With Zion Williamson still out, the race for Rookie of the Year is much more wide open than it was at the end of the draft. Here’s the case for Memphis Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant.
When the 2019 NBA draft ended, many of the analysts were saying that the Rookie of the Year award was New Orleans Pelicans’ star Zion Williamson‘s award to lose. However, before the start f the season, Williamson went down with a critical injury, and has yet to make his NBA regular season debut.
Because of this, many now see the race for the award as being almost wide open. While there are many rookies who could make some very persuasive arguments towards their claim to the award (Kendrick Nunn, Jarrett Culver, and RJ Barrett all come to mind), but one player who many people aren’t talking about is Jarrett Culver.
The Memphis Grizzlies rookie has been playing lights out through eight games of the season, averaging 18.9 points, 5.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game, all while shooting a split of 49/46/75.
Out of all of the stats, Morant leads this rookie crop in points, assists, and turnovers per game, as well as being 12th in rebounds per game (Brandon Clarke is first), and 4th in steals per game.
Through the earlier part of this season, Morant has shown himself to be a future-elite point guard, who could easily be the best player on a playoff team, and possibly even the best player on a championship team.
The main concern in regards to this race is how much attention Zion Williamson is going to draw upon his return. It could be argued that the last two Rookie of the Year winners didn’t have the best season, but rather, they had the most spotlight.
Ben Simmons was coming back from a season-ending injury that kept him out the entirety of his first season, and his size and playing style at the position he’s in drew a lot of eyes off of Donovan Mitchell, who had an outstanding rookie campaign.
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Last season, Luka Doncic was a fairly unheralded international player, who only die-hard basketball minds had pegged for Rookie of the Year. Despite Doncic coming out and arguably out playing anybody’s expectations, it could be argued that Trae Young had a better second half of his rookie season than Doncic. Still, Luka ended up with the award.
If Zion Williamson comes back, has a few nights were he drops 30 or 40 points, and then mellows out a little, the media attention that would grab could be enough to sway the votes his direction, even if he has a worse rookie career.
Still, the best thing that Morant could do to improve his shot at the title would simply be to play his game. If he continues to produce at the rate that he has been in these first eight games, even if the Grizzlies have themselves gone 2-6, then people will be forced to look at him as a serious contender, and possibly, as the man who could upset Zion’s reign atop the rookie leaderboard.
A Rookie of the Year award would be a nice bright spot in a season that doesn’t look to hold too many for the Grizzlies. As a team aiming for another top lottery pick, having something that could draw potential free agents to the organization would be a huge plus.