The conventional wisdom heading into the 2019 NBA Draft was a wager on Zion Williamson as the top overall pick was essentially printing money. Expensive money, that is, but about as surefire as it gets nonetheless.
Williamson is universally deemed every bit deserving of his status as the top overall pick. Therefore, it stands to reason he’s also a relatively heavy favorite to be the top rookie performer this coming season.
Sportsbooks a bit more subdued on Zion hype in initial ROY markets
However, in a testament to the unpredictability inherent in playing out 82 regular-season games, oddsmakers are much more tempered in their initial prognostication for Zion’s chances of securing the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year award a year from now.
FanDuel Sportsbook has the former Duke Blue Devil currently installed as a modest -150 favorite to snag ROY. The list of the six next-closest players, which includes a three-way tie, break down as follows:
- Ja Morant (Grizzlies): +400
- RJ Barrett (Knicks): +550
- Darius Garland (Cavaliers): +1400
- Coby White (Bulls): +2000
- Jarrett Culver (Timberwolves): +2000
- DeAndre Hunter (Hawks): +2000
There’s also a highly intriguing name lurking just below the latter trio – the Nuggets’ Michael Porter, Jr., who currently checks in with +3300 odds alongside 2019 draftees Nassir Little (Trail Blazers) and Cam Reddish (Hawks).
Porter essentially took a redshirt year last season after being nabbed by Denver in the 2018 draft. He’s set to make his professional debut at the Vegas Summer League next month and received full medical clearance from back surgery several months ago.
Latest reports have Porter flashing the form that made him a unanimous five-star recruit coming out of high school. With a potential starting opportunity at small forward awaiting him in Denver this coming season, the soon-to-be 21-year-old represents some sneaky value at his current price.
DraftKings Sportsbook is notably putting a more non-conventional spin on their ROY markets. Perhaps in a nod to Williamson’s virtually superhuman reputation, DraftKings is literally running with a “Zion vs. The Field” theme.
The New Orleans Pelicans’ top selection is priced at -167 for ROY honors. The rest of the class is lumped into the proverbial ‘Other’ category, with all other rookies carrying a +137 figure. Given the relatively long odds of so many of the other candidates, the value is unfortunately non-existent at that current, one-size-fits-all price.
Top overall picks historically snag top rookie honors at a decent clip
Naturally, every player, situation and season are unique entities onto themselves. However, a look at how often past No. 1 overall selections have also garnered the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy for the league’s top first-year performer is certainly worthwhile when contemplating a wager.
Not factoring in the about-to-be-revealed 2018-19 season winner, No. 1 overall selections have secured Rookie of the Year on nine occasions over the previous 20 seasons dating back to the 1997-98 campaign:
- Tim Duncan (1997-98)
- Elton Brand (co-ROY) (1999-00)
- LeBron James (2003-04)
- Derrick Rose (2008-09)
- Blake Griffin (2010-11)
- Kyrie Irving (2011-12)
- Andrew Wiggins (2014-15)
- Karl-Anthony Towns (2015-16)
- Ben Simmons (2017-18)
That adds up to a 45% success rate over a fairly large sample. Zion’s expected role on an Anthony Davis-less New Orleans squad should be more than ample so as to afford him the minutes necessary to make his case. Further buttressing his chances are Julius Randle’s recent decision to decline his player option for the coming season.
As a result of the two big men’s departures, a massive amount of usage will exit the Big Easy this offseason. Some of that will naturally be absorbed by the arrival of Davis-related trade pieces Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, as well as veteran holdover Jrue Holiday. But the lucrative power forward spot in the Pels’ offense is Zion’s for the taking. That leaves him poised to go as far as his massive talent can take him.
Morant-Barrett duo likely facing varying degree of opportunity for ROY honors
And finally, what of the second-fiddle duo of Morant and Barrett? The No. 2 and No. 3 selections have seemingly been labeled the “other” hype rookies of this past draft for some time now. Yet, both walk into intriguing scenarios that have some potential to serve as fertile ground for ROY-worthy production.
Morant’s athleticism and the ample opportunities he should have with the ball in his hands could lead to some outstanding first-year numbers. Granted, the Grizzlies’ traditionally plodding pace of play could serve to cap his overall potential, but it’s also likely the team adjusts some to accommodate to its new point guard’s talent. Notably, the departed Mike Conley averaged at least 14.0 shots per contest over his last three Memphis seasons while also averaging at least six assists in seven of his nine campaigns manning the point for the Grizz.
Meanwhile, Barrett also has loads of potential, albeit plenty of it still untapped at just 19 years of age. Depending on how the rest of the offseason shakes out, he may be surrounded by less talent than Morant overall. Then, the fact his two-guard spot figures to offer him less total opportunities with the ball over the course of the season than the former Murray State phenom makes him more of a long shot to compile the caliber of numbers that would vault him into top-level ROY consideration.