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.
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