A first-year class badly in need of an energy boost has received one from an unlikely place: from second-round picks and even the undrafted. These previously overlooked players have combined to provide the depth the big names could not.
If the rookie class has been underwhelming anyway (given No. 1 pick Ben Simmons missing all 2016-17 and there being little contribution from much of the top 30 picks in 2016), imagine if Malcolm Brogdon had not far exceeded immediate expectations. Or if Yogi Ferrell or several others from previous Drafts hadn’t, either.
So many players have come from back in the pack of the 2016 Draft and even before, back in the calendar as well, that it is possible to build a credible top 10 of current rookies from outside the first round.
1. Malcolm Brogdon (Milwaukee Bucks), No. 36 pick in 2016 Draft.
2. Willy Hernangomez (New York Knicks), No. 35 in 2015.
3. Yogi Ferrell (Dallas Mavericks), undrafted in 2016.
4. Rodney McGruder (Miami Heat), undrafted in 2013.
5. Isaiah Whitehead (Brooklyn Nets), No. 42 in 2016.
6. Andrew Harrison (Memphis Grizzlies), No. 44 in 2015.
7. Alex Abrines (Oklahoma City Thunder), No. 32 in 2013.
8. Patrick McCaw (Golden State Warriors), No. 38 in 2016.
9. Malcolm Delaney (Atlanta Hawks), undrafted in 2011.
10. Davis Bertans (San Antonio Spurs), No. 42 in 2011.
Each of the top six (along with Delaney) have been ranked among the 10 best rookies of the season in these parts – and not just from the second round and beyond. McCaw is starting for the team with the best record in the league. Abrines is in the rotation for a club that has a chance for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Bertans has been a 3-point threat off the bench. That’s a lot of solid contributions, and more in the case of the top three or four, for players who mostly were not expected to have much of a role this season.
To this week's rankings:
1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
The next dilemma for media members who vote on postseason awards: If Embiid cannot win Rookie of the Year with all of 31 appearances, as some have said ahead of turning in their ballot, can the same 31 be enough to make either All-Rookie team? Or is playing in just 38 percent of the possible games, the projected case at the end of the regular season, cause for disqualification from all award consideration? The two All-Rookie squads are decided regardless of position, so it’s not a matter of choosing two centers who lasted the entire season.
2. Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers
“Terrific player,” a rival executive said. “He’s going to be really good because of his size and his versatility.” The last month is the supporting evidence. Asserting himself as the No. 1 option, with Embiid sidelined, Saric is averaging 19.5 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting 46.2 percent since the All-Star break and 20.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 47.5 percent in the 11 games of March. He will soon replace Embiid at No. 1 in the class in scoring, once Embiid falls below the qualifying minimum, and the top spot in rebounding is also a possibility as Saric battles Willy Hernangomez for that.
3. Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks
He quickly rejoined the starting lineup after missing two games with a sore back and coming off the bench in the first contest after the return, then ramped up from 26 to 32 to 41 minutes. Efficiency still sets Brogdon apart from the pack, and especially while playing a major role for a team needing every win for the playoffs. Brogdon is 10th among rookies in shooting and first among guards, third in 3-point percentage, first in assists while also first in steals and second in minutes.
4. Willy Hernangomez, New York Knicks
His playing time is starting to dip again, at 19 minutes or less in three of the last four outings, only one of which included foul trouble, amid shooting problems as well. A continued minutes squeeze, if it happens, could lead to a tumble considering the way others are on his heels and playing well. On the other hand, Hernangomez is still rebounding at a high rate, the very reason he climbed so high in the first place. He is at 9.4 boards in just 21.4 minutes in March, along with 10 points and 50.7 percent from the field, to take over second place in rebounding among rookies while also fourth in shooting, fifth in blocks and third in double-doubles.
5. Marquese Chriss, Phoenix Suns
Now he’s blocking shots. A lot of them. Chriss just had a streak of at least one in eight consecutive games, with at least three swats in four of the eight and five twice. And when that run ended Sunday at Detroit, it was while getting 16 points and seven rebounds. Averaging 2.1 blocks over his last 10 games has moved him to 0.8 blocks per game this season, enough to climb to fourth among rookies and within close range of passing Toronto’s Pascal Siakam for third. Chriss could have multiple top-five finishes in the class.
6. Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings
Having already moved from New Orleans to Sacramento in the DeMarcus Cousins trade, having gone from reserve to starter in an inevitable promotion that became actual on March 10, the latest is Hield showing his post-trade surge is more than shooting and scoring. He has recorded at least five rebounds in three of his last five games and had five assists without a turnover in a 118-102 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday. Hield is out of the top 10 among rookies in both categories, but the additional contributions are a good look as he ranks fifth among rookies in scoring and is shooting 50 percent in March.
7. Yogi Ferrell, Dallas Mavericks
It’s similar to the Embiid decision: Can Ferrell make All-Rookie if he plays 46 games, the most possible, and especially can he make first-team while making just 56 percent of the season with the Brooklyn Nets and Mavericks sandwiched around an NBA D-League stint? Ferrell will deserve at least a long look for first team if he continues at the current pace of fourth in the class in scoring, second in assists, sixth in steals and fifth in 3-point percentage while also averaging 28.5 minutes in March as Dallas tries to stay in the playoff picture.
8. Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
The big contribution to the Nuggets’ playoff push has reached to where Murray has scored in double figures in seven consecutive games and 11 of the last 12, all without playing more than 30 minutes. He could become the strange case of the player who does not finish in the top 20 in rookie field goal percentage, and in a bad season for rookies at that, but whose shooting could become an important asset in a team reaching the postseason. The 44.7 percent overall in March, including 39.1 percent on 3-pointers, has been part of 12.9 points per outing off the bench in the month.
9. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
If his Ladder return two weeks ago was based largely on having a prominent place in the rotation with one of the best teams then a decreased role leaves him vulnerable. Brown has played 17 minutes or less in four of the last seven outings and has reached at least 24 minutes – half the game – just once in the seven. He is still supplying dependable shooting on the limited opportunities, at No. 12 in the class in field-goal percentage, but enough rookies are putting together decent finishes to keep the pressure on Brown for the final spot before the end of the regular season.
10. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
His work on the boards continues to be one of the understated accomplishments of the class. That he’s sixth in the class with 4.1 rebounds per game is also a statement about the poor production from the rookie bigs, but Ingram collecting six rebounds in three of the last seven games would be noteworthy as anyone finding another way to contribute, except that Ingram is doing it at 190 pounds and while playing a lot in the backcourt. Meanwhile, his shooting has improved to 50.3 percent since the All-Star break as part of a portfolio that also includes him ranking seventh in scoring, 10th in blocks and first in minutes.