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NBA rookies finding ways into starting lineups

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, of Cameroon, plays against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Most rookies who make an NBA roster probably find themselves well down on the depth chart and find that playing time is few and far between. For some, however, they have impressed their coaches enough to get significant playing time. And for a select few, they have played well enough to secure a few starts this early in the season.

Through games of November 6, there have been 14 rookies who have started at least one game this season. Of those 14, there are four rookies who have started each of their team’s games. The four: Domantas Sabonis (OKC), Pascal Siakam (Toronto), Dario Saric (Philadelphia) and Joel Embiid (Philadelphia). Each of these four was a first-round choice.

Whether or not these four stay in the starting lineup for the entire season is anyone’s guess. But past history has shown that there have been rookies who have started 80 or more of their team’s games in their first season in the league.

Last season, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns started all 82 of the Timberwolves games, the only rookie in the league last season to start 80 or more contests. If we go back 35 years to the 1981-82 season, there have been 44 rookies who started 80 or more games in a season.

Typically, there might be one or two rookies who play well enough to start 80 or more games in a season, but the most rookies to start 80-plus games in an NBA campaign happened in the 1992-93 season. That year, five rookies started 80 or more games: Shaquille O’Neal, Christian Laettner, Tom Gugliotta, Clarence Weatherspoon and LaPhonso Ellis.

Let’s drop down the total number of games for another stat. Since the 1981-82 season, there have been 166 rookies who have started 60 or more games with their respective teams. In addition to Towns who started 82 games for the T’Wolves in 2015-16, Kristaps Porzingis last season started 72 games for the New York Knicks as a rookie, and Emmanuel Mudiay started 66 games in his first season with Denver.

Since 1981-82, the Golden State Warriors have had the most rookies start 60 or more games in a season with 10. The Philadelphia 76ers rank second with nine. Following are the number of rookies that have started 60 or more games in a season for each franchise since 1981-82.

10: Golden State
9: Philadelphia
8: Chicago, Cleveland, Indiana
7: Denver, Memphis, Miami, Minnesota, Sacramento
6: Brooklyn, Detroit, Houston, L.A. Clippers, Milwaukee, Orlando
5: Charlotte, Dallas, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Toronto
4: New York Knicks
3: Atlanta, Boston, Portland, Utah, Washington
2: New Orleans, Phoenix
1: L.A. Lakers

Although each of the 30 NBA franchises has had at least one rookie start 60 or more games in a season since 1981-82, there are three teams that have been waiting a pretty long time for another rookie to reach those numbers. In fact, three teams have not had a rookie start 60 or more games in a season this century.

The Lakers have not had a rookie start 60 games since Nick Van Exel in 1993-94. The Dallas Mavs last rookie with 60+ starts was Jason Kidd in 1994-95, and the Celtics have not had a rookie start 60 or more games in a season since 1997-98 when Ron Mercer started 63 games in his rookie season.

Earlier in this piece, it was mentioned that a pair of 76ers rookies this season have started each of Philly’s games, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid. They could both end the year with 60-plus starts, which would be the 12th time since 1981-82 that a team had two or more rookies start 60-plus games in a season.

There have been four times since 81-82 that a team had three rookies start 60 or more games: Cleveland (1987), Miami (1989), Cleveland (1998) and Memphis (2009), the last team to accomplish this feat.

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