As a follow up from last week we’re going to shift from our conversation about the Sixth Man of the Year candidates and turn our focus to the rookies making a big impression on the league so far this season. There are so many excellent candidates, but we can only talk about three. Although Joel Embiid has been in the league for three years, he is technically a rookie this season. His play is making him the favorite for this award but there are two guys we’d like to highlight as potential challengers to Embiid’s coronation.
#3: Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
Lakers’ Brandon Ingram has been a key part of the LA lineup this season under new Head Coach Luke Walton. Ingram is originally from North Carolina, and got to stay close to home during college playing under Coach K at Duke University. After only one year playing at Duke, Ingram was drafted in the 2016 NBA draft and selected in the 1st round as the 2nd pick overall. Any player who experiences Coach K’s leadership is better for it and Ingram has certainly proven his worth this season.
Ingram lacks strength, but his 7’3” wingspan allows him the ability to use his arms to finish at the rim. Ingram is also skilled with head fakes and has proven great at attacking the rim in a straight line. In the last 10 games, the 19-year-old Blue Devil is bringing in around 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists at around 30 minutes per game. The Lakers are still in the beginning stages of rebuilding and they appear to have all the right players in place to be something special in the next few seasons.
#2: Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
Our number two candidate is a personal favorite of mine this season. Maybe it’s the fact that he does the archer shooting an arrow motion after clutch shots. Or maybe it’s because he’s just a nice guy…he recently helped a camera man up after running into him. Whatever it is, Jamal Murray is definitely something special. Murray is originally from Ontario, Canada and moved to the US last year to play one season for the University of Kentucky Wildcats. Like Ingram, Murray was also drafted after one year in college as 7th pick overall in the 1st round by the Denver Nuggets.
The Nuggets were in desperate need of another guard to back up Mudiay and Harris off the bench this year, but Murray has already shown himself to be starting lineup material. Murray brings explosive energy whenever he enters a game, and when he warms up on shooting he is reminiscent of a young Stephen Curry. Murray has also shown himself to be effective charging to the rim without fear getting the layup and sometimes the additional foul shot. Murray is averaging 10 points in about 22 minutes per game this season. He scored a career high 24 points against the Utah Jazz in November, and has recorded four games at more than 20 points. He continues to get more and more minutes and appears ready to take the starting point guard role any day now.
#1: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76’ers
At number one in this countdown it’s Joel Embiid who has worked long and hard to be considered for the Rookie of the Year award this season. Embiid dealt with a very serious foot injury his first two seasons in the league but is making up for lost time. Nicknamed “The Process” for his lengthy time on the injured list, Embiid is originally from Cameroon in Central Africa. The Process played one year at the University of Kansas before being drafted by the 76ers as the 3rd pick overall in the 2014 draft.
Embiid’s has size and strength but he’s also agile and nimble for a man his size. He is the man you want under the rim as he regularly brings in points on alley oops and put backs. This rook is averaging an impressive 18.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. The 76ers aren’t looking to over extend Embiid as he is recently healthy, and seeing NBA minutes for the first time. He’s getting about 24 minutes per game, and when you look at the stats he’s averaging it’s easy to see how amazing he really can be with more minutes. It’s evident that this third-year-rookie is making efficient use of his time on the court. This 76ers lineup has the potential to be pretty scary—if only they can get and stay healthy.
Time will tell if these young bucks can keep it up for the duration of the long and arduous season ahead. As for now, they’re pacing ahead of the crowd and they don’t appear to be losing any momentum. May the best rook win!