Malcolm Brogdon of the Milwaukee Bucks is the best choice for Kia Rookie of the Year as the most consistent first-year player among the three options. He’s the only one on a playoff team with his dependability a necessity rather than a preference, and he’s been a symbol of efficiency during an underwhelming 2016-17 filled with inefficiency by the rookie class.
It’s that simple. In a complicated decision for the media members who will turn in ballots by 11:59 p.m. ET on Friday, with Philadelphia 76ers teammates Joel Embiid and Dario Saric also able to build strong cases for the award, Brogdon stands out as the only contender to play well the entire season. There are many points up for discussion, but that isn’t one.
Embiid was very good early, all the way to getting in the conversation for an All-Star appearance, a rarity for a rookie. Then, he hurt his left knee Jan. 20 and didn’t play after Jan. 27, finishing with 31 games played. Saric didn’t break 40 percent shooting in two of the three first full months before building his ROY campaign after Embiid went out.
Brogdon, though, made a quick impact, stayed among the second tier as Embiid powered toward a landslide victory. He then kept building a case as Embiid got hurt and attention immediately shifted toward Saric as the best alternative.
That Brogdon is also the feel-good story of a second-round pick, No. 36 overall, who beat long odds should have no place in the decision. The judgment should be on where a player is, not where he was as training camp opened. Besides, Saric has the positive story line of coming to the NBA after being drafted, spending two more seasons in Europe as hype built, and showing he was worth the wait. Embiid similarly made the 76ers look good for being patient as he came back after losing the two previous seasons to injury and tore through most of the competition while flashing a fun personality.
It is Brogdon’s efficiency and dependability that makes the difference. If he wins, his 10.2 points per game would be the lowest ever for a Rookie of the Year, less than the 10.7 of 1952-53 winner Don “Monk” Meineke. Brogdon is shooting 45.3 percent overall, No. 12 in the class, (second among rookie guards) — a good number for a veteran playing in the backcourt — and 40.3 percent behind the arc. It isn’t enough to challenge for the top 10 in the league after spending time there earlier, but it has been a valuable contribution to a team needing to keep defenses from sagging on Giannis Antetokounmpo.
He has been dependable and consistent in a season that has lacked that from first-year players, none of which is a compliment accompanied by a yawn. Any playoff team would embrace dependable and consistent from a rookie as great praise. Brogdon did what was needed and did it at a high level, and that is worth more than praise in the days before Rookie of the Year ballots are due.
NBA Awards Show on June 26 on TNT
Results will not be immediately announced. For now, at least there is the instant knowledge and a lifetime of pride at finishing No. 1 in the final Ladder of the season.
1. Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks
Last week: No. 2
This is about the last place anyone would have expected to find Brogdon when the Bucks took him with the 36th pick on June 23, 2016. Making the rotation is a success story enough for most second-rounders, but he surpassed expectations by becoming a critical part of a playoff team and a part-time starter. Then he surpassed that by becoming one of the leading contenders for Rookie of the Year in the most improbable outcome of all. Brogdon played 25 minutes Monday after missing the previous five games with back trouble, a workload that indicates he should be healthy for the first-round opener Saturday or Sunday.
2. Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers
Last week: No. 1
This has become a disappointing finish after the big surge of February and March that briefly moved Saric to the top of The Ladder and will earn him first-place votes for Rookie of the Year. He is shooting 40.4 percent the last five games and 39.7 percent the last 10, before the finale Wednesday at New York, and has also been playing with a 24-minute time restriction to nurse a bad foot into the offseason. But, big picture, Saric showed he was worth the wait after being drafted in 2014 and playing two seasons in Europe. He should be an ideal complementary piece with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and more possible lottery picks when (if) the 76ers ever get healthy.
3. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Last week: No. 3
The read is the same as opening night: Embiid is a special talent with monster potential if only he can stay on the court. His 2016-17, after sitting out the previous two seasons, confirmed the cause for excitement and the concern that won’t go away until he makes it through a campaign in at least relatively decent condition. He was immediately one of the top defensive centers and showed good offensive rhythm in general but especially for someone in a minutes straightjacket. Healthy Embiid lapped the field for Rookie of the Year, maybe more than once, before knee trouble changed the race and his season.
