Joel Embiid out for season, but could still win Rookie of Year
Since the NBA began handing out Rookie of the Year awards back in 1953, no winner has played in fewer than 50 games during the season in which he won it. Philadelphia center Joel Embiid just might turn out to be the first.
As many anticipated, following the Sixers’ announcement earlier this week the rookie big man from Kansas would indefinitely be held out of games due to soreness and swelling in his left knee, the organization amended its stance Wednesday, saying Embiid won’t play in any of Philadelphia’s remaining 23 games.
In a release regarding Embiid’s status, the team announced an MRI on Monday came with positive and negative results: the bone bruise on his left knee had improved significantly, while the meniscus tear appeared “more pronounced” than in a previous scan.
The news set off a number of Embiid-centric discussions within the NBA universe — including questions about his longterm health, which won’t have definitive answers anytime soon. Another intriguing debate is whether Embiid could or should win Rookie of the Year, despite playing in only 31 games of an 82-game season.
True, Embiid will finish the year having appeared in only 38 percent of the 76ers’ outings, but when he did take the court the results were incredible. The 22-year-old from Cameroon averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds, blocked 2.5 shots a game and made 36 of 98 3-pointers (36.7%), all while playing only 25.4 minutes a night, due to the minutes restrictions the organization rightfully placed on him.
Embiid’s per-36 minute scoring numbers are among the best in the entire league — not just rookies. In per-36 points per game, only Russell Westbrook (32.3), Isaiah Thomas (30.9) and DeMarcus Cousins (29.1) rank ahead of Philadelphia’s franchise player (28.7).
As pointed out by Basketball Reference, Embiid (24.2 PER this season) is one of only seven players in league history to average at least 25 minutes a game and register a Player Efficiency Rating better than 24. The others on that list include Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. All of the names on the short index except Embiid’s currently can be found in the hall of fame.
Embiid’s case for Rookie of the Year only looks stronger when comparing his abbreviated season to those of his competition. NBA TV’s “The Starters” examined Embiid’s chances, and it’s difficult to come away as impressed with other contenders, such as his Philly teammate Dario Saric, new Sacramento King Buddy Hield, Denver’s Jamal Murray or Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon.
None of those players will be able to drastically improve their numbers in the coming weeks enough to sniff Embiid’s production, but the fact that they will have played far more minutes and games could allow someone like Saric or Brogdon into the conversation in the minds of voters.
In NBA history, only Patrick Ewing (50 of 82 games in 1985-86) and Brandon Roy (57 of 82 in 2006-07) have been named the league’s top rookie after missing a significant chunk of games.
But Embiid’s wow-factor and the lack of comparable competition just might enable the charismatic big to make history.
Of course, the Sixers ultimately don’t care if Embiid attains that hardware. They just hope his growing injury history doesn’t derail what has the potential to be an extraordinary career.
"Our primary objective and focus remains to protect his long-term health and ability to perform on the basketball court," Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said. "As our medical team and performance staff continue their diligence in the evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation of Joel's injury, we will provide any pertinent updates when available."