About seven weeks later, everyone looks up to find the rookie class in mid-flail, a group that can’t shoot, doesn’t rebound and won’t block shots while on teams, even the bad teams, that won’t play them a lot, mostly distinguishing themselves for all the wrong reasons.
They are, to put it diplomatically, underwhelming. Or bad, to put it honestly. Bad this season, bad compared to any recent season.
Certainly compared to any of the past five. The early statement is not that early either. The first month would pass for an initial appraisal, 12 or 15 or so appearances, some teenagers trying to grow up in a man’s game, some foreigners adapting to a new society as well as a new league. This is with 2016-17 about 30 percent old, though, and so this is a trend off a true sample size.
There is that giant asterisk shining bright in Philadelphia. Ben Simmons, the No. 1 pick, has yet to play because of a foot injury, and Joel Embiid has been lugging around a time limit, now 28 minutes, as part of his comeback from multiple foot injuries. Embiid without restrictions might have at least slightly changed the view of a season nearly two months old, although he has clearly been the best rookie anyway, and Simmons would have been playing a lot under normal circumstances, whether as a star or struggling. The 76ers Factor must be layered in.
But nothing changes the bottom-line perspective that the group has been collectively underperforming, perhaps to historic levels.
Four are averaging 24 minutes, half the game: Andrew Harrison, Brandon Ingram, Rodney McGruder and Dario Saric. For the sake of argument, add Embiid, at 23.8 only because of the cap but also rising. That’s five.
By comparison, seven rookies finished at 24 minutes or more last season and three (Karl-Anthony Towns, Emmanuel Mudiay and Jahlil Okafor) were 30 or better. Harrison’s 27.5 that leads the current class would have been eighth a year ago. Seven also reached 24 in in 2014-15, five in 2013-14 and nine in 2012-13. That was the season Damian Lillard averaged 38.6 and Bradley Beal 31.2.
Ten rookies in 2016-17 are making at least 40 percent of their shots, with Willy Hernangomez No. 1 at 57.3 and Isaiah Whitehead No. 10 at 40.2. The numbers would surely be better if two of the top big men, Embiid and Domantas Sabonis, were taking higher-percentage shots inside rather than finding success with three-pointers. But still.
By comparison, 26 broke 40 percent last season, when Myles Turner finished 10th at 49.8. That would be on pace for third this time. Twenty-one rookies shot at least 40 percent in 2014-15, 16 in 2013-14 and 29 in 2012-13. The worst No. 10 in that time has been the 42.6 of Cody Zeller. The 2016-17 class is very far behind the curve.
Speaking of bigs: There aren’t many. Embiid and ...? Hernangomez is making shots, but doesn’t play much. Toronto’s Pascal Siakam and Sabonis in Oklahoma City are starting power forwards for winning teams, and Saric has been the second-best rookie overall while mostly a power forward. But so few are rebounding that Ingram is TIED FOR FOURTH as the Lakers’ backup small forward. Guards are SIXTH (McGruder) and TENTH (Jamal Murray).
The shot blocking is even worse. Embiid has been very impressive at 2.5 per game, which would be THIRD in the league if he had enough games to qualify, but no other rookie is averaging more than the 0.60 of Siakam. A small forward, Davis Bertans, is FOURTH and a point guard, Harrison, is FIFTH.
The group will need a collective massive improvement, one that more time for Embiid and any time for Simmons will not provide. Malcolm Brogdon of the Bucks moving into the top 10 of the league in three-point percentage earlier in the week, before falling out, helps too, especially welcome for the class in need of pretty much any shooting credibility.
But it will take a lot more to get in line with the production of recent years. Avoiding distinguishing themselves for all the wrong reasons would be a good start.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.