Injured and all, Embiid still leads Stein's Rookie of the Year race

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

I've heard all the arguments.

I've seen all the wails of protest on Twitter after my suggestion earlier this week that Joel Embiid, without playing another minute this season, still stands as the most likely Rookie of the Year in the NBA.

And I see no reason -- yet -- to budge. No matter how loud you shout.

He won't even end up playing half the games.

He's not really a rookie.

Durability is a huge part of the NBA player's resume.

You can believe all those things with a maximum amount of conviction. But it still doesn't change the reality that a defensible alternative to voting for Embiid has yet to present itself.

The fact that Embiid will have only played 31 of 82 games this season is bound to upset lots of people if the Sixers' charismatic center is indeed chosen as the NBA's 2016-17 Rookie of the Year. As we've noted on numerous occasions lately, Patrick Ewing's 50 games played in the 1985-86 season is the previous record low for a ROY winner. Embiid is going to fall nearly 20 games shy of Ewing's total.

Yet there's simply no good fallback option, as we speak, some three decades removed from Ewing's ROY nod. ‎Withholding a vote for Embiid because of the injury plague that has cursed him again means you have to cast a vote for someone else. Which raises the obvious question: Who?

During the season's just-completed second Trimester, only three other rookies besides Embiid averaged at least 10 points per game: Dallas' Yogi Ferrell (13.6 PPG), ‎Philadelphia's Dario Saric (11.5 PPG) and Milwaukee's Malcolm Brogdon (11.2 PPG).

Embiid averaged 23.6 PPG in Trimester 2 in 14 games. (Ferrell, for the record, only played eight games in the Trimester).

The gap between Embiid's production so far this season, compared to the rest of this rookie class, gets even more pronounced when you click to the PER numbers for rookies. Embiid (24.33), New York's Willy Hernangomez (18.63) and the Los Angeles Lakers' Ivica Zubac (15.16) are the only rooks at 15 or better.

Any PER reading below 15, remember, is considered below average.

‎It's also worth remembering that Embiid has often been brilliant when we have seen him out there, which is something you don't hear much about rookies anywhere these days. The 7-footer wound up averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in a scant 25.4 minutes per game in those 31 precious outings, leading the long-suffering Sixers to a record of 13-18.

When Embiid isn't in uniform, Philly is 10-20.

And let's please stop with the nonsensical claims that Embiid being drafted in 2014 and missing the entirety of his first two NBA seasons is some sort of grand advantage he holds over other rookies. Seriously? Did anyone who works in this league or simply loves it from the outside ever think Embiid would produce at anywhere close to the level he has after -- we repeat -- losing two full seasons to injury?

Stop it.

There's still time, of course, for Saric or Brogdon or Denver's Jamal Murray -- or whoever -- to wow us in Trimester 3 and provide a defensible voting option. When we sat down with Embiid for an ESPN Radio visit, he insisted it would be Saric, who happens to be averaging 19.4 points over his past 10 games.

Saric, though, isn't there yet. He's averaging a mere 11.4 points per game for the season and sporting a PER of 12.12. If that doesn't sound ROY-esque to you, that's probably because it would represent the lowest PPG posted by a ROY winner since Fort Wayne's Monk Meineke averaged 10.7 points in the 1952-53 season ... which happens to be the first season that the NBA handed out this award.

Those who take issue with how much more "grown up" Embiid is than other rookies are also advised to recall that Saric, just like Embiid, was drafted in 2014. He spent the past two seasons playing top-level European basketball in Turkey before matriculating to the Sixers.

The goal here, though, is not to pick on Saric or Brogdon, who has shown his own promising flashes by breaking into Milwaukee's rotation as an unheralded second-round pick and shooting 43.5 percent from 3-point range. Let's see what happens in the final 20 (or so) games of the regular season. Maybe Saric or Brogdon can seize the opportunity.

All of the above, though, is meant to illustrate that Embiid's excellence -- however fleeting -- makes him the standout rookie so far.

By far.

And this ROY voter, speaking purely for himself, simply refuses to make this race all about the GP column when the numbers we're seeing from the overwhelming majority of Embiid's peers are so pedestrian everywhere else you look.