Top Five Rookie of the Year Candidates
The 2019 rookie class is not a star-studded class like ones in previous years. However, there were three clear future stars coming in. Those three were Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Ja Morant. In addition to the star power, this class seems to be filled with above-average role players such as Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, and a few more. Now that we are over a quarter of the way into the 2019-20 season, there’s a big enough sample size to assess the top five Rookie of the Year candidates.
Top Five Rookie of the Year Candidates
5. Zion Williamson
Zion has not played a single game this season yet due to his meniscus injury that has kept him sidelined. Williamson, however, is that strong of a candidate such that he still cracks the top five list. He is a once in a generation type of talent as all fans have seen his play at Duke and in the preseason.
Many reports came out recently indicating that Zion will likely be making his debut in 2020, which delays his return date more than expected. In addition, the New Orleans Pelicans reported that they will be using ‘load management’ once he returns, which means he will most likely be sitting on one of two back-to-back games.
These reports are not extremely encouraging for all NBA fans, who have been itching to watch his explosive play. Based on that, if we assume Zion comes back in the first week of 2020 and misses a limited amount of games, then that means that he will likely miss at least half of the season. The last player to play half a season or less and almost win Rookie of the Year is Joel Embiid. He played 31 games and finished second in voting behind Malcolm Brogdon. Zion Williamson is projected to be an incredible star, which means that him playing this season immediately puts him in the discussion.
4. RJ Barrett
Barrett was Zion’s teammate in Duke and leading up to the season he was viewed as the 1b draft prospect to Williamson’s 1a. Once Morant blew up on the scene throughout the NCAA tournament, it was clear that the 1b spot is one Barrett has to fight for. The way things played out led to Barrett drafted 3rd overall by the New York Knicks.
The Knicks are always in the news for the wrong reasons, however, RJ Barrett’s performances in the big apple have been one of the few consistent bright spots for New Yorkers. Barrett has played (and started) in 24 out of the 25 games the Knicks have played in this season. He is averaging 14.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game so far while gaining the respect of the New York fanbase. Those numbers are consistent and respectable for a rookie playing in turmoil.
On the flip side, the Knicks have the worst offensive rating in the league at 102.6 and the fifth-worst defensive rating in the league at 113.3. In addition, he is shooting 39% from the field, 32% from beyond the arc, and a jaw-dropping 54.6% from the charity stripe. The first two percentages can be chalked up to shot-selection and adjustment to the league. However, 54.6% from the free-throw line is a worrisome percentage for a ball-dominant wing who should be leading his team to greener pastures. The same wing has got negative win shares at -0.4 and a player efficiency rating of 11.0.
Don’t you worry James Dolan, this is not me bashing the franchise. After all, no one wants to be banned from Madison Square Garden.
3. Eric Paschall
Eric Paschall is one of two unexpected names to make this list. Paschall was drafted 41st overall by the Golden State Warriors. Coming into the season, the Warriors were expected to compete for a playoff spot with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and D’Angelo Russell, while Klay Thompson rehabbed his torn ACL. Curry broke his hand four games into the season, and the expectations quickly dwindled. The Warriors decided to lean into the tank, which means they focused on developing their young guys as they always do. The leading beneficiary from this chain of events is Paschall.
Paschall is averaging 31 minutes per game while playing in all Warriors games. He is scoring 16.1 points per game while scooping up 5.0 rebounds per game. His field goal percentage is standing at 49%, even though he is shooting a terrible 28% from beyond the arc. On the other hand, he is averaging about 80% shooting from the free-throw line. Overall, his effective field goal percentage is 52.2%, which is good to see for a rookie. As opposed to others mentioned so far, his PER is at an above-average 15.1, while he contributes with 1.1 win shares.
If one had to guess, Eric Paschall will not be lifting that Rookie of the Year trophy at the award show, but his performance so far earns him a mention on this list.
2. Tyler Herro
The Miami Heat are ranked 9th in offensive rating at 110.5 and 8th in defensive rating allowing only 104.7 points per game. Their current record is 18-6 as they sit in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference. We are a little over a quarter of the way into the season and it looks like everything is going right for Miami. One of the contributors to that winning team is the rookie, Tyler Herro.
Herro is averaging 13.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game as he shoots 43.8% from the field, 37.9% from three-point land, and 83% from the free-throw line. Those numbers jump out, solely due to his efficiency. He is playing 28.7 minutes per game on a winning Heat team led by Jimmy Butler. Apart from his efficiency only, Herro has had some explosive performances that have put the NBA on notice. One example below is his 27 point performance (11 points in OT) to close out the Chicago Bulls. Chicago is one of the worst teams in the NBA, but seeing a rookie go off with that kind of confidence definitely screams star potential.
1. Ja Morant
The one rookie on top of this list is the Memphis Grizzly Ja Morant. Morant exploded on the scene in the NCAA tournament drawing comparisons to Russell Westbrook. That led to him being drafted number two by the Memphis Grizzlies.
He is quick, explosive, crafty, and oh did I mention quick? Memphis is going through a rebuild as they dealt their last piece of the Grit & Grind era in the off-season, so there are no winning aspirations. It is more about building a culture around Morant, and Jaren Jackson Jr.
In his first two months in the league, he is averaging 18.7 points, 6.4 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game. In addition, he is shooting 46.3% from the field, 42.2% from beyond the arc and 78.6% from the free-throw line. Morant has already made game-winning defensive plays, game-winning assists, and threw down some monster jams.
He seems to be everything fans want to see in a Rookie of the Year. He is fun to watch, already has big-time highlights and has great chemistry with his teammates. Morant is doing this, while also shooting efficiently from the field, which is rare to see for high-usage point guards (see: Trae Young). Speaking of Young; Morant is turning the ball over 3.3 times per game, however, there is the benefit of not having winning aspirations for the season.
If Zion’s debut does not come soon enough, then it seems like Morant is running away with this one.