Zion Williamson was also the clear favorite to win Rookie of the Year until a torn right meniscus led to his missing the first 45 games of the season. This allowed second overall pick, Ja Morant to step into the spotlight and shock us all. Now, with the season postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19, basketball fans and analysts are left with one question, Zion or Ja?
After averaging 23 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals, and shooting 68% from the field in his freshman year at Duke, Zion Williamson became the first overall pick of the 2019 NBA draft . He is seen as a powerful forward but people often forget about his skill set that comes with it. He’s got it all from offence to defense and is one of the most versatile players the NBA has seen. At 285 pounds, there’s no doubt that he’s physically capable, but he’ll surprise you with his agility and balance. This allowing him to potentially be one of the most dominant and unguardable players to ever play the sport, and was projected to be the Rookie of the Year.
But then disaster struck. “Zion Williamson will undergo arthroscopic surgery, will not return for 6-8 weeks, (Williamson) is ruled out of preseason finale” the NBA posted on October 18th, potentially the worst words for a Pelicans fan to hear. Most basketball experts ruled Williamson out for the whole year. Forbes immediately posted, considering him a “potential bust”. This led to the whole world to turn their heads to Morant.
The youngster from Murray State University had something to prove, and he certainly showed up. Averaging 25 points and 10 assists throughout his sophomore year in College basketball, he had to show fans that he was being underestimated. Heading into NBA preseason, he caught the eye on many with his outstanding athleticism and impressive playmaking ability. Sure enough, he came out averaging 18 points and 7 assists through his first 54 games in the NBA, leading the Memphis Grizzlies to a playoff spot.
Williamson returned from injury averaging potential All Star statistics. In spite of his phenomenal return in his first handful of games back, the New Orleans Pelicans are still 9th in the Western Conference, 3 games behind the 8th seed, the Memphis Grizzlies.
Once the season has returned, we are left with the race for Rookie of the Year and that last playoff spot, and they’re closely related.
Making the playoffs can differentiate who wins Rookie of the Year. The award is given to the Rookie who has the best overall performance throughout the regular season, but making the playoffs is always helpful. The award is not only given to the player with the better statline, leadership and the ability to carry a team on your shoulders throughout the regular season will be huge factors.
Nearing the 41 game mark, basketball analyst, Stephen A Smith, said “If [Williamson] manages to lead the New Orleans Pelicans to a playoff spot averaging big numbers, he still has a good chance at beating [Morant] in the race for Rookie of the Year”.
Although names such as Kendrick Nunn, Eric Paschall and RJ Barrett have also come up in discussions about possible Rookie of the Year, the official betting odds on SBD show those players as long shots. Meanwhile, Williamson is paying out 3 to 1 and Morant is paying out 1 to 3.
Excluding his initial injury, there’s no doubt that Williamson has kicked off his NBA career with a picture perfect entrance into the regular season. In fact, at this pace he will average the highest PPG as a rookie since 1985, when Michael Jordan averaged 28.2 PPG. This being said, he has still only taken part in 15 games. Ja Morant’s stat line isn’t quite as impressive, but he has only missed 5 regular season games so far.
All in all, it’s a tight race without a doubt. Both Williamson and Morant play key roles on their respective teams and will play a big part on whether or not their teams make the playoffs.
The question then becomes, what if neither team or both teams make the playoffs? Not to mention whether this season will even continue. Assuming the NBA has only been postponed, it ultimately comes down to the rookies performances in the last quarter of the season heading into the postseason. It’s very hard to predict as Williamson has shown no signs of slowing down and neither has Morant.
Initially many thought Williamson’s chances at Rookie of the Year were going to be easy as a free throw! Turns out, Williamson only shoots 64% from the line.
Cover Image: Keenan Hairston / Wikimedia