Most early award predictions carry familiar names and faces. However, predicting Rookie of the Year candidacy is much more difficult based on many variables and factors. Because these players are drafted very young, it’s difficult to forecast a player’s output on any given team. Essentially, every rookie is a free agent coming into a new team and a new system, hoping to make an impact. But hoping can only get you so far in the NBA. Players who’ve previously been stars and played entire games from elementary school to college have to deal with a limited role. Some can take the emotional and physical toll immediately, while it takes others more time to acclimate to the NBA.
That’s what makes forecasting for Rookie of the Year so difficult. The past two seasons, the number one overall pick has taken home the award. But prior to that, it hasn’t been as cut and dried. Michael Carter-Williams won the award as the 11th pick in the 2013-2014 campaign, while Damian Lillard, the sixth overall pick, won it in 2012-2013. In fact, over the past ten seasons only five Rookie of the Year recipients have also been the number one pick.
Rookie of the Year is not like the MVP, where you’re looking for a rookie who’s on a winning team. In fact, in the past 10 seasons no rookie of the year has led their team to a winning record in their first season. Needless to say, winning isn’t a factor when it comes to winning the award.
So what are the common denominators that add up to winning the award? Well, statistics show us that every recipient since Mike Miller (2000-2001) has played over 30 minutes per game. Along with that, no rookie of the year has averaged single digits in points, and for the past 14 seasons we haven’t seen anyone who averaged fewer than 15 points per game win the award.
As much as we’d think injuries would be a disqualifier from the award, they haven’t been. Two recent examples are Kyrie Irving and Brandon Roy: They only played 51 and 57 games respectively, yet still managed to win the award. We’ve seen only three players in the past 13 seasons play all 82 games.
Coming into this season, there are several legitimate candidates for the award. We’ve listed seven players that we think could win Rookie of the Year based on some of the facts listed above.
- Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers
Embiid is someone who probably wouldn’t be on this list three weeks ago. But due to Ben Simmons’ recent foot injury and Embiid’s strong preseason performances, he is definitely in the mix. Embiid, who was injured all of last season, looks revitalized and more mobile than anticipated. The third overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Embiid has been through two season-ending injuries and has never played in a regular season game, so while he’s older than just about every other candidate, he’s still technically eligible for the award.
The seven-foot center has been working out all summer and it has shown in preseason. Although he’s on a minutes restriction for good reason, he’s still been impressive. Most recently, he posted a double-double against the Washington Wizards in only 14 minutes.
It’s going to be hard for people to see him as a Rookie of the Year candidate when they’ve only seen him play five preseason games, but Embiid has a ton of potential on a team that needs him. While the front court has a backlog of talent, Embiid is clearly one of the best two-way centers they have. If the team can increase his minutes to over 25 per game and Embiid can manage to stay healthy, he can seriously challenge for the crown.
- Buddy Hield – New Orleans Pelicans
Hield is subject to a lot of criticism. His Summer League play was sub-par and his age begs the question: how much more can he develop and grow? At 22 years old, he’s older than a lot of players drafted in the 2013 and 2014’s draft classes.
The shooting guard out of Oklahoma was one of the most efficient scorers in NCAA history, but it took him 4 years to really develop into the talent he became. It’s good to see the progressive development year over year (7.8 points his freshman year to 25 points his senior year), but his ceiling is probably lower than other top-end players selected early in this year’s draft because of his age.
The great thing about Hield is the team he went to. New Orleans desperately needed shooting and they got it with Hield.
Hield’s ability to create his own shot off the dribble isn’t amazing, but his catch-and-shoot ability can be. It’s a good thing for New Orleans, because they already have multiple players that need the ball in their hands. Hield seems to work well in Gentry’s system and he should receive a steady number of minutes. As long as he shows progression throughout the year and receives the minutes we expect, it’s hard to believe he wont be in contention for Rookie of the Year.
- Brandon Ingram
New Lakers coach Luke Walton has already confirmed that Ingram won’t be starting. The former Duke standout has tons of potential, but many see him as an extreme work in progress. Of course, Ingram could find himself starting sooner rather than later if he shows that he can produce even with the learning curve ahead. But starting or not, he’s bound to see a lot of time. With his size and shooting ability, don’t be surprised to see him get into the race.
After playing 28 minutes in his most recent preseason game, it’s apparent Ingram still has a lot of growing to do. He had seven points, two assists, and two rebounds in that game, but has yet to get into double figures in any statistical category throughout preseason. Given the amount of time he’s played, his numbers are a little underwhelming. But we should have confidence that he’ll improve game by game.
The early comparisons to Kevin Durant is a reach to say the least. No one should expect Ingram to average 20 points, 2.4 assists, and 4.4 rebounds like Durant in his rookie year. But it wouldn’t be far-fetched to see Ingram develop quickly and make significant growth as a double-digit scorer for the Lakers.
- Jamal Murray – Denver Nuggets
Murray, the 6’4 shooting guard out of Kentucky, is bound to get an opportunity with the Nuggets. With fellow starting shooting guard Gary Harris out with a groin injury, we may see Murray get more minutes early on.
In preseason, Murray is averaging 11.3 points on 41 percent shooting. With the ability to create shots off the dribble and rebound efficiently, he’ll be a prime candidate to win Rookie of the Year.
While Will Barton and fellow rookie Malik Beasley may take minutes from Murray, he still seems in line for a hefty workload. At only 19, Murray still has loads of potential to go along with a primary scorer’s skill set.
