Similar to the 2015 No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns, this year's No. 1 pick Ben Simmons is expected to drastically alter the course of his team, the basement dwelling Philadelphia 76ers. Simmons is a rare talent, capable of running an offense at 6-foot-10 with with his uncanny speed and brilliant court vision. Yet unfortunately for the Sixers, Simmons broke a bone in his right foot weeks before the start of the season, which could force him to miss months of action.
Simmons' injury requires surgery to correct and when he will actually return is up in the air. There is even a rumor circulating that Simmons' agent may not let his player even play this season, opting for a long rehab process over the chance of re-injury or lingering issues. But whether or not Simmons plays this season, his absence at the start opens the door for the Rookie of the Year race even wider, allowing other players to take advantage of the No. 1 overall pick missing time.
Simmons of course wasn't guaranteed to win the award, but based on all expectations it was his to lose. Now due to Simmons' injury, here's a look at five of his fellow rookies that could be the frontrunners for the Rookie of the Year award.
Joel Embiid is finally healthy and will be embarking on his rookie season. Calling Embiid a rookie sounds strange since he got drafted two years ago, but since his injuries have derailed the start of his NBA career, the Sixers big man is still technically a rookie.
Embiid's injury-filled past will have him on a minutes restriction to start the season, but at least for preseason, he is already in the Sixers' starting lineup. How much playing time Embiid actually gets though is in question as the Sixers have other skilled big men in Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor on the roster. But from a physical standpoint, Embiid is a beast and if he is able to transition his physicality in workouts and practices to actual gameplay, then his rookie season has the potential to be dominant.
Heralded as a great shooter in college, the Pelicans selected Hield with the No. 6 overall pick in June so he could help stretch the floor and provide some much needed three-point shooting. So far in preseason, Hield has fit that role, scoring 19 points and making three treys in his debut against the Mavericks. Clearly, preseason basketball is much different than regular season basketball, but Hield at least showed his shooting prowess in college is capable of transitioning to the NBA.
Out of all of the rookies, Hield may have the best opportunity for playing time. Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans are out for the start of the season, and without them the Pelicans aren't that deep in the backcourt so Hield should see plenty of action. And while his shooting is his strength, Hield's ability to make smart passes and his overall effort should help the Pelicans rookie quickly establish himself in the league. If Hield ends up being come a high-volume scorer, it wouldn't be surprising to see him be one of the top names vying for the Rookie of the Year award.
Ingram is slated to start the season by coming off the bench, which should help him manage any preconceived expectations that comes with being the No. 2 overall pick. However just because Ingram isn't starting doesn't mean he won't be getting a decent amount of playing time. Lakers coach Luke Walton, unlike Byron Scott, understands the importance of giving support via coaching and playing time, so Ingram is in the ideal situation as a rookie.
Ingram's lithe frame though could factor into how much playing time he actually gets. The Lakers want him to add weight, which could be tough for him to do during the season. And considering how Simmons supposedly added 30-plus pounds and is now injured, Ingram is also being cautious about packing on too much weight too fast. But Ingram's versatility and skill set on offense should allow him to make a noticeable impact on the Lakers and the rest of the league in his rookie season.
Dunn is a rare four year college player and that experience should allow him to make a seamless transition into the NBA. He showed plenty of potential in summer league and showed glimpses of being the future starting point guard for the Timberwolves. For now, though, that job belongs to veteran Ricky Rubio. Dunn should still get plenty of playing time off the bench, running Minnesota's second unit and playing in lineups with the Timberwolves' other young stars in Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Having a savvy coach in Tom Thibodeau should also greatly benefit Dunn's game, especially on the defensive end.
Dunn will likely be one of the better rookies in this class and his fellow rookies believe that he could actually win the Rookie of the Year award. But for Dunn to do that, he will have to provide an impactful scoring punch off the bench and perhaps later assume the starting point guard role. He definitely has the talent and potential to win the award, but a few things that may be out of his control have to fall in place for Dunn in order for that to happen.
Like his fellow rookie teammate Joel Embiid, Saric has been starting for the Sixers in preseason. If he remains in the starting lineup, that bodes well for Saric's rookie season, especially since the Sixers have a glut of big man (Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel) and can't truly dole out an equal amount of minutes. Getting regular playing time will allow Saric to thrive and showcase his versatility on offense with his shooting and interior play.
Coming over from overseas, Saric will likely go through some sort of transition period at some point. However with his height and ability to shoot from long range, Saric is the prototypical big man for the current NBA and has the potential to thrive in Philadelphia. Rookie of the Year may be a stretch for Saric, but hey, perhaps he and Embiid will be the modern day version of the twin towers and the two can be the co-winners. Stranger things have happened before.