Myriad of factors keep 2016 rookie class from providing much oomph
From injuries to just needing more NBA seasoning, this season's first-year players left a ho-hum mark
As if reviews on the 2016-17 rookies aren’t harsh enough, the conclusion on the 2016 Draft after the regular season is even more severe, with the picks from last June worse than the class of first-year players in general and needing a lot of help from unlikely sources just to generate that much respect.
The top spot in the final Rookie Ladder belonged to second-round pick Malcolm Brogdon and second and third place to 2014 choices Dario Saric and Joel Embiid, respectively, with 2015’s Willy Hernangomez fifth. Marquese Chriss, at four, was the only 2016 selection in the top five, with Buddy Hield (six), Jamal Murray (eight) and Jaylen Brown (nine) joining Chriss as the lone lottery picks in the finishing ranking. Yogi Ferrell, at seven, was not drafted 10 months ago and Rodney McGruder, at 10, went undrafted in 2013.
Part of the problem was fate, as in Philadelphia 76ers rookie Ben Simmons missing the entire season to injury. Some of the problem was a prospect predictably needing time to develop, the way the Phoenix Suns’ Dragan Bender did.
Overall, the conclusion is undeniable: the current rookies were collectively bad in part because the picks from last June provided so little. While that may not turn out to be the final read in a few more years, once enough time has passed to truly analyze a Draft, it is the kind of slow start that helped bend an entire class toward underwhelming as part of the last of the regular-season position-by-position breakdown.
Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks
Yogi Ferrell, Dallas Mavericks
Tyler Ulis, Phoenix Suns
Andrew Harrison, Memphis Grizzlies
Isaiah Whitehead, Brooklyn Nets
Dec. 2 ranking: Malcolm Delaney, Harrison, Jonathan Gibson, Ulis, Whitehead.
Feb. 3 ranking: Brogdon, Harrison, Whitehead, Delaney, Kris Dunn.
Summary: Long shots hit it big. Brogdon was a second-round pick, Ferrell went undrafted, Ulis was a second-rounder, Harrison a second-rounder in 2015 and Whitehead a second-rounder last June … and all five made the improbable run to the best of their position. Brogdon was merely the only rookie, at any position, to play at a high level the entire season, while Ferrell not only came from far back in the pack after being passed over 60 times but also from being cut by the Nets and spending part of 2016-17 in the NBA Development League. He had a big role in the Mavericks staying in the playoff hunt until late, just as Harrison contributed to the postseason-bound Grizzlies, especially in the first half. Ulis’ big finish gives the Suns another reason to find encouragement despite looking up from the bottom of the Western Conference. Brogdon could have been at shooting guard or point guard.
Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings
Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
Rodney McGruder, Miami Heat
Caris LeVert, Brooklyn Nets
Alex Abrines, Oklahoma City Thunder
Dec. 2 ranking: Brogdon, Murray, McGruder, Troy Williams, Tomas Satoransky.
Feb. 3 ranking: Hield, LeVert, Murray, Abrines, McGruder.
Summary: The position looks especially strong in April thanks to strong finishes by Hield and Murray in particular in different unique circumstances, Hield after the trade at the All-Star break from New Orleans to Sacramento and Murray as an important contributor to the playoff push in Denver that fell short in the final days. Plus, LeVert became one of the success stories of the class, not just the shooting guards, by going from playing in just 33 of a possible 68 games his final two seasons at the University of Michigan because of injury and then missing the first 20 in the pros as the final step in the rehab from foot surgery to showing he could produce immediately. McGruder had a different kind of vindication. He went from undrafted in 2013 to bouncing around the D-League and Europe to starting 65 times for a team that barely missed the playoffs.
Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
Patrick McCaw, Golden State Warriors
Davis Bertans, San Antonio Spurs
Taurean Prince, Atlanta Hawks
Dec. 2 ranking: Ingram, Brown, Taurean Prince, Bertans, Dorian Finney-Smith.
Feb. 3 ranking: Ingram, Bertans, Brown, Kuzminskas, Finney-Smith.
Summary: Only Brown and Ingram made the Rookie Ladder during the season — Prince was No. 10 on opening night before quickly dropping off — but several at the position made key contributions for quality rosters. The large roles were particularly noteworthy for Brown, a one-and-done at California expected to need more time to develop, on the No. 1 team in the East and McCaw, who started 20 games as a second-round pick, on No. 1 in the West. Dorian Finney-Smith likewise had a high profile as the Mavericks stayed on the playoff mix until later. Prince’s finish for the Hawks, after not having a consistent spot in the rotation early, pushed him to a tie for ninth in blocks among rookies and 10th in steals.
Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers
Marquese Chriss, Phoenix Suns
Skal Labissiere, Sacramento Kings
Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
Juan Hernangomez, Denver Nuggets
Dec. 2 ranking: Saric, Siakam, Domantas Sabonis, Chriss, Hernangomez.
Feb. 3 ranking: Saric, Chriss, Siakam, Sabonis, Hernangomez.
Summary: Everyone at the position was chasing Saric almost from the beginning, until finally he had cemented the successful storyline of 2014 Draft pick who spent two more seasons in Europe and then showed he was worth the wait. Chriss and Labissiere are the contrasts, players who made more of an immediate impact than many teams would have predicted on Draft night. That is especially true for Chriss, who was consistently one of the better newcomers in several categories, while Labissiere had a very good second half, Siakam a strong start. Hernangomez led all rookies in 3-point accuracy while also shooting 45.1 percent overall. Power forward had good depth, with Sabonis a contender for the top five.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Willy Hernangomez, New York Knicks
Ivica Zubac, Los Angeles Lakers
Jakob Poeltl, Toronto Raptors
Thon Maker, Milwaukee Bucks
Dec. 2 ranking: Embiid, Hernangomez, Poeltl, A.J. Hammons, Zubac.
Feb. 3 ranking: Embiid, Hernangomez, Zubac, Poeltl, Hammons.
Summary: It was a Joel Embiid world. Until late-January at least, and then everything changed from the in-the-moment of the Rookie of the Year race to what had been growing confidence that he actually could stay healthy. The latter is merely an important topic for the entire league. Hernangomez, the brother of Denver’s Juan, did great work on the boards while also finishing sixth in the class in blocks and third in shooting. Embiid and Hernangomez were third and fifth, respectively, in the final Rookie Ladder, and Zubac – Zu Alcindor – probably would have had a good chance at the top 10 with a bigger role in the first half. The Bucks listed Maker as a forward in the opening lineup, but as one of three starters at forward. He played a lot of center, in other words.
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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