This season’s Rookie Of The Year award is coming down to 2 main players: #1 pick Zion Williamson, and #2 pick Ja Morant.
At the start of the season, the hype around Zion had him walking away with the award at unbackable odds before he’d played a single regular season game. Everyone could see, from the high school level, to the NCAA, and in the Summer League that he would be a legitimate superstar at any level he played. Then disaster struck and a knee injury forced Williamson to the sidelines for a lengthy absence.
At that time it looked as though Ja Morant and Zion’s college teammate R.J. Barrett would battle it out to take the award.
Barrett quickly fell out of the race when it became clear that the Knicks were going nowhere and his individual numbers weren’t up to scratch (sub-40% shooting and wildly inconsistent play) with R.J. now paying $34 at Playup to win the award.
With the spotlight off Zion, this allowed Morant to shine as the most dominant rookie for almost two thirds of this NBA season.
Morant has been compared to Russell Westbrook for the level of energy that he plays with along with his athleticism from the point guard position.
Some of his standout games include a 27-10-10 triple double in a win over the Wizards, however his most stunning individual game that highlighted his potential was when he put on a scoring and playmaking exhibition against James Harden and the Houston Rockets.
Morant put up 26 points 5 rebounds and 8 assists on near perfect 10-11 shooting and seemingly never ending highlight reel plays. Check out the highlights of that game below:
Ja Morant (now $1.25 odds at Playup) has slowed down in a big way though, his last 4 games have been terrible in comparison with 16ppg, 1.3rpg, 3.8apg, 0.3stl, 0.0blk, 0.3treys, 3.8 turnovers per game, and the Grizzlies are 0-4 in that span.
Morant is hitting the rookie wall at the worst possible time, with Zion getting into the zone and averaging 29.0ppg over his last 5 games now on 57% shooting. In fact Zion has now eclipsed the 20 point mark in each of his last 9 games now and looks to just be scratching the surface. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him regularly scoring 30+ points over the remaining 24 games of the season and lifting his season average to around 25 ppg with 9rpg when all is said and done.
Given the trajectory of the two players, it makes sense to believe that Zion’s price will firm, and that Ja Morant’s odds will drift from the current price as this race heats up, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all for both players to be close to even-money by the end of the season.
It’s hard to imagine anyone outside of Morant and Zion taking home this award, however let’s take a look at some of the other candidates.
These are the top 12 rookies scoring in double digits this season:
Other rookies have had their moments this season. Nunn has been a surprisingly good scorer for the Heat and has been a mainstay of their starting 5. Not only is he playing a key role on a playoff bound team, but he does also have the interesting narrative on his side, being a player undrafted in the 2018 NBA draft and seemingly coming out of nowhere.
PJ Washington started off the season red hot, causing the hype train to go into overload, dropping 27 points with 7 threes in his NBA debut. This caused pretty much every bookie to pull in his odds as every man and his dog jumped on at the long price he opened at. Since then he has cooled off in a big way, scoring in single digits in 10 of his last 18 games and it doesn’t help his case that he’s playing for a lottery team that’s going nowhere.
Eric Paschall and Rui Hachimura ($201 odds at Playup) both had some really nice stretches early in the season, but will have too much working against them. Hachimura put up a total of 72 points over his 1st 4 games of the season, and he also had a 3 game stretch in December where he averaged 24ppg, 7.7rpg but he missed a big chunk of games which set him back. Paschall is much the same, he put up 20+ points 9 times this season so far, including a couple of 30 point games, however a lot of that was a product of the Warriors being completely decimated with injuries and Paschall getting a monster usage rating and minutes allotment. His best game of the season was a 34pt 13reb gem in a win over the Blazers, but over the last month he’s scoring just 10.6ppg and 4.3 rebs on 46% shooting.
Brandon Clarke ($51 odds) has been a solid and reliable player for the Grizzlies. An All-Rookie 1st or 2nd teamer but won’t be in the conversation for ROY. Kevin Porter, Michael Porter Jr ($34 odds) and Cam Reddish will all be players to watch in future years, but as far as this season goes they’ve shown glimpses but not consistent enough to be in the running.
The only darkhorse that I feel has a remote chance of making some noise and entering the conversation would be Coby White who is currently paying $101 odds at Playup. If he can miraculously keep up his recent play for the rest of the season he might have a long shot at swinging voters. He has dropped 30+ points in his last 3 games, see his recent game log:
He’s been able to provide a spark plug off the bench for the bulls with his streaky 3-point shooting, hitting a total of 18 threes over his last 3 games!
However, it’d take a King Ralph situation with everyone in front of him in the pecking order all going down – if Morant and Zion both missed the rest of the season or at least a big chunk of it, and Coby were to continue dropping big lines the rest of the way, it might be enough to get him over the line. At 101-1 he’s one player where it could be worth a little bet for fun.
However, the best value play by a mile is Zion Williamson @ $3.75 odds.
The only thing holding him back is how much time he missed earlier this season due to injury.
So far he has played only 13 games, compared to 52 played by Morant – A monster difference between the two. So with 24 games remaining, that would put him at just 37 games if he plays every remaining game. The million dollar question is going to be whether or not 37 games is enough to be crowned the rookie of the year?
Joel Embiid was in a similar situation to this, being the most dominant rookie in 2016-17, and due to a knee injury was limited to just 31 games. He still came close despite the award eventually going to Malcolm Brogdon.
There are some key differences that could work in Zion’s favour though. Firstly, he would have played in roughly 20% more games than Embiid did, and while not ideal, 37 is almost half the games, it might be enough of a difference for voters to consider him. Another thing is that Embiid missed the playoffs and missed the 2nd half of the season, so his dominant play wouldn’t have been on voters’ minds in the same way as it will for Zion. If the season ends with Zion putting up a string of huge games, it will be fresh in voters minds and a much better situation than it was for Embiid who was putting up a string of DNP’s.
In the end the determining factor could be how their two teams, the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans fare in terms of making the Playoffs, because winning is factored in quite heavily with voters. If Zion can lead a comeback by the Pelicans to clinch the #8 seed, while the Grizzles fall out of the top 8, that could be enough to seal the deal for Zion hoisting the ROY award.
This is the current Western Conference standings, with the Grizzlies on a 4 game losing streak and the Pelicans on a 3 game winning streak, the Pels are now just 3 games behind the top 8:
However the voting ends up, it will make for some intriguing debates amongst fans and punters, over which of the two players is more deserving of the award.
Best of luck with your NBA bets this season. Switch to Playup and win more on your basketball bets with 103% markets on H2H and Lines – better odds means bigger wins!
Written by Peter Arena
*all odds accurate at 3pm 28/2/2020