Monday, June 26, 2017

Why Malcolm Brogdon is the only choice for Rookie of the Year

Malcolm Brogdon was selected in the 2nd round of the 2016 NBA draft, the 36th pick overall.

That shouldn't matter to this story, but it does. He came from a good basketball program at the University of Virginia, but one that hadn't really made a splash on the national scene. Before Virginia, he was a lightly recruited player from Georgia who never starred but got better every year in high school. His college trajectory would be the same—his minutes climbed up steadily each year, all the way to 33.9 per game his senior year.

Oh yeah, he stayed in school and graduated from one of the nation's best public schools, in four years. For 99.9% of Americans, that would be a laudable achievement. For someone trying to make it i the NBA, his diploma was a scarlet letter.

Because of where he came from, not many teams thought Malcolm Brogdon would be a good NBA player. The second round of the draft is reserved for bench players and the once-in-a-while home run, like Manu Ginobili, Draymond Green, or Isaiah Thomas. Most second round picks will never start a game—many won't even make it to the NBA, getting drafted under the premise that they'll be sent overseas to toil until they show signs of promise.

It was good then that Brogdon went to a young Milwaukee team with a head coach unafraid of playing young players. That some injuries to key starters forced him into a bigger role. That his work ethic and ability to contribute in multiple ways made him a mainstay in the lineup,

He started 28 games for the Bucks this season, playing 1,982 minutes (just over 26 per game). In those minutes, he dominated, leading qualified rookies in field goal percentage (45.7%) and thee point percentage (40.4%). He was first in steals, one of the most important box score stats, and also assists. He was the only rookie to get a triple double. Oh, and he's a phenomenal human being.

Brogdon didn't display the jaw-dropping talent that fellow Rookie of the Year contender Joel Embiid displayed on the court—but he did play over 1,000 more minutes. He didn't score as many total points as Dario Saric, who played more minutes for an abysmal Philadelphia 76ers team. But Brogdon played for a playoff team. He earned his minutes and points in the heat of competition, not in garbage time.

If you look at the three players side-by-side, there's no question who the rookie of the year is—it's Malcolm Brogdon. The only reason he wouldn't win is because of where he came from. Because he was a second round pick who played four years at a non-basketball school. Because he's not someone you expect to be a star.

Embiid is that someone. Foot injury aside, he has always had that "superstar" label that teams are so willing to heap upon young, unproven players. Saric never had that label, and it's only because of this year's extremely weak rookie class that he's in the running.

Embiid embodies what people want in their Rookie of the Year. He was a one-and-done player at Kansas who took people's breath away on the court. Brogdon took your patience as the Virginia Cavaliers defense ground to victory after victory.

But Rookie of the Year isn't about potential, it's about what happened this year. And Malcolm Brogdon was the best player. He made an impact on a great team. Jeol Embiid's 76ers went on a win streak with him in the lineup, but it still was a bad team. That stuff matters. The stats matter.

What happened this year matters. It's a sick cycle—that someone could underestimated once and carry that burden his whole career. So break the cycle. Don't rob Malcolm Brogdon of this award. He earned it.

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