Remember, Murray averaged 20 points and five rebounds per game in college on a team that’s produced the most NBA talent in the country over the past 10 seasons. If he can get a hold of a starting role while playing close to 30 minutes a game, put Murray up there as a contender for the award.
- Kris Dunn – Minnesota Timberwolves
Dunn lit up the Summer League with 24 points per game on 54 percent shooting. Even though it was Summer League, the efficiency and ability were clearly there.
However, preseason has certainly changed that mentality for Dunn. Averaging 24 minutes in preseason, you would’ve thought Dunn’s output would be better than 4.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 18.5 percent from the field and with Rubio on the roster, some fear Dunn may not get much playing time early on.
Even if he doesn’t start, Dunn should still ultimately average about 24 minutes a night. Currently, Rubio may be the known commodity and a safer bet. But if Dunn can regain some of his confidence and return to a more efficient game, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him starting eventually.
The other added element is that Rubio has been subject to many trade rumors. If Rubio were to be traded, Dunn would immediately see an increase in minutes.
So while Dunn isn’t a surefire ROY candidate, it’s hard to see him outside of contention because of his situation. He’s got a coach with a great reputation in Tom Thibodeau, and a team that’s got a lot of young talent. Both are extremely hard to come by when you’re a high lottery pick.
- Ben Simmons – Philadelphia 76ers
This should have an asterisk next to him because of his most recent injury. Simmons won’t be able to compete in an NBA game for at least the next three months. The number one overall pick and consensus pick for rookie of the year suffered a significant foot injury that will likely keep him sidelined for the majority of the season.
If he can beat the odds in his rehab, Simmons could likely make an immediate impact for the 76ers. His physical ability, vision, and size are something very few players possess. While he may not be an efficient scorer, he still has the makings of an extremely unique NBA talent.
- Thon Maker – Milwaukee Bucks
Maker came into the draft with so many question marks. From his true age to his raw ability, there were many “red flags.” Even so, the Bucks felt confident enough to take him with the No. 10 pick in this year’s draft. Boasting the highest no-step vertical (32″) of any player over 6’11 in NBA draft history, Maker clearly has tremendous potential.
In Summer League, Maker made opposing teams feel guilty for not putting him on their draft boards. He averaged 14.6 points and 9.6 rebounds in Summer League, becoming a standout due to his size and production.
This preseason, though, it’s been a clear learning curve for him. Maker has averaged 5.5 points and three rebounds per outing in 19.5 minutes a night. While this isn’t great, it isn’t bad either. The 19-year old Maker has tons of potential and room to grow in Milwaukee, but he’ll need to work through his mistakes and continue to be given opportunities to succeed.
Maker can become a double-double machine on the Bucks, but Milwaukee will need to let him play through mistakes in order to keep him confident. With Greg Monroe on the outside looking in and Jabari Parker, Miles Plumlee, and John Henson in the frontcourt, it won’t be easy for Maker to make an impact. But if he can, we may see him breakout and turn into the Rookie of the Year.
The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft
College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.
Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.
It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.
However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.
A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.
Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.
There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.
This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.
But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.
With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.
Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.
Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.
But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.
College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.
NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?
Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.
The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.
But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.
The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.
Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.
So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.
Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up
The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.
The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.
Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.
Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.
Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.
Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.
NBA Daily: Hope Not Lost for Mavs
The Dallas Mavericks were the lottery’s biggest losers, but VP of basketball operations Michael Finley still believes the team will land an elite talent.
Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the draft process. In 2018, he’s an executive for the third-worst team in the league that somehow slipped to the fifth overall pick in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, but in 1995 he was a kid from the University of Wisconsin hoping to get drafted.
Finley was a first-round pick that summer, ironically selected by the Phoenix Suns, who won the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft earlier this week, but he says he doesn’t even remember the lottery. The lottery wasn’t the event then that it has since become.
“The lottery wasn’t this big when I was in the draft,” Finley told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t even remember how the lottery process played out when I was coming out of college. It’s grown so much, but the league has grown. It’s good for fans, and it’s good for people to get excited about this process.”
Of course, the irony in getting excited about a draft pick isn’t lost on him.
“It’s kind of weird that [fans] are celebrating the losing process, isn’t it?”
Not surprisingly, Finley wasn’t especially thrilled to see his team fail to reap the rewards of a Dallas Mavericks season that was stepped in that losing process. The lottery odds will change next year, and Finley believes that’s a good thing.
“It’s a good thing to change the system a little,” he says. “It will help keep the integrity of the game intact, especially toward the end of the year. It also will be even more suspenseful than these lottery events have been in the past.”
That’s next year, though. This year, the Mavericks are tasked with finding an elite player at a pick lower than they expected. Finley’s trying to look at things optimistically.
“It could have been sixth,” he said. “It’s still in the top five, and going on what we did this season, we don’t want to be in this position next year, so hopefully the guy we pick at #5 will get us out of the lottery and back into the playoffs.”
In fact, having that selection doesn’t preclude the team from finding a star, especially in a draft this loaded. Most agree that Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton are the prizes of the draft, but there are other guys available with All-Star potential. Marvin Bagley, Trae Young, Michael Porter, Jr., and Mo Bamba all have incredibly high ceilings. The Mavs may yet do something meaningful with that selection.
“It’s a strong draft, and a lot of the draft is going to go with what player fits what team in a particular system. If you’re lucky enough to get that perfect combination, the players that are in this draft are really good and have the capability of helping a team right away.”
That’s what Finley and the rest of the Mavericks’ organization hopes will happen in 2018-2019.