Is Zion Williamson a Lock to Win NBA Rookie of the Year?
The 2019 NBA Draft has come and gone. In the least surprising news ever, Duke’s Zion Williamson went No. 1 overall to the New Orleans Pelicans. Zion is arguably the best NBA prospect since LeBron James came out of high school in 2003, so there is no shortage of fanfare surrounding the newest member of the Pelicans.
As you may expect, oddsmakers think highly of him, too. MyBookie has released early odds for which rookie will take home Rookie of the Year honors next season, and Williamson is leading the pack as a heavy -250 favorite. The full odds are as follows:
- Zion Williamson (Pelicans) -250
- Ja Morant (Grizzlies) +500
- R.J. Barrett (Knicks) +600
- Darius Garland (Cavaliers) +1200
- DeAndre Hunter (Hawks) +1800
- Jarrett Culver (Timberwolves) +2500
- Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets) +3000
- Cam Reddish (Hawks) +3500
- Coby White (Bulls) +3500
- Jaxson Hayes (Pelicans) +3500
- Rui Hachimura (Wizards) +4000
- Sekou Doumbouya (Pistons) +4000
- Nassir Little (Trail Blazers) +5000
- P.J. Washington (Hornets) +5000
- Bruno Fernando (Hawks) +6000
- Bol Bol (Nuggets) +8500
There are other players listed, and there’s always a chance someone comes out of nowhere to win this award next season. Let’s not forget that Malcolm Brogdon, the 36th overall pick in the 2016 draft, won Rookie of the Year a couple of years ago for the Bucks.
That said, No. 1 picks have a stellar track record when it comes to taking home the hardware. Ben Simmons, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin, and Derrick Rose are all top overall picks that have won the award in the last 11 years. Clearly, Zion Williamson has the inside track.
That said, is there potential value in betting on the upset?
Morant or Barrett?
Many draft analysts were bearish on this draft class in general, with most saying that it was essentially a “three-player draft.” After Williamson, Murray State’s Ja Morant and Zion’s Duke teammate, R.J. Barrett, were heavily regarded as the next best prospects. Naturally, Morant went second overall to the Grizzlies, while Barrett went third to New York.
The biggest key when it comes to winning NBA Rookie of the Year is opportunity, and both Morant and Barrett should get plenty of playing time. Morant figures to begin the year as the Grizzlies’ starting point guard after the team traded franchise cornerstone Mike Conley to the Jazz earlier this week. Morant’s path to playing time was a lot more murky when Conley was still on the roster, so the trade is obviously good for Ja’s ROY prospects.
Barrett is in a more unique situation with the Knicks. David Fizdale ran an unpredictable rotation during his first season with the Knicks, and young players saw inconsistent playing time as a result. Mitchell Robinson, for example, quickly emerged as one of the more promising rookies in last year’s class, but time and time again, he would lose minutes in the latter stages of the season at the hands of DeAndre Jordan. Fizdale had no real reason to play Jordan over Robinson, but he did it anyway.
Morant put up monster numbers last season, as he averaged 24.5 points, 10 assists, and nearly six rebounds per game as a sophomore for the Racers. Barrett put up similar numbers for the Blue Devils, averaging 22.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists for a stacked Duke squad.
I prefer Morant to Barrett just because there are fewer mouths to feed in Memphis. Morant also has the advantage of not playing for Fizdale, who has a knack for yanking his player rotations all over the place. If you don’t want to take the no-upside bet on Williamson, take Morant at +500 over Barrett at +600.
The Nuggets took a major chance with their lottery pick last year by selecting Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. Porter was the top-rated recruit in the country coming out of high school the year prior, but he was forced to miss his entire freshman campaign after undergoing a back procedure. The injury wound up keeping Porter out all of last season, too, but he’s expected to make his NBA debut this coming fall.
Denver took another chance on an injury risk by selecting Oregon center Bol Bol in the second round of this year’s draft. The son of former Bullets big man Manute Bol was also a highly-rated high school prospect, but he suffered a foot injury early last season as a freshman for the Ducks. Bol didn’t suit up again for Oregon after sustaining the injury in December.
