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If Joel Embiid wins Rookie of the Year, he’d demolish record for fewest games by major-award winner

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Patrick Ewing missed 32 games his rookie year, summing up the season by saying: ”It was disappointing in some areas. It was very hard to watch your teammates and not be able to play.”

He still won Rookie of the Year.

Nobody has ever won a major individual award — Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year — while playing such a low percentage of his team’s games. But Ewing’s record, playing just 50 of the Knicks’ 82 games in 1985-86, could fall this year.

Joel Embiid, who played only 31 games before the 76ers ruled him out for the rest of the season, could still win Rookie of the Year.

If not Embiid, who else?

Embiid was incredibly successful while on the court, nearly singlehandedly transforming Philadelphia. He almost became just the third rookie All-Star this millennium (Blake Griffin and Yao Ming).

Meanwhile, the 2016 draft class his been dismal. No. 1 pick Ben Simmons is missing the entire season himself. No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram and No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown have increasingly flashed talent, but they’ve too often struggled adjusting to the NBA. Going further down the lottery produces similar results — at best.

Bucks guard Malcolm Brogodn, the No. 36 pick, has been the second-best rookie behind Embiid. Beyond Brogdon, the only other two rookies with more win shares than Embiid are the Heat’s Rodney McGruder (undrafted in 2013) and Knicks’ Willy Hernangomez (No. 35 pick in 2015).

Considering Embiid is done, the Spurs’ Davis Bertans (No. 42 in 2011), Thunder’s Alex Abrines (No. 32 in 2013) and Grizzlies’ Andrew Harrison (No. 44 in 2015) could soon pass Embiid, too. And we’re obviously not talking about eye-catching talent.

The Nuggets’ Juan Hernangomez (No. 15) and Raptors’ Pascal Siakam (No. 27) are highest among 2016 first-rounders in win shares — and they’re still just tied for eighth with the Mavericks’ Dorian Finney-Smith (undrafted). The highest-ranking 2016 lottery pick is Marquese Chriss, who places a meager 12th.

There’s also a strong case win shares undervalue excellent per-minute performance relative to playing time. Embiid has probably made more of a difference in his 786 minutes than Brogdon has in nearly twice as many, and that might remain true even as Brogdon continues contributing down the stretch.

All this leaves Embiid a viable choice for Rookie of the Year.

Want to reward the rookie who has reached the highest level? That’s Embiid.

Want to reward the rookie who added the most value to his team this season? That could come down to a tossup between Embiid and Brogdon (and maybe another challenger, if someone finishes strong).

Want to reward a super-talented rookie who sustained solid production over a reasonable number of games? Um… There just isn’t anyone this year, though some voters will surely talk themselves into Ingram or Brown.

It’s too early to say Embiid deserves Rookie of the Year. Brogdon and everyone else still has time to build their cases.

But I predict Embiid will win the award. Enough voters will include him on their ballots, including some who pick him first, and a lack of a clear second choice will have other competitors splitting votes.

If Embiid wins, he’d demolish Ewing’s record for games missed by a major-award winner.

Here’s every major-award winner who played fewer than 70 games adjusted to an 82-game schedule (seasons with fewer games are noted in parentheses):

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In fact, just a few players have received even a single vote for a major award while playing a lower percentage of their team’s games than Embiid:

Andrew Bogut (2012 Most Improved Player): 12 games

Bogut received single first-place vote. Even in a lockout-shorted 66-game season, the then-Bucks center barely played due to injury. How did he get an MIP vote? Accounting firm Ernst & Young screwed up a vote than should have gone to Andrew Bynum.

Michael Jordan (1995 Most Valuable Player): 17 games

Jordan came back from his baseball retirement and played 17 games in 1995. Some voters probably figured he’s still Michael freaking Jordan and picked based on his ability, not his contributions that season.

John Williams (1990 Sixth Man of the Year): 18 games

Williams came off the bench in 81 games the year prior, and then he averaged 18.2 points per game for the Washington Bullets in 1989-90. One problem: Williams started all 18 of his games in 1989-90. Still, two people voted for him.

Sean Elliott (2000 Most Improved Player): 19 games

Elliott missed most the season due to a kidney transplant. When he returned late in the year, many wanted to rally around him. One person decided an MIP vote was the appropriate way to do so.

I didn’t have Rookie of the Year voting before 1977, so there could be a few other little-playing players who received award votes. But these situations have often involved strange errors or extremely irregular circumstances.

By comparison, Embiid’s situation is pretty standard. He played extremely well then got hurt. Other rookies have mostly struggled.

The combination just sets up the possibility for history: Embiid playing only 31 games and winning a major award.

Report: Nets signing Taurean Prince to two-year, $29M extension

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The Nets traded two first-round picks to the Hawks to clear double-max(-ish) cap space for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

And get Taurean Prince.

Prince was an afterthought in his trade to Brooklyn, which signaled the Nets’ big summer. But Brooklyn acquired him for a reason and will pay to secure him longer.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Considering this information came from his agent, this is almost certainly the most favorable framing of terms. Maybe Prince got all $29 million guaranteed. But if there are any incentives, I bet that $29 million counts them as achieved.

The Nets are trying to build a championship contender. This deal gives them multiple avenues for uisng Prince.

His contract could help for salary-matching in a bigger trade. I can’t recall the rookie-scale extension so short, if there ever was one. Two years are not an especially long commitment. That hints at using this deal as a trade chip. So does Brooklyn extending Prince before he played a regular-season game there.

