Odds Show Morant Heavily Favored To Win Rookie Of The Year
Until late January, the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award appeared to be a one-horse race and – with respect to the Miami Heat’s surprising undrafted rookie Kendrick Nunn – all bets were on the Memphis Grizzlies’ Ja Morant. That was until Zion Williamson burst onto the scene and started posting up some monstrous numbers.
Does Zion still have an outside shot at winning the award or is Morant a lock to win?
JA MORANT, MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
The electrifying point guard drafted second overall out of Murray State had won every Rookie of the Month award in the Western Conference so far and was averaging nearly 18 points and 6 assists per game. He was also winning the race on the nightly highlights, with pretty moves, game winning shots and exciting dunks. Even his misses were making the top ten lists.
Morant’s debut against the Heat was good: 14 points, four assists and four rebounds on 50 percent shooting. He broke out for 30 points against the Brooklyn Nets in his third game a few nights later, however, and added nine assists and four rebounds.
That began the tear that made him the early favorite for Rookie of the Year: twenty-plus points in four of five games. On November 13th, he recorded the first double-double of his career against the Charlotte Hornets, with 23 points, 11 assists and his first game-winning shot.
Ja Morant was officially a star. And he kept on rolling.
Of course, the long-awaited regular season debut of number one overall pick Zion Williamson, the human viral video drafted out of Duke, would make the race a lot more interesting. But Morant, his old AAU teammate from South Carolina, was still the heavy favorite.
His production continued steadily upon Williamson’s return. When play was suspended due to worries over the Covid-19 outbreak, Morant had a nice all-around stat line of 17.6 points, 6.9 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 59 games. Even more impressive was his player efficiency rating of 18.02, ahead of such established NBA stars as Jamal Murray, Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan.
Don’t forget the highlights either. Morant had 44 dunks at the suspension of the season, more than Russell Westbrook, Karl-Anthony Towns or Andrew Wiggins. The most important stat, though, is his aforementioned 59 games played. We’ll come back to that in a minute.
ZION WILLIAMSON, NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Zion Williamson hit the NBA like a meteor on January 22nd. He scored 17 straight points in the fourth quarter in a near-comeback against the San Antonio Spurs to finish with 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists in his debut.
As his rookie season progressed, Williamson was as good as expected, maybe better. His averages of 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and his player efficiency rating of 24.32 are the best rookie stats in years. Matter of fact, he is technically tied with the Raptors’ Pascal Siakam and the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum for 15th in the league in scoring.
But, of course, there’s a “but.” We don’t know if any more regular season games will be played this season, but to be considered for Rookie of the Year, he’d have had to have played in 70 percent of the Pelicans’ 64 games, and he’s only played 19 so far.
Zion Williamson is living up to the hype, but so is Ja Morant, and so, not by default, Morant is our pick for Rookie of the Year.