4. Marquese Chriss, Phoenix Suns
Last week: No. 4
If some voters decide Embiid did not play enough to make their ballot at all, not just to win Rookie of the Year, Chriss could get third-place votes. He was that good, top 10 in the class in points, rebounds, blocks and steals while finishing 15th in shooting and with a lot of good stretches in the second half. He was also that good ahead of schedule. While a lot of teams believed at the draft that Chriss had a bright future, most also thought he was not ready to contribute after one season at the University of Washington. He just changed the timeline.
5. Willy Hernangomez, New York Knicks
Last week: No. 5
A pretty small role on a bad team — 18.4 minutes — is the only problem. It was an especially obvious problem early in the season, when he produced and still couldn’t get a regular spot in the rotation. When Hernangomez moved to 24.4 minutes after the All-Star break, he turned into a force on the boards — and not just among rookies. The 18.1 rebounds per 48 minutes is tied for seventh in the league as part of what will be a second-place finish in the class in rebounding despite the inconsistent early minutes. That is impressive even in a down season for rookie bigs, especially when his 2016-17 also includes tied for seventh in shooting, tied for 11th in scoring and tied for sixth in blocks.
6. Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings
Last week: No. 6
The preseason No. 1 is at 15.1 points, 48 percent shooting overall and 42.5 percent behind the arc in the 23 games since being traded from New Orleans to Sacramento, a big finish that recently moved him past Brogdon for third in scoring while he’s also eighth in 3-point percentage and tied for 12th in rebounding. Hield is only 20th in shooting overall because of the bad start. With any numbers, he is the new foundation of the new re-start for the Kings, with the additional encouraging sign of a strong second half from No. 28 pick Skal Labissiere.
7. Yogi Ferrell, Dallas Mavericks
Last week: No. 7
If Brogdon and Hernangomez came from back in the pack as second-rounders, Hernangomez in 2015, Ferrell pushed in from beyond that, from really long distance as an undrafted free agent who was cut by the Nets early in the season and spent part of 2016-17 in the NBA Development League. Ferrell is the self-made success story who helped keep the Mavericks in playoff contention while climbing to fifth in scoring, sixth in 3-point percentage, tied for second in assists and is fourth in steals and fourth in minutes. Only the limited action of 45 games and a poor shooting percentage kept him from being at least one spot higher and maybe two.
8. Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
Last week: No. 8
His finish includes double-figure scoring in 16 of the last 23 games and a combined 42.5 percent from the field in the 21 games of March and April. This is not the same guy who didn’t make a basket until his fifth game, after going 0-for-16 in his first 66 NBA minutes. Murray turned so dependable that his role increased as the games got bigger, from 17 minutes per game in January to 21.1 in February to 22.4 in March before the Nuggets were eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday. While shooting was the obvious problem much of the season – he won’t even crack the top 20 among rookies – Murray in sixth in scoring and produced in an important role for a team that stayed in the playoff race until the final days.
9. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Last week: No. 9
He didn’t just go from a freshman season at California into an NBA rotation faster than some may have expected, similar to Chriss’ fast track in Phoenix. Brown earned his minutes as the Celtics raced for first place in the Eastern Conference, a dependability that included being in the top 10 among rookies in shooting most of the season while also headed for 13th in 3-point percentage. There would be little chance to put up big numbers while playing with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Al Horford and other veterans, but making himself a contributor right away is a bigger accomplishment than fellow first-year players who may have scored more.
10. Rodney McGruder, Miami Heat
Last week: No. 10
McGruder’s defense and important role in general as the Heat pushed for the playoffs into the final days — now the final hours, actually — is enough to beat out Brandon Ingram and others for the final spot. It’s not just his work at the end of the regular season, though. McGruder was ranked as early as November, drawing immediate attention after spending all last season in the NBA D-League as part of a long road to NBA after going undrafted in 2013, and either remained on The Ladder or in consideration for the top 10 much of the rest of the way before returning in March.
Dropped out: None.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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