Of course, Prince has a track record from Atlanta. He’s a good outside shooter with the frame to defend well when engaged. Maybe the Nets really believe in his long-term potential. He fell out of favor with the Hawks only after they changed general managers.

The Nets needn’t decide on Prince’s long-term future now. They have paid for team control for the next three seasons (including this season, the final year of his rookie-scale contract). They can monitor how he plays – and what trades become available.

Pacers, Domantas Sabonis reportedly agree to four-year, $77 million extension

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Indiana is going all-in on the idea of Domantas Sabonis playing the four next to Myles Turner at the five this season. The Pacers have put up the money, now we’re going to see if it can actually work.

After initial struggles to find common ground on a contract extension — leading to reports of the Pacers testing the trade waters for Sabonis — the two sides have come to terms on a four-year contract extension, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The exact figures here are still in flux.

How likely those bonuses are remains to be seen.

This is a pretty fair contract number, a little more than $19 million a year average for the man who came in second in the Sixth Man of the Year voting last season seems about right. Plus, if it doesn’t work out with Sabonis starting next to Turner, this is a very tradable contract and there would be interest in his services (he was harder to trade at his $3.5 million current salary and get anything of value to match that smaller number).

The Pacers hope it doesn’t come to that and Sabonis becomes part of one of the better, younger frontcourts in the league.

Sabonis is skilled and versatile on offense, a fantastic pick-and-roll or dribble hand-off guy who sets good screens then he rolls into open space. He’s strong around the basket and plays a crafty, high IQ game.

The concerns with Sabonis, and why some teams are not convinced he’s a starter, are twofold. First, he is not good defensively and is not a rim protector.

The second concern is that he does not space the floor (76.4 percent of his shots came within 10 feet of the basket last season, and he doesn’t make many beyond that range).

Indiana is betting on this core. They have inked big contracts with Turner (four-years, $72 million) and Malcolm Brogdon (four years, $85 million). Victor Oladipo will be coming up for an extension in a couple of years and, if he returns to pre-injury form, is a lock max player. Throw in this Sabonis contract and that is a lot of guaranteed money. Are these guys worth it?

We’ll find out soon enough, the Pacers have gone all-in with them

Report: Spurs signing Dejounte Murray to four-year, $64M extension

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In 2018, a 21-year-old Dejounte Murray became the youngest player ever to make an All-Defensive team. The following fall, he showed progress on his outside shooting and distributing. Everything was coming together for the young Spurs point guard.

Then, disaster struck.

Just before last season, Murray tore his ACL. He missed the entire year.

Yet, he’ll still get a contract extension in San Antonio.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Given his injury, it’d be difficult for Murray to reject this deal. It’s life-changing money. What if he lost significant athleticism or fails to hit his stride next season? That’d be a grim way to enter restricted free agency next summer.

But what if Murray picks up where he left off? This could be a major steal for the Spurs.

Given the wide range of potential outcomes, this extension seems fair. However, there’s also a reasonable chance Murray significantly underperforms or overperforms this deal. (That’s why it’s fair.)

Murray is a stout defender and elite rebounder for a guard. He can push the pace and slash to the rim. But it’s tough for lead guards who don’t shoot well from the perimeter. Murray’s playmaking for others must also improve, especially if San Antonio eventually transitions from an isolation-heavy offense around DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Murray is just 23. It’s OK he’s not a finished product. The Spurs should know better than anyone how to feel about his progress since the injury. They probably deserve benefit of the doubt in evaluating his value.

Still, long-term fit questions linger with Derrick White. White stepped up in Murray’s absence last season, especially in the playoffs. But White is another subpar 3-point-shooting guard. Can they play together? White will be eligible for his own rookie-scale extension next offseason.

San Antonio is mainly focused on the present, and Murray and White will factor prominently this season. They’re still just supporting players for now, though.

Long term, Murray’s extension is a key step toward whatever comes next for the Spurs.

Zion Williamson out 6-8 weeks after surgery to repair torn right lateral meniscus

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Much like his absence did at Summer League, this news sucks some of the air out the excitement around the start of the NBA season.

Zion Williamson, who tore it up for New Orleans in the preseason, also tore up his right lateral meniscus and had surgery on Monday to repair it, the team announced.

The smart money is on it being closer to the eight weeks because the Pelicans are going to abundantly cautious the future of the franchise. The Pelicans had originally said Williamson had a sore knee, then said he would be out weeks but avoided serious knee issues. This could be worse but is serious enough to require surgery.

This preseason, Williamson instantly took advantage of the greater spacing in the NBA game (Duke was not loaded with great shooters last season) and found lanes to attack and dominate. Williamson scored 55 points on 71 percent shooting across two preseason games, and defenses just were not sure how to stop him.

His loss is a setback to a Pelicans team that has playoff aspirations, despite its youth.

There are still young players with a lot to prove in New Orleans — Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram — and some solid veterans in Jrue Holiday and J.J. Redick. But the Pelicans will just not be the same — or as much fun.

This opens up the Rookie of the Year race, at least a little bit. NBC’s own Dan Feldman and I discussed this very topic on our predictions podcast: How many games does Zion need to play, and be dominant in, to win ROY? Probably around 50 (remember Joel Embiid could not pull it off with a dominant 31 games and Malcolm Brogdon won that year). If Zion is out the full two months, meaning a return just before Christmas, then he would miss about 30 games. Putting him on the bubble for the award. Other players such as Ja Morant in Memphis, RJ Barrett in New York, or maybe even Tyler Herro in Miami or Rui Hachimura in Washington can jump into the conversation.

That conversation is just a little less entertaining without Williamson.