Stein's Rookie of the Year: Joel Embiid

Should Joel Embiid win ROY? (1:03)

Despite playing just 31 games this season, Philadelphia's Joel Embiid leads all rookies in points, rebound and blocks per game. With a shallow pool of contenders for Rookie of the Year, Marc Stein is giving the award to Embiid. (1:03)

You can't give the NBA's Rookie of the Year trophy to a guy who played in just 31 games.

One of the most important aspects of a professional athlete's ability is availability.

You should have your ballot revoked (or worse) if you vote for Joel Embiid.

I've heard it all, friends.

I'm fully aware that ‎my ROY vote is going to be an unpopular choice with a lot of you.

But here's the thing: I'm the one who has to live with the choice on my ballot.

And I feel much better about rewarding Embiid for the legit flashes of excellence he showed us in those 31 games -- leading the Sixers to a passable 13-18 along the way -- than I do about voting for Malcolm Brogdon or Dario Saric (or sleeper candidate Willy Hernangomez) simply because their primary advantage is better health.

I know, I know. Lots of you are enraged by that stance. But we stubbornly insist in response, as we did after Trimester 2, that the usual voting standards don't apply here and simply can't apply here when the NBA's Class of 2017 is so underwhelming as a collective.

Voting for Saric would essentially mean rewarding him for the big numbers he put up over a two-month period. The Croat entered Friday's play averaging 18.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists since Feb. 8 ... but I'm not quite sure why rewarding strong play from Saric over 28 games makes him so much more worthy than Embiid and what he achieved in a similar span.‎

‎Voting for Brogdon, meanwhile, would be establishing a new points-per-game low for a Rookie of the Year. The President, as he's known, has proven to be a real find for the Bucks, emerging as a trusty contributor despite his humble status as the 36th overall pick last June. Yet he's averaging just 10.3 points per game, which would fall below the 10.7 PPG averaged by Fort Wayne's Monk Meineke in his Rookie of the Year season of 1952-53.

‎Instinct tells me that Brogdon has a real shot with the voting body at large. He's been a fun story because of that modest draft position, certainly contributes to a playoff-bound team and ‎averaged 12.8 points per game, 4.0 rebounds per game and 4.9 assists per game in 26 games as a starter through Thursday's play. You could likewise argue that the Bucks' 0-3 start‎ in April, with Brogdon missing all three games as he nurses a back injury, has only underlined how important he's become to Milwaukee's program in Year 1.

It's an overall résumé that is bound to hook some voters, especially when word starts to spread that Brogdon has inspired a new website (ThePrez4ROY.com) that might well propel him to become the first second-rounder to win this award in the lottery era.

Yet we're sticking with Embiid.

We remain intoxicated by the fact he rumbled for 28.7 points per 36 minutes despite his high turnover rate, which trumps every other rookie in league history not named Wilt Chamberlain.

We can't forget the fact that his game-changing defensive presence was such that Embiid held opponents to the league's lowest field-goal percentage -- even lower than Rudy Gobert's -- and still leads all rookies in total blocked shots even though he hasn't played in a game since Jan. 27.

We also draw some encouragement from the reality that Embiid, Brogdon or Saric -- whoever wins -- will have averaged fewer minutes per game than any previous Rookie of the Year this league has seen. ‎None of these guys, in other words, has exactly been ever-present.

Focus on all the time Embiid has missed this season if you choose. I understand the sentiment.

But he's the rookie that I'm going to remember when folks talk about that season when Russell Westbrook messed around and averaged a triple-double.

For all that injury has snatched away from Embiid in his first three pro seasons, one night as a charismatic star attraction ‎at the NBA's inaugural year-end awards show on TNT on June 26 strikes us as the least he deserves for what he contributed to the 2016-17 campaign.

The Process was that good, and that certifiably entertaining, when he was able to play.

Stein's ‎Rookie of the Year ballot: 1. Embiid; 2. Brogdon; 3. Saric.

October Prediction: Embiid.