Last night, the NBA had its first-ever awards show and it was a good night for the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo was named the NBA’s most-improved player. Antetokounmpo’s teammate Malcolm Brogdon made history in more ways than one. The University of Virginia product became the first player who was not drafted in the first round to win the league’s Rookie of the Year award in the common-draft era. He also became the first player to win the award without ever winning Rookie of the Month in his own conference.
Seems crazy that the recipient of the Rookie of the Year award could never be named the best rookie in his conference in any single month, right? That’s because it is. Brogdon beat out Sixers teammates Joel Embiid and Dario Saric for the award. To be nice, this year’s rookie class was weak. Embiid had the best numbers by far, but played just 31 games in 2016-17. Saric’s averages for the season were still better than Brogdon’s, but the Croatian came on late in the year and for most of the first half of the season was an average player for the Sixers. Brogdon was a bench player for most of the season for Milwaukee starting in just 28 of the 75 games he played in. These were the three finalists for the award.
In a year where no rookie stood out during the entire season, Embiid only playing 31 out of 82 games should not have been the reason he did not win. His 20.2 points per game almost exactly doubled Brogdon’s 10.2 for the season. Embiid also averaged 7.8 rebounds per game and 2.5 blocks per game. His blocks per game were more than any player other than Rudy Gobert. The only rookies to ever match Embiid’s rookie year per game averages in points, rebounds and blocks were Tim Duncan, Alonzo Mourning, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson and Ralph Sampson.
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While all six of those big men played more than 31 games in their rookie years, all of them also averaged far more minutes per game as rookies than Embiid’s 25.4. For Embiid to put up those averages for the season, while playing on just over half the game each night, makes it seem insane that anyone else would win Rookie of the Year, especially someone that had a season like Brogdon had. None of the previously mentioned hall-of-fame caliber big men had range out to the three-point line. Embiid also shot 36.7 percent from beyond the arc this past season.
Then consider Brogdon was on the floor for more minutes per game, 26.4, than Embiid and it really is astounding that an average season like Brogdon’s would be rewarded just because it was a full season over Embiid’s injury-shortened season. This past season proved exactly what every scout and draft expert claimed about Embiid three years ago when the Sixers selected him third overall. He is a player that can do just about everything on the floor and someone that has a chance to be a generational talent, provided he stays healthy. He showed just about all his ability this season, but also got hurt again. However, there just wasn’t anyone even close to as impactful as Embiid was when he was on the floor this season, which is why playing only 31 games should not have been held against him. It says a lot about the type of player Embiid is for him to be that good with such little playing time. Had he played the rest of the season, and been surprisingly poor, his numbers for the entire year are almost certainly still better than Brogdon’s and he probably wins the award. Therefore, it seems odd that Brogdon’s quantity would trump Embiid’s quality. But, one thing’s for sure. If Embiid can stay healthy, he’ll have a much better career than Brogdon, which in the end, is all that matters.