his season and left us wondering once again what the future holds for this injury-prone sensation. Embiid was the best rookie in the NBA this season, but with two prior years of injury-related absence to consider, picking him as Rookie of the Year with only 31 played games still feels like too far of a reach.
1. Malcolm Brogdon
Raise your hand if you had Malcolm Brogdon winning the 2016-17 Rookie of the Year Award. No one? Okay good, everyone was telling the truth. And yet, here we are. Saric might be the more popular choice, but ignoring what Brogdon has done for a winning team would be shortsighted.
True enough, Saric has the statistical advantage when you take a look at the raw numbers:
- Saric: 81 GP, 12.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, 0.7 SPG
- Brogdon: 74 GP, 10.2 PPG, 4.2 APG, 2.8 RPG, 1.1 SPG
Or does he? Because as much as these basic stat lines (especially recently) lean in Saric’s favor, Brogdon has been far more efficient from the field (45.6 percent to 41.1 percent), three-point line (40.3 percent to 31.1 percent) and the foul line (86.5 percent to 78.2 percent).
Brogdon also has a higher Player Efficiency Rating and has legitimately stepped up for a Milwaukee Bucks team that earned the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics can testify to this firsthand, as his clutch shot-making in Boston was just one of many examples of The President’s late-game heroics for the Bucks.
As ESPN’s Marc Stein points out, selecting Malcolm Brogdon would mean the lowest scoring average in NBA history for a Rookie of the Year winner. But what better way to compensate for that fact than Brogdon becoming the only second round pick to ever win the award pick aside from Woody Sauldsberry back in 1958?
We should also note that Brogdon ranks first among all qualified rookies in assists, first in steals, second in three-point percentage, fourth in scoring and fifth in PER.
Plus, who doesn’t like a President who asks his people to donate to charity rather than his own campaign?
Saric has the better basic stat line, which might be enough for the lazier voters to pick him for Rookie of the Year. But Brogdon has been more efficient, he’s not far behind on the stat sheet and he’s been a key rotational piece on a playoff team. Don’t forget he’s averaged 12.6 points, 4.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game in his 27 starts, filling in a crucial gap when injury struck.
All of that gives him the edge over Saric in our book, and as much as Embiid is clearly the best rookie on the table, it’s hard to choose The Process over The President when he only played 31 games.