Now that the NBA has had its annual draft, we have a much clearer picture of the incoming rookie class. Granted, some players could still be traded, and there are some un-drafted free agents who will wind up on teams. But we still have a pretty good idea as to which new players are on which teams. And this in turn gives us a much better feel for who in the class may wind up winning Rookie of the Year honors at the end of the upcoming season.
Here’s how we’d break it down.
Zion Williamson – Zion Williamson is going to be a runaway favorite to win this award, given that he’s the most heralded rookie since LeBron James. He’ll have a chance to take ownership of the New Orleans Pelicans from day one, and we know from his lone season at Duke how quickly and completely he can fill up a stat sheet. Williamson also has the advantage of having the media thoroughly in his corner (which can help in establishing early rookie narratives). If anyone didn’t love him already, his display of emotion on draft night pretty much won over any holdouts.
RJ Barrett ̵
Ja Morant – We noted Williamson’s undeniable favorite status, but the actual Rookie of the Year odds indicate that Morant may have the second-best chance. A dynamic playmaker with easy scoring ability, Morant is going to be the lead guard in Memphis after the Grizzlies complete a trade sending veteran Mike Conley to Utah. Morant won’t quite own his team the way Williamson and Barrett will from day one, given the presence of second-year up-and-comer Jaren Jackson Jr. But he’s still going to be a highlight reel in motion, and may well put up massive numbers.
Right Guy, Right Place
Coby White – North Carolina’s Coby White was the consensus third-best point guard in the draft after Morant and Darius Garland (who’s heading to Cleveland). But he’s got all the tools to be a productive NBA player, and his fit in Chicago is just about perfect. Granted the Bulls will have to figure out what to do with defensive-minded point guard Kris Dunn, but if White gets to run the offense he’s going to have some huge games.
PJ Washington – A lot of analysts seem lukewarm on PJ Washington’s NBA prospects, and we wouldn’t necessarily place him among the top players in this draft. But the Kentucky big man is certainly a capable player, and he’s landed on a Hornets team in need of absolutely everything. If he’s a hit, unlike the team’s last several lottery picks, he might generate a ton of production and earn Rookie of the Year consideration essentially by default.
Tyler Herro – All of a sudden the Miami Heat – not long ago recognized as one of the best-run organizations in the league – look like a bit of a mess. The team is short on picks, unable to contend with its current roster, and seemingly low on ideas for improvement. As with the Hornets though, this should give Herro a chance to shine. Washington’s Kentucky teammate is a deadly shooter who may just go off in the right NBA offense – and the Heat could use a scorer.
The Long Shots
Jordan Poole – Jordan Poole is a sharpshooter out of Michigan who was drafted a bit earlier than some expected, and will be suiting up for the Golden State Warriors. On the surface the idea of the Warriors having a Rookie of the Year contender is ludicrous. But with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson both in free agency and both facing potentially season-ending injuries anyway, the Warriors are actually in need of shooters. If Poole can step into Thompson’s shoes even a little bit, he might just start turning heads.
Bol Bol – Bol Bol was tabbed as the draft’s most divisive player before it even started, and sure enough he wound up being the night’s big controversy. Despite being projected in the lottery by some analysts, the Oregon freshman fell to the middle of the second round before he was selected by Denver. There are reasons he fell – notably injury risk and concerns about his effort – but Bol has lottery talent. We wouldn’t bet on it, but he might just shock the world.
Talen Horton-Tucker – A shooting guard out of Iowa State, Horton-Tucker is making this list for one simple reason: he’s one of the Lakers’ only players. Granted LA is sure to shake things up in the coming months, but with the amount of money the team has tied up in its stars, some rookies and traditional bench players are going to be relied upon for big roles. Horton-Tucker is one such player. So, while he’s a Rookie of the Year long shot, there’s definitely a path to his having surprising impact for a second round rookie.