The Sixers announced on Wednesday that star rookie Joel Embiid would miss the rest of the regular season with a meniscus tear that a recent scan revealed was “more pronounced” than originally believed.
Bad injury updates about Joel Embiid and other young bigs are unfortunately a familiar sight for Sixers fans, but this one has to hurt a little more considering Embiid had shown so much promise this season after battling back from a foot injury that kept him out for his first two seasons in the league.
Embiid will finish the season with 31 games played and 786 minutes on the court. In that time, he averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, and 2.1 assists per game on a 46.6/36.7/78.3 shooting split. He had a 24.2 PER and his 7.7 percent block rate would be the highest in the NBA if he had enough minutes to qualify.
All of Embiid’s statistics must come with the caveat that he rarely played back-to-backs and was held to a minutes restriction on 28 minutes per game. This makes his raw stats all the more impressive, while also meaning you have to take his advanced per-minute stats with a grain of salt.
Either way, Embiid was the most dominant rookie of the season in an otherwise down year for first-year players and it begs the question: Does he deserve to win Rookie of the Year?
History says he doesn’t stand a chance. No one has won NBA Rookie of the Year with fewer than 50 games played (Vince Carter/Patrick Ewing) or 1,558 minutes played (Kyrie Irving) in a season. Embiid comes in well below that with 31 games and 786 minutes, but in a rookie class that has no one close to his per game production, even his raw season totals put him near the top of the rookie pile.
The only rookie with more points this season than Embiid’s 627 is his teammate Dario Saric, who could very well emerge as the front-runner for the award in Embiid’s absence and with Ersan Ilyasova being traded to the Hawks. Saric has 667 points on the season in 59 games, and he’s averaging 11.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game for the Sixers on a 40.2/31.1/78.8 shooting split. Malcolm Brogdon of the Bucks is the next closest with 560 points with season averages of 9.7 points, 2.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game on a 44.4/41.7/84.3 shooting split in 58 games.
Brogdon and Saric are the two favorites to move ahead of Embiid in the Rookie of the Year race, but there are others that will rise in his absence as well. Buddy Hield, now of the Kings, could make a push in his increased role in Sacramento, but there are few standouts in this year’s class who can really separate themselves from the field.
It’d be stunning to see Embiid win the award considering his limited time on the court, but it will be impressive to see where his stats end up on the final season leaderboard despite playing only 31 games. With 22-24 games to play for most teams, he’s currently second in points, fourth in rebounds, first in blocks, and even 14th in assists among all rookies. Extrapolating based off of current averages, he projects to finish in the top 10 in points and rebounds and still lead all rookies in blocks.
My bet would be on Saric taking home the trophy as he becomes the focal point of the Sixers frontcourt with Embiid out and Ilyasova and Nerlens Noel traded. In February, Saric averaged 17.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game with Embiid out of the lineup. The Homie will continue to put up impressive numbers through the end of the season in his increased role and should take home the award.
Even so, don’t be surprised when Embiid deservedly ends up in the top 3 in voting despite playing only 31 games this season.