NBA AM: 2016 Draft Class Struggling

The majority of the 2016 NBA draft class has struggled as rookies, writes Alex Kennedy.

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As 2017 approaches, Joel Embiid is the clear-cut favorite to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award for the 2016-17 season. It’s hard to distinguish a real challenger for him at this point because there’s such a significant gap between the Philadelphia 76ers center and the rest of the class.

Embiid is leading all rookies in points (18.4), rebounds (7.4), blocks (2.4), double-doubles (six) and player efficiency rating (22.9). In every one of these stat categories, the runner-up behind Embiid is way below him. Keep in mind that the 22-year-old is doing this while starting the season on a minutes limit; he has averaged only 24.3 minutes (just the fourth-most in the class).

Part of this dominance is because Embiid has been really, really good. However, another reason Embiid feels like a lock to win Rookie of the Year is because the 2016 NBA Draft class has struggled. One could make the case that the second-best rookie this season has been Embiid’s Philly teammate, Dario Saric, who also wasn’t part of the 2016 draft. He’s ranked second in points (9.1), rebounds (5.7) and double-doubles (three).

Embiid and Saric were both drafted in 2014, but delayed the start of their NBA careers until this year (Embiid due to injuries, Saric because he was playing overseas).

If we’re looking at just the 2016 NBA Draft class, the numbers are pretty ugly.

There isn’t a single 2016 draft pick who’s averaging double figures in points per game. Denver’s Jamal Murray is the leading scorer with just 9.0 points, followed by New Orleans’ Buddy Hield at 8.1 points. They are the only 2016 draft picks averaging over eight points per game. There are only seven 2016 draft picks averaging over six points per game.

Compare this to last year, when eight rookies averaged over 10 points per game. And even in “weak” drafts of the past, there have been a handful of double-figure scorers and plenty of role players making an impact and chipping in at least six points per game.

Other stats are similarly disappointing.

Andrew Harrison is currently leading all rookies in assists with just 3.6 per game. But he was a 2015 draft pick who didn’t play his first NBA minutes until this year, putting him in the same boat as Embiid and Saric. There are only two 2016 draft picks who are averaging three assists: Malcolm Brogdon and Isaiah Whitehead. The rookie leader last year was Emmanuel Mudiay, who dished out 5.5 assists per game.

The top three rebounders were all drafted in previous years (Embiid, Saric and Willy Hernangomez). The rebounding leader among 2016 draft picks is Los Angeles’ Brandon Ingram, who’s grabbing just 4.1 rebounds per game. There are only four other 2016 picks who are averaging three rebounds: Pascal Siakam, Domantas Sabonis, Marquese Chriss and Jakob Poeltl. The rebounding leader among the 2015 draft picks was Karl-Anthony Towns (10.5 per game) and 10 rookies averaged at least five boards.

Embiid’s 2.4 blocks per game looks great atop the leaderboard and then there’s a huge drop off. Toronto’s Pascal Siakam leads the 2016 draft picks in blocks per game with just .83, with Memphis’ Deyonta Davis’ .58 average ranking second among this draft class. Last year, Kristaps Porzingis was the top shot-blocker (1.8 per game) and six rookies averaged at least one block per game.

Embiid and Saric are the only rookies with multiple double-doubles this year. In fact, the 2016 draft picks have three double-doubles combined so far (with Chriss, Cheick Diallo and Sabonis each recording one). Among the 2015 draft picks, Towns recorded the most double-doubles (55), followed by Porzingis (21) and Jahlil Okafor (11).

Hernangomez’s 57.1 percent from the field lead all rookies, but the leader among 2016 draft picks is Siakam with a 53.8 shooting percentage. Every other 2016 draft pick is shooting below 45.5 percent from the field. Last year, there were nine rookies who shot at least 50 percent from the field.

One thing that must be noted is that the top pick in this year’s draft, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, has yet to suit up due to a fractured bone in his right foot. While he’s just one player, he was expected to put up strong numbers and challenge for Rookie of the Year. Perhaps we’d view this class a bit differently if he was healthy and filling the stat sheet nightly.

Some people have pointed out that players in the 2016 class should have stayed in college longer rather than leaving school so soon. But the last several drafts have featured one-and-done players who were able to produce. And this reasoning also doesn’t explain why older, more experienced rookies in this year’s class haven’t had much success either.

Not to mention, the idea that a player needs to stay in college longer in order to further their development is questionable. In college, a player has to juggle basketball with schoolwork. In the NBA, basketball is the top priority and the players have the best resources in the world at their disposal. If a player wants to improve rapidly, the NBA is the way to go so they can experience elite coaching, state-of-the-art facilitates, top-notch weight-training, terrific nutritionists, invaluable mentoring from veteran players and much more.

Maybe this class will yield some late bloomers and we will look back on this down period as an aberration. While this year’s draft picks have struggled, a number of undrafted rookies have emerged as surprises such as Miami’s Rodney McGruder, Dallas’ Jonathan Gibson and Memphis’ Troy Williams among others.

As a whole, hopefully this is just a case of the 2016 draft class getting off to a slow start.

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