Bol was expected by some to be a lottery pick, but question marks around the foot issue caused him to drop to the second round. He says his foot is “100% healed” from the stress fracture he suffered last year, but time will tell. While Bol may eventually prove to be a nice player, his chances of contributing much next season are incredibly slim. The Nuggets already have a stacked frontcourt headlined by Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee. If Bol gets any minutes, it will likely come during garbage time of blowouts.
However, Porter makes for a very alluring option at +3000. If he has fully recovered from his back injury, he could prove to be a very useful cog on what is already a deep team. We saw Ben Simmons win this award a year after missing what was his true rookie season with a foot injury, so it’s not unprecedented to see a player win Rookie of the Year a year removed from their draft.
Porter is an excellent shooter for a player that stands 6’10”, and he has the skills to play any position from point guard to power forward. Porter has drawn favorable comparisons to players like Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant, so there’s certainly plenty of potential here.
He is obviously an unproven commodity at this level, but that just means he’ll fly under the radar from a betting perspective. I think you can do far worse than taking a stab at Porter given the favorable +3000 odds. He may very well prove to be Zion’s biggest challenger once it’s all said and done.
Betting on Williamson would be fun if it wouldn’t cost you $250 just to win $100 back. While I like the odds on Morant (+500) and Porter (+3000), is anyone else worth a mention?
Jarrett Culver at +2500 is somewhat interesting. The Texas Tech product was drafted by the Timberwolves, which could be problematic. Minnesota already has Karl-Anthony Towns leading the way offensively, while Andrew Wiggins figures to take plenty of the shots Towns doesn’t. There isn’t a whole lot left offensively for anybody else. Culver being pretty far down the pecking order won’t do his numbers any favors, so I can’t advocate for the former Red Raider as anything but a low-dollar flier.
Sekou Doumbouya of the Pistons is listed at +4000. We don’t often see international players come to the NBA and dominate right away, but Doumbouya is a high-upside youngster. He is expected to take a couple of years to truly develop, though, which obviously hurts his chances of putting up the requisite stats right away.
The Bulls’ Coby White (+3500) makes some sense, though he also will be playing for a team that features Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen as high-usage options running the offense. Barring a trade, White will also likely begin the year as Chicago’s backup point guard behind Kris Dunn, so the lack of guaranteed playing time is definitely a concern.
Darius Garland is hardly a household name, but the Cavs loved him enough to make him the fifth overall selection on Thursday night. Garland is another unknown after playing just five games for Vanderbilt last season before getting hurt, but he was a five-star recruit coming out of high school in Texas last year. He’s 6’3” with excellent athleticism, and he also may be the best shooter in the class.
Garland figures to get ample playing time for a rebuilding Cavaliers team. While he may be a bit redundant next to last year’s lottery pick, Collin Sexton, the sky is the limit for Garland. You can definitely do worse than Garland given his attractive +1200 odds.
Obviously, Williamson is the best bet to win Rookie of the Year. All eyes will be on New Orleans this year as he joins a number of young teammates with the Pelicans, and it’s hard to imagine he won’t put up big numbers on a team lacking another star. He’s going to be the guy from day one. The problem is that you’re getting almost no value in betting on him at -250.
If you want to take a chance, I would do it with Porter first at +3000. I think those odds will come down as the season progresses, assuming he shows his real ability early in the year. Getting him at +3000 now is a steal. After that, I would go with Morant (+500) and Garland (+1200). Barrett is a pretty distant fifth for me at +600, especially considering the uncertainty that always seems to be surrounding the New York Knicks.
Zion is no lock, but it’s hard to bet against him, all things considered. However, there is definitely value to consider in the Rookie of the Year field ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.
- Zion Williamson -250
- Michael Porter Jr. +3000
- Ja Morant +500
- Darius Garland +1200
- R.J. Barrett +600