Rookie Ladder (old archive)

Kia Rookie Ladder: Joel Embiid surprises with adept 3-point shot

The Sixers big man is the fourth-best 3-point shooter among rookies

Scott Howard-Cooper

This is when the frustration of setback after setback pays off. When the deep sighs of missing 164 games in a row morphs into a fist pump of accomplishment. When the literal pain from the foot problems that seemingly would never heal and the figurative pain from only being able to stand still gives way to numbers so gratifying that even Joel Embiid has to admit missing two seasons in a row helped him.

Not that he wanted it to happen this way, a 2014 Draft pick rookie in 2016 who had to prove he could be healthy before proving he could be good. But the truth is undeniable since it did: Embiid has been an instant 3-point threat as a 7-foot center/power forward who was never considered a stretch anything because of the unwanted time off.

“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “I don’t think I would be as good as if I would have played my first year. I don’t think I was going to shoot the ball from 3 at all. But those (two) years really helped me a lot, especially for my shot.”

Embiid couldn’t play five-on-five, not even with his own 76ers teammates who would surely keep a safe distance rather than risk another injury to a foundation of the franchise. So he did a lot of drills. There were a lot of times he couldn’t even run, or so much as walk without a boot, so he remained stationary. And shot.

The next thing anyone knows, the same player who took five 3-pointers as a Kansas one-and-done in 2013-14, making one, is not the same player. Still gifted with enviable instincts for someone with relatively little experience even before college, yes, still with the look of potential greatness if only he could stay healthy, but the Embiid of 2016-17 is at 40.3 percent behind the arc.

As if the start to his pro career wasn’t already impressive enough, Embiid’s 25 makes in 62 attempts in 21 appearances is good enough for the fourth-best showing among newcomers, while still being force-fed games off as part of the recovery.

Embiid would be the clear favorite for Kia Rookie of the Year anyway. Expanding his game like this just makes the possibilities in the seasons ahead seem that much more limitless.

To the ranking:

1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Last week: No. 1

He just became the sixth player since 1983-84 to reach 18.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.40 blocks through the first 20 appearances — and the other five are Hall of Famers: Shaquille O’Neal (the last, in 1992-93), Dikembe Mutombo, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson. Every predecessor did it with at least 658 minutes. Embiid got there in 489. Plus, his six games with 25 points or more are the most for a rookie after 21 games since Blake Griffin also reached the plateau six times in 2010-11.

2. Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week: No. 3

As if the glory of climbing a spot on The Ladder isn’t enough, the No. 36 pick is positioned to win Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month after 50.6 percent overall and 51.6 behind the arc the first 13 games of December. That has moved him back to first in the class. Plus, he has seven assists in three of the last six games, without more than three turnovers in any of the six.

3. Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers

Last week: No. 2

So far so good in the important minutes watch as the 76ers struggle with the rotation in the front court and Saric spends more time at small forward than power forward. He has played at least 25 minutes in three of the last four contests, despite poor shooting and Philly in close games. Saric is down to 36.4 percent for the season from deep but is second in the class in scoring and second in rebounding and sixth in 3-point percentage. He also has the comfort of knowing third place is likely as far as he will drop for a while, without anyone close enough to contend for the spot.

4. Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets

Last week: No. 4

The reigning Western Conference Rookie of the Month after shooting 39.3 percent overall but 41.6 behind the arc in October and November is down to 34.8 and 25, respectively, in December. Murray has been at 33.3 percent or worse in five of the last six games. It’s starting to show in the minutes — he’s at 16.5 those six and has broken 20 once. Fourth place is very available.

5. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

Last week: No. 5

Siakam continues to start for the second-best team in the East, but his role, his actual role, has become very shaky as coach Dwane Casey often goes with Patrick Patterson to open the second half at power forward. Siakam’s last five appearances have been worth eight, 28, 28, six and six minutes amid declining statistics. But he is still second in shooting, first in blocks, sixth in rebounding and 10th in minutes, enough to keep a spot in the top five. For now.

6. Isaiah Whitehead, Brooklyn Nets

Last week: No. 7

Missing three consecutive games with a sore left foot was a temporary setback just as things were going especially good. But Whitehead returned Monday with an encouraging 16 minutes that included making four of seven shots. That moved him to 54.2 percent from the field the last seven appearances, 50 in 10 December outings and 41.9 overall, 10th best among rookies. The three lost games would have been an especially good progress report on a young point guard, though — they were against the Raptors with Kyle Lowry, the Warriors with Stephen Curry and the Cavaliers with Kyrie Irving.

7. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week: No. 6

Ingram vs. Whitehead for sixth place: Ingram has an edge in scoring, rebounding, assist-to-turnover and minutes, Whitehead in shooting, assists, steals, blocks, PER and defensive rating (though neither will want to show off their numbers in the last two categories). Whitehead wins as the candidate trending in a better direction, with Ingram at 34.1 percent from the field in December. His work on the boards at 190 pounds, and sometimes while playing in the backcourt, remains a positive.

8. Andrew Harrison, Memphis Grizzlies

Last week: No. 8

He is first in the class in assists, first in steals, second in minutes, tied for fourth in blocks, seventh in scoring and fourth in defensive rating, though fourth in the category among Memphis rookies as all newcomers pass the initiation for admission into the Grindhouse society. Just don’t look at the other numbers. The ones with Harrison at 26.6 percent shooting the last 10 games, 25.7 in December and 28.2 for the season. When it didn’t seem possible that he could get any worse, he has.

9. Willy Hernangomez, New York Knicks

Last week: No. 9

If Harrison isn’t the epitome of the strangeness of the second half of The Ladder, or the soft sand of the rookie class as a whole, Hernangomez is. When he plays, he produces. The part about playing is the issue. In the last 10 Knicks games, the No. 35 pick in 2015 has seven rebounds or more four times, at least nine points three times… and three minutes or less five times. He went from 10 boards in 21 minutes and nine rebounds in 28 minutes right into getting two minutes. But third among first-year players in rebounds, second in shooting, and tied for fourth in blocks provides some solid footing here.

10. Marquese Chriss, Phoenix Suns

Last week: No. 10

Not only is former Ladder regular Domantas Sabonis keeping the pressure on for the final spot, but the charge of Buddy Hield that could include Hield as Rookie of the Month from the West makes for several options for No. 10. Chriss is eighth in scoring, ninth in shooting, eighth in rebounding and tied for fourth in blocks. His playing time has jumped from 14.9 minutes in November to 19.3 in December, with three games remaining, and the chance for a climb into the 20s in January.

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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