With the season winding down, everybody gets to talking about season-long award races. This year its Russell Westbrook vs James Harden for MVP and Draymond Green vs Kawhi Leonard for DPOY. The award race that has perhaps been under the most scrutiny up to this point though has been ROY. There are three players all being considered, and each one of them has made their mark. Two of them come from the Philadelphia 76ers, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric.
Dario Saric was making a strong case for rookie of the year with his numbers. Averaging 13 points and six rebounds per game, his numbers pop out the most. However, not enough of those stat lines are helping translate his team’s games into wins. The 76ers ended the season 28-54, finishing 14th in the Eastern Conference. If that alone isn’t enough evidence, Saric doesn’t have much help around him, so he is the go to guy. So, 13 and six may look good, but when you see the massive role he plays for his team, those numbers seem more normal.
Then there is Joel Embiid, who could have walked his way to the finish line with the rookie of the year award, had he avoided injury. Unfortunately, Embiid needed surgery for a torn meniscus, derailing his fantastic season. 20 points, eight rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game were his numbers, easily putting him in the lead for the award. However, this isn’t the “rookie with the best 31 games award,” which means Embiid should be knocked out of the race for ROY.
The other player battling for the award, the one who should win it, is Bucks second round pick Malcolm Brogdon. This would be a very special feat, as the only other second round pick to win ROY was Woody Sauldsberry in the 1957-58 season with the Philadelphia Warriors. Brogdon’s performance this year has him inserted permanently into the starting lineup, sending aussie point guard Matthew Dellavedova to the bench. As a rookie, having the ability to gain Jason Kidd’s trust (a no-doubt future hall of famer) speaks to how hard Brogdon works and how big of a difference maker he has been.
With averages of 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists per game, Brogdon has come onto the NBA scene strong. His offense is something that was noted as needing work coming into the NBA, since he was known as a defensive player in college at the University of Virginia. Despite those scouting observations, Brogdon has proved to the rest of the league that he deserves to be a key player for them to focus on when watching film.
He has been money from the arc thus far, knocking down 40% of his outside attempts, third among all rookies. If he isn’t beating you from behind the 3-point line, he is dishing dimes to his teammates. His 4.3 assists per game are good enough for him to lead all rookies in that category. Brogdon has even displayed some explosiveness, being able to play above the rim to finish acrobatic layups and slam down ferocious dunks. If you don’t believe it, just ask King James.
As if all that wasn’t enough, on March 29th against the 1st place Boston Celtics, Brogdon went on a major run in the 4th quarter to seal the deal, making shots from everywhere on the court, silencing the crowd at the historic TD Garden.
Not only has his offense given him a chance to be the starting point guard on a playoff team his rookie season, but it has also been his defense. His senior year at Virginia, he won ACC Defensive Player of the Year and he has been playing like it all season long. In many games, the best offensive player from the opposition draws Brogdon on defense, and he thrives with the challenge. The 6’5” guard is averaging 1.14 steals per game, first among all rookies. He always plays on the balls of his feet, ready to jump a gap and go coast-to-coast. His size at the PG position also helps, as he is 6’5” with a strong muscular build at 215 pounds. This is a six-minute-long clip, six minutes, of Malcolm Brogdon defensive plays from this season alone.
Maybe the best aspect of Brodon’s game, which sets him apart from the rest, is his poise. Being a 4 year college player and graduate, unlike most athletes today who are one-and-done, he has learned to be cool and composed in some of the biggest moments sports has to offer. His Virginia team reached the Sweet 16 as well as the Elite 8 during his college playing days, offering him loads of essential experience. Again, at only 24, he is even a leader for this Bucks team full of youngsters. Both on and off the court, players gravitate towards Brogdon. Jason Kidd talks about how composed he truly is.
This composure has led him to major success from the free throw line. He is second overall among rookies at a cool 87%. This is impressive as free throw shooting seems to be a struggle for many players in today’s NBA.
The most intriguing stat though is Brogdon’s minuscule number of turnovers. Only 1.5 turnovers per game for the rookie, giving him his 2.83 assist-to-turnover ratio, good for 15th overall in the entire NBA. Most rookies try to force the issue by attacking the rim and forcing a contested layup or threading the needle on a pass, whereas Brogdon’s maturity comes through instead. He will pull the ball back out and set up the offense, insisting on getting the best possible look. Cool headedness truly is key for him. With Avery Bradley, one of the best wing defenders in the NBA, completely smothering him in the waning seconds of their game on March 29th, Brogdon was able to drill this big-time shot very nonchalantly.
There are three discrete reasons Brogdon should win ROY. 1) His stats bring wins. 2) He still puts up good numbers with someone like Giannis Antetokounmpo on his team 3) He starts on a playoff team. (Who by the way beat the Toronto Raptors tonight in Toronto. Brogdon had 16 points, six rebounds, and two assists.) If there is anything left to be said it’s only this. Watch out NBA, the future looks very bright for this star-studded rookie.