Making the case for (and against) each of top three Rookie of Year contenders

Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Malcolm Brogdon each have reason to garner ROY votes -- or to have votes taken away

Scott Howard-Cooper

All the statistics, all the opinions, all the games (not you, Joel Embiid), all the debate over how numbers for the playoff team in Milwaukee should be weighed against numbers for the lottery team in Philadelphia … and Kia Rookie of the Year comes down to two simple questions:

Should anyone who played just 31 games be a contender? That’s the first step. Should Embiid be given the award after playing 38 percent of the season for the Philadelphia 76ers before being sidelined by a knee injury, and while averaging 25.4 minutes per at that? If voters decide he should, game over. He wins.

If the limited work is a disqualifier, is Dario Saric the fallback after getting more attention in Philadelphia or Malcolm Brogdon after getting more wins with the Milwaukee Bucks? Maybe a long shot or two receive support, but, really, it’s Saric or Brogdon at that point.

The selected media members have until Friday at 11:59 p.m. ET to return ballots with three names and no split votes. Brogdon, Embiid and Saric will all get first-place spots in what has unexpectedly — since Embiid last played on Jan. 27 — become an interesting outcome with a flurry of reasons to pick or choose against each possibility.

Joel Embiid

Pro Embiid: When he played, he was the best. And it wasn’t even close. Embiid might have won the award with ease if he made it to 50 games. Seventy games at the same level and we’re looking at back-to-back unanimous winners, following the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns last season. A healthy Embiid was that much better than everyone else.

Con Embiid: Thirty-one games. There’s no getting around that.

Pro Embiid: He averaged 2.5 blocks in the 31 games. If he had reached the qualifying minimum, that would be second in the league, behind only Rudy Gobert. And that was in 25.4 minutes an outing. Embiid’s 4.6 rejections per 48 minutes would have been No. 1. His defensive rating would have been fourth heading into Monday’s schedule. His defensive shooting percentage is first.

Pro Embiid: The 76ers were 13-18 when he played, a .419 win percentage. They are 15-34 when he hasn’t, or .306. It’s the difference between 34-win pace and 25-win pace, a loud statement on his impact.

Pro Embiid: He was the only rookie anywhere near the conversation for belonging in the All-Star Game and one of the very few in many seasons. The ultimate compliment for a first-year player is being compared to veterans, not just fellow newcomers. Embiid was at that level. He was that rarity.

Dario Saric

Pro Saric: He is at 17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and is shooting 43.2 percent since the All-Star break with one game to play. Going back a little more, to Feb. 8, just before the break, he scored in double digits in 22 consecutive contests. That was part of a run of at least 18 points in 16 of 21 outings.

Con Saric: 10.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 39.7 percent before the All-Star break.

Pro Saric: He contributed to some of the good early stretches for the 76ers. Saric didn’t just grab numbers after Embiid was sidelined.

Pro Saric: In a class that lacked offense beyond Embiid, in a class where scoring in double digits quickly, and unfortunately, devolved into an accomplishment, Saric has reached the plateau 53 times. The next closest, Brogdon, isn’t really that close, at 43.

Con for both Embiid and Saric: Malcolm Brogdon. This is not just a Sixers-Sixers debate.

Malcolm Brogdon

Pro Brogdon: He is the only contender whose minutes are coming on a good team, with the Bucks at 42-39 and in the playoffs. Being trusted with a prominent spot in the rotation on a club in win-now mode is a big credibility boost. Not only that, his role increased when the games meant more, from 26.4 minutes in February to 30.1 in March before a back injury sidelined him in early-April.

Con Brogdon: Reserves don’t win Rookie of the Year. Not even semi-reserves. The last 10 winners and their starts:

Karl-Anthony Towns started 82 of 82 games played

Andrew Wiggins, 82 of 82

Michael Carter-Williams, 70 of 70

Damian Lillard, 82 of 82

Kyrie Irving 51 of 51

Blake Griffin 82 of 82

Tyreke Evans 72 of 72

Derrick Rose 80 of 81

Kevin Durant 80 of 80

Brandon Roy 55 of 57.

Brogdon has been in the opening lineup in 27 of his 74 games.

Pro Brogdon: Every rookie hopes to be as efficient and dependable. That’s his biggest selling point, that Brogdon does not have flashy stats but is the only candidate who played well the entire season. No one else played at a high level as consistently. He shot at least 43 percent in four of the five full months and the only time below the line, January, was when Brogdon had a very good assist-to-turnover ratio (3.12-to-1). He is shooting 45.6 percent overall and 40.3 percent on 3-pointers, good numbers for veteran guards, and will finish first in the class in assists while playing both backcourt spots.

Con Brogdon: He did not win a Rookie of the Month (and likely won’t for the partial regular-season schedule of April). It is probably the most minor of considerations and with the additional detail that the league office votes on the monthly award while the media picks the postseason winner.

But, just as with the starting role, history is against Brogdon: Each of those 10 past ROY winners was Rookie of the Month at least once. Voters have seen Saric have the best month in the Eastern Conference. They have not seen Brogdon’s name listed at the top. Maybe that lingers, maybe it doesn’t.

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In the end, by 11:59 p.m. ET on Friday, voters must take all the information and decide the proper context. Is Brogdon’s production more relevant for a playoff team compared to the 76ers? Is 31 games simply too few for Embiid to win? Should Brogdon be penalized for lesser scoring numbers when he plays on the same team as All-StarGiannis Antetkounmpo and had a little more than half the season with Jabari Parker?

Three candidates, a few final days, and then a deadline to choose one.

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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