Promising young rookies enter the NBA every season, but few come with the sort of fanfare that Zion Williamson has. The Duke forward is the kind of prospect who comes along once every few years, following in the footsteps of former No. 1 overall picks like LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Given the hype surrounding him – and the expectations facing him – it’s no surprise that Williamson will enter the 2019/20 season as the overwhelming favorite to win this year’s Rookie of the Year award. The 19-year-old is in position to put up numbers immediately on a Pelicans team that has playoff aspirations, with no veterans ahead of him on the depth chart at the power forward spot.
Williamson’s Rookie of the Year chances are buoyed by the fact that 2019’s draft class wasn’t considered particularly strong. While plenty of this year’s draftees should turn into successful pros, the ’19 class lacks the star power that other recent rookie classes have had. It would be a surprise if three NBA newcomers have the type of seasons that last year’s Rookie of the Year finalists – Luka Doncic, Trae Young, and Deandre Ayton – did.
Still, there are players who will push Williamson for Rookie of the Year honors. Sports betting site Bovada.lv lists the Pelicans’ forward as a -130 favorite (you’d have to risk $130 to win $100), with fellow top-three picks Ja Morant (+350; risk $100 to win $350) and RJ Barrett (+550) viewed as the primary challengers. Darius Garland (+1800) and Coby White (+1800) are among the players in the next tier of Rookie of the Year contenders, along with 2018 draftee Michael Porter Jr. (+1600).
With Mike Conley no longer a member of the Grizzlies, Morant should get a chance to take the reins and assume control of the rebuilding franchise right away, and while he may experience some growing pains, he’ll have the opportunity to have some big games. Developing Barrett will be a priority for the rebuilding Knicks too, despite the fact that the team invested heavily in veteran forwards in free agency.
Porter is an intriguing dark horse candidate — like past ROY winners Ben Simmons and Blake Griffin, he’ll have the advantage of having spent a year with an NBA team already, perhaps giving him a leg up on a competition. But it will be difficult for him to carve out a significant role on a deep, talented Nuggets roster. That shouldn’t be a problem for Garland, as the Cavaliers seem likely to jettison some of their veteran talent during the season to clear even more minutes for their youngsters.
Williamson may be the frontrunner, but he’ll have to produce and – perhaps more importantly – stay healthy in order to take home the hardware next spring. Davis, arguably the last No. 1 pick to enter the NBA with this sort of hype, took a year to develop into the impact player many were expecting out of Kentucky. Though he has a streak of six consecutive 20/10 seasons now, AD averaged a modest 13.5 PPG and 8.2 RPG in his rookie year in 2012/13, losing out to Damian Lillard in the Rookie of the Year vote.
What do you think? If you were placing a bet on the 2019/20 Rookie of the Year winner, would you pick Williamson or the field? Which player do you think will be the biggest threat to Zion in this year’s ROY race?
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