There are now just 20 days to opening day in the NBA and it just couldn’t come any sooner. Yesterday we previewed the race for this season’s MVP award, but today it’s time to discuss the trophy reserved for the league’s best new player!
The Rookie of the Year (ROY) is incredibly important because it often indicates an upcoming force in the league. The award first became official during the 1952-1953 season and there have been a total of 47 winners between then and the 1996-1997 season, including two separate years with two recipients. The 1996-1997 season is significant because it denotes the most recent player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, Allen Iverson.
Speaking of Hall of Famers, the ROY award is actually a great predictor as to whether or not a player will have a HoF career. Of the 47 Rookie of the Year winners between 1953 and 1997, 28 of them have since been inducted into the Hall of Fame. That means that a ROY award winner has just under a 60% chance of having a Hall-of-Fame career speaking purely statistically.
Looking at the next 13 ROY award winners up through the 2008-2009 season (1999-2000 also had two winners), there are already 6 clear cut future HoFers. This includes Tim Duncan, Vince Carter, Pau Gasol, LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant. Amar’e Stoudemire also has a decent chance of being inducted, as does Derrick Rose just due to the fact that he was the youngest player to ever win MVP and has had a miraculous career recovery after multiple major injuries.
Unfortunately, there is also a good chance that any current and upcoming Rookie of the Year award winners will not make the Hall of Fame one day. There are many factors that play into becoming a Hall of Famer, including longevity, accolades, health, maturity, and other unforeseeable disasters. You can’t definitively say that a Rookie of the Year recipient will go on to have a Hall-of-Fame career, but there’s a really good chance that they will.
With the most recent players earning ROY honors, it is definitely too early to say how their career will pan out. What you can say is that there are some talented and promising young men looking to become the face of tomorrow’s NBA. Here’s the last five Rookie of the Year award winners:
- 2018-2019: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
- 2017-2018: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
- 2016-2017: Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks
- 2015-2016: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
- 2014-2015: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
Looking at the last five winners alone, there are several things that become clear. First and foremost, the Timberwolves should be a much better team than they actually are. That actually leads into the second point, which hammers home the fact that not every Rookie of the Year will become an all-time great player. Towns shows massive promise, but Wiggins looks like he wants to be anywhere but a basketball court everytime he plays.
Finally, it indicates that being the first pick in the draft does not always lead to a Rookie of the Year nomination. It is true that there are more 1st overall draft picks than any other selection, but a ROY winner is generally just any lottery pick (1-14). Of the 70 overall winners, 22 have been 1st picks (31%), while only 3 have been non-lottery (15th and up) picks (4%).
This means that there is a 96% chance of the Rookie of the Year being a lottery pick, again speaking only from statistics. Malcolm Brogdon did win ROY in the 2016-2017 season as a 36th overall pick, but he was the only non-lottery pick in almost 30 years to win the award, meaning he is the exception to the rule.
2019-2020 NBA Top 10 Picks
With that in mind, this year’s draft class is very likely to follow a similar trend. Most Rookie of the Year winners do come from the lottery, but they are generally 10th overall picks or better. Here’s the top 10 picks from this year’s NBA draft:
- Zion Williamson – New Orleans Pelicans
- Ja Morant – Memphis Grizzlies
- RJ Barrett – New York Knicks
- De’Andre Hunter – Los Angeles Lakers (Atlanta Hawks)
- Darius Garland – Cleveland Cavaliers
- Jarrett Culver – Phoenix Suns (Minnesota Timberwolves)
- Coby White – Chicago Bulls
- Jaxson Hayes – Atlanta Hawks (New Orleans Pelicans)
- Rui Hachimura – Washington Wizards
- Cam Reddish – Atlanta Hawks
Looking at each pick, their college career, and the situation of the team they were drafted by, there already a few players that have virtually no chance of winning Rookie of the year. Any Atlanta Hawks player (Hunter and Reddish) is out because of rising stars Trae Young and John Collins. Culver is in the same boat with Towns in Minnesota. You can also pass on Hayes because Zion will undoubtedly steal the spotlight in New Orleans.
This leaves just five good picks for ROY: Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, RJ Barrett, Darius Garland, and Rui Hachimura. In all honesty, Garland and Hachimura aren’t likely to win, but they are both included because they are in perfect situations for a young breakout player to flourish. It is far more likely that the 2019-2020 Rookie of the Year will be a top 3 pick.
3rd Pick Overall: RJ Barrett (Duke)
Before the world knew about Zion, Barrett was projected to be this year’s 1st overall pick. Unfortunately for the young Canadian, Barrett was outperformed by his own teammate at Duke. Despite playing alongside Zion, RJ actually had an outstanding freshman season. Playing on the Knicks this season, Barrett will have the green light to score and run an offense. He will certainly have a solid career, but his star potential depends on how he adjusts to the size of NBA players and if he can improve his efficiency.
College Averages: 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.4 blocks on 45.4% shooting.
2nd Pick Overall: Ja Morant (Murray State)
Ja Morant played two seasons in college, but he didn’t really appear on anyone’s radar until his 2nd season. Ja made a massive leap between his first and second year, big enough to vault him to the 2nd overall draft pick. Morant is incredibly skilled as a point guard, with the ability to score at will or find opportunities for teammates. Playing in Memphis, he will have full control of the offense. If Ja is the real deal, he’s in a perfect situation to succeed. Iit is just more likely that he will need time to adapt to the faster pace of the NBA.
College Averages (sophomore season only): 24.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 10.0 assists, 1.8 steals, and 0.8 blocks on 50% shooting.
1std Pick Overall: Zion Williamson (Duke)
There simply hasn’t been a player with more hype coming into their rookie season than LeBron James himself. LBJ has had a phenomenal career, great enough to put him in discussion for greatest-of-all-time (GOAT) with Michael Jordan. But then there’s Zion with more than 4 million Instagram followers, who arguably has more hype behind him than LeBron does. If that doesn’t sound like big shoes to fill, then nothing else will.
Speaking of which, Zion lived up to his name during his freshman season at Duke. With high-flying dunks and arena-shaking blocks, the Zion show was in full effect last year. His offense (and efficiency) was through the roof and his defense was just as good. Weighing 280 pounds, Zion is as NBA-ready as it gets. The only concern with Williamson is whether or not his body can physically withstand the grind of the lengthy NBA season.
ROY Prediction: Zion Williamson rides the hype train to win ROY
With all the media attention Zion has received during his only season at Duke, most believe he will coast to the Rookie of the Year award. Considering he’s also in a fantastic situation with New Orleans, Williamson has a very clear path for a great rookie season. Even if it takes a little while for Zion to figure out his offense in the NBA, his defense will be good enough to make him a high-impact player every game.