- Zion Williamson and Ja Morant are the only two names left on the Rookie of the Year board
- Williamson’s odds are shortening with every update, while Morant holds down pole position at -250
- Will the Western Conference playoff race factor into which of the two sensations wins Rookie of the Year?
Zion Williamson’s Rookie of the Year odds are now just +170. The first overall pick is chasing down Ja Morant, and an award that looked settled a month or so ago is suddenly a topic of debate once again.
The New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies are in the midst of an intense battle for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The top two picks in the 2019 NBA Draft are fighting on two fronts down the stretch.
2019-20 NBA Rookie of the Year Odds
Odds taken Feb. 25th
Williamson continues to break rookie records. He has scored 20 or more points in his last eight games, and the Milwaukee Bucks’ defense is the only one that has shown any signs of troubling him. Led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate and reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks held Zion to just 5-for-19 from the field (though he racked up 14 free-throw attempts).
New Orleans is 7-5 in games Williamson has played. His net rating is a preposterous 13.6, only one non-Buck with significant minutes has a better net rating (Paul Millsap).
The Pelicans have one of the easiest schedules in the league. With three back-to-backs remaining, though, it’s expected that Williamson will miss some more games. If voters are seriously considering him for Rookie of the Year at the moment, it seems unlikely that sitting out a couple of games will make too much difference.
Zion is a blocking machine! 🚫💪
The Pelicans face the Lakers at 10pm ET on TNT! pic.twitter.com/uSvGis8V3W
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 25, 2020
The former Duke center has been an impossible matchup. He’s too mobile for traditional centers and way too strong for wings. He’s been a menace on the offensive glass, grabbing 4.5 offensive boards per 36 minutes. Free-throw shooting has been a weakness – he’s at just over 60% – but he’s getting to the line at will, averaging 10 free throw attempts per 36 minutes.
There are some potentially testing matchups remaining. The Lakers, Clippers and Sixers have players who could emulate what Antetokounmpo did in Milwaukee (Zion still scored 21 in that game).
Memphis have lost four of their last five, opening the door for the Portland Trail Blazers and Pelicans. Jaren Jackson Jr. is out for the ‘foreseeable future’ with a quad injury, and while he hasn’t been posting enormous numbers, Jackson is a vital part of the Grizzlies’ offense. His floor spacing has been invaluable to Ja Morant.
Jackson has been deadly from deep, shooting just under 40% from beyond the arc. His game is more expansive than that, however, and he’s become a versatile option for the Grizzlies.
Memphis F Jaren Jackson Jr., has a sprained knee and will be re-evaluated in two weeks, team says.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 23, 2020
Jackson is used as the roll man on occasion, and it’s been an efficient play for Memphis. The 1.25 points per possession mark is better than Antony Davis in the same situation, albeit on slightly fewer attempts.
Tankathon lists the Grizzlies as having the hardest remaining schedule. They have lost five of their last nine, starting with the blowout loss to the Pels. Their offensive rating over that span is the third-worst in the NBA.
Morant has hit just four threes in his last 14 games. Nearly 13% of his points have come from three-point land for the season, but that number has dropped to under 8% on this nine-game run. His assist rate has dropped from 32% on the season to 27.5%.
The poor run began before Jackson’s injury. His absence (they are 0-3 in games he’s sat out this season) is going to hurt and puts more pressure on Morant offensively.
Playoffs Could Determine Winner
Team success is going to play a huge part in who voters back. Given how out of it the Pelicans were, making the postseason would give Williamson a great chance of winning the award. Joel Embiid got a lot of Rookie of the Year votes despite playing 32 games – at this current standard, Williamson still has a chance despite not making his debut until January 22nd.
There’s a chance, depending on Damian Lillard’s health, that neither the Grizz nor the Pelicans make the playoffs. In that case, the award would most likely go to Morant.
If the Pels, who have won five of their last six, can keep up this level, they are going to be right in the mix despite being three back in the loss column at the moment. New Orleans own the fourth-best net rating in the NBA over the last 10 games.
The Pelicans are suddenly in a good position to take the eight seed. Jackson’s injury will makes it more difficult for the Grizz. The Rookie of the Year race is closer than the odds suggest: Williamson is the man to back.
Pick: Zion Williamson (+170)
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