The NBA has a deep and talented pool of rookies this season, and the case could be made for any number of them. Today, I will break down the most likely candidates and what they have going for them and what can hold them back.
The most likely candidates are Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks, Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks, DeAndre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns, Marvin Bagley of the Sacramento Kings, Jaren Jackson Jr. of the Memphis Grizzlies, Wendell Carter Jr. of the Chicago Bulls, and Kevin Knox of the New York Knicks.
Let’s start with Luka Doncic. To many, Luka is the best rookie to come out of the NBA draft. Doncic is also the most accomplished player to ever come out of Europe, and he’s only 19. His size and play style perfectly translate to the NBA.
What does Luka has going for him? He is incredibly well-rounded. He should finish the year with a lot of points, rebounds, assists, and three pointers. He most likely will also be rather efficient. Doncic should be one of the most dangerous passers in the NBA straight out of the gate.
Luka is also capable of playing off the ball as well as on the ball. If Dennis Smith Jr. is running the offense, Luka can spot up for threes all night long as a talented shooter. He can also attack a rotating defense as a wonderful drive-and-kick option.
Doncic has a special talent for starting a fast break. Ideally, he will have free reign to grab a rebound, push the ball down the court, and find shooters or lob threats. DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Powell will be waiting for alley oops constantly. Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes, and Wesley Matthews will be waiting for open shots on most fast breaks. Doncic will fill the stat sheet many nights. He also will be on a respectable team. The Mavericks should be at least close to the playoff race for part of the season as a franchise that heavily values winning.
What does Luka not have going for him? The Dallas Mavericks are more talented than the average team a Rookie of the Year plays for. He may not get the needed stats that someone like DeAndre Ayton or Marvin Bagley can on a worse team. There isn’t much going against Doncic this season. He will be one of the stronger bets for Rookie of the Year.
DeAndre Ayton is another frontrunner for this award. Ayton has a lot going for him. He should also fill up the stat sheet. On an awful Phoenix team, he will get plenty of points and rebounds. As a physical giant, he should also get some blocks as well. He will be a double-double machine and hopefully gel with Devin Booker for some highlights.
Ayton will also be in the spotlight for the Suns from day one. He was the first overall pick in the draft and he will get the hype he deserves. He should also be rather efficient as a paint-focused big. He will throw down dunks and lobs, and he will put in elbow jumpers.
However, there are some things standing in Ayton’s way. The Suns will be awful. Last year, they were 30th in both offensive and defensive rating. While wins aren’t terribly important when it comes to the Rookie of the Year, he will be close to the bottom of the barrel.
Ayton also has a lot of work to do to improve on defense. As the anchor of the Suns, he will find himself at the losing end of so many defensive situations. Overall, Ayton is a top candidate for this award. The stats will speak for themselves, even if the winning doesn’t follow it.
Another NBA bottomfeeder, the Atlanta Hawks, feature a solid candidate in Trae Young. This is another case of good stats, bad team. Young will have all the opportunity in the world to make his case. He should have the green light to launch three pointers all year, and his scoring should be in the 15-20 ppg range.
Young is arguably the best passing rookie this year, and he should get tons of assists to John Collins, Alex Len, Taurean Prince, and Kent Bazemore. As such a gifted passer, Young could near 10 assists per night. Another boon for Trae is the green light he will have in the clutch. He might not be efficient, but those highlights will come left and right throughout the year when he is pulling up from 35 feet in close games. This preseason proved to the fans that he will not hold back when games are close in the last minutes.
Young will be horrible defensively, but that’s not going to matter. He can rack up stats and fire away all year, leading to a solid stat line, and a chance at Rookie of the Year honors.
Marvin Bagley on the Sacramento Kings is in a similar situation. He will be the focal point of the big man rotation, as ownership has high hopes for Bagley to shine. As the second overall pick over Luka Doncic, the Kings will look to prove his worth.
The Kings are not good, but Bagley should have immense usage and minutes this season. He will get his buckets and rebound a lot. Efficiency probably will not accompany this effort. Neither will defense.
What he lacks in those departments, he will make up for with double-doubles. A stat line of 20 points and 11 rebounds wouldn’t be a surprise with the lack of talent on this team. He will have the stats to back up a ROTY nod, but positive basketball impact will not define his rookie season.
Jaren Jackson Jr. is probably my best dark horse player to snag this award. The Grizzlies have a respectable roster, and they will be competitive all year with the return of Mike Conley to the team. Jackson is the most modern rookie big man from this draft. The center has the most versatile defensive upside and underrated offensive upside. As a seven-footer, he has the chops to both defend the rim and respectably switch onto perimeter threats.
On the offensive side of the ball, Jackson will have the green light to fire threes off the catch. He also showcased his surprising post play during Summer League and the preseason. He has the multi-tiered talent to positively impact winning games, something very few other candidates have.
JJJ will not have the stat line of Ayton or Bagley, but he should contribute points, rebounds, steals, and blocks while being a positive player on both offense and defense on a team aiming to enter the playoffs. That can not be said for any other rookie in the running for this award. Jaren has one of the highest upsides in this draft, and he will have most likely the highest value added to his team out of this pool of rookies. One thing holding him back could be minutes, as he will be behind Marc Gasol in the center rotation and it is unknown how many power forward minutes he will get.
All in all, JJJ is a sleeper for this award, and has the upside to steal it from the more well-known
Kevin Knox is another sleeper. The New York Knicks are going to be really, really bad. They don’t have Kristaps Porzingis this season. Winning is not only unlikely, but also not their objective. Ownership has maintained the idea of looking forward to the draft while rehabilitating Porzingis.
In the meantime, Knox will have a high-usage rookie season for New York. Knox is one of the most fitting draftees in the modern NBA as an incredibly athletic 6’9” forward with range and ball-handling ability. The wing rotation of New York is nothing special, so Knox will command plenty of minutes at both small forward and power forward.
With this time as the forward of the future, Knox will be aiming to score. His preseason efforts were inspiring. He’s going to get buckets. He also shouldn’t have trouble getting a fair share of rebounds and assists.
The biggest question mark for Knox is the three point shooting. If the three can be a weapon for him, then he should have a fantastic stat line on pretty good efficiency. If not, then he might have some terrible shooting splits on one of the worst teams in the NBA. Knox will have the chance to prove his ROTY candidacy, but it is up to him to make the most out of this chance by being well-rounded offensively.
One last dark horse candidate is Wendell Carter Jr. The Chicago Bulls smartly took him with the seventh pick in the draft, and he will officially be the starting center while Lauri Markkanen is injured.
During this time with Markkanen out, Carter Jr. can cement his spot as the starting center. Like Jaren Jackson Jr., Wendell Carter has a versatile and defensive nature to his upside. He will protect the rim and tally up blocks. He also is a good rebounder, and he should average double digit points on this team as long as he averages around 30 minutes per night.
The Bulls should be mildly competitive in the weak Eastern Conference. Whether they make the playoffs remains to be seen, but the Bulls should be better than some of these other teams in question, and Carter could be a nice part of that. He has the defensive ability to be a two-way player, and should provide points, rebounds, assists, and blocks.
If Carter gets healthy minutes, he can shine on the Bulls and have a deep stat line on a competitive team. If Markkanen returns, and Robin Lopez takes the center role from Carter, then Rookie of the Year will be a long shot for Wendell Carter Jr.
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