Memphis Grizzlies’ guard Ja Morant has been the front runner for the Rookie of the Year award for a few months now, but with the return of Zion Williamson, is his spot in danger now?
The NBA releases their KIA Rookie Ladder on the official NBA website every Thursday, and for the last few weeks, Memphis Guard Ja Morant has been at the top.
However, and you could be forgiven for missing this as I don’t think there was really any coverage on it, Zion Williamson made his NBA debut on Wednesday. The very next day, the NBA released their rookie ladder, and Zion Williamson was the first name mentioned in that article, despite not even landing in the top five.
Now, give the league their fair share of due, they didn’t rank Zion. All the spots on the ladder (which only ranks the top five) were taken by rookies who’ve been playing all season, which is the right thing to do, instead of getting swept up in Zion-mania.
A fair bit of criticism could be given to them for even putting him on the list (he ranked above Jarrett Culver and below Cam Reddish), but how could they not! Williamson recorded 22 points and seven rebounds in his debut, as he went 8-11 from the field and shot 100% from 3-point range.
But with all this, is there a possibility that Zion could catch up and overtake Morant’s spot? Over his season, and admittedly it’s been short with just two games, Williamson has averaged 18.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game on 75.0% field goal shooting, 80.0% 3-point shooting, and (an abysmal) 37.5% free throw shooting.
In order to pass Morant, Williamson has to make it onto the list. If he wants to do that, he first has to get past the two guys currently ahead of him: Cam Reddish and Eric Paschall.
Yeah, no problem there.
No disrespect to either of those players, Paschall especially has been lighting it up for the Golden State Warriors, but this is Zion we’re talking about. He’s a dude who is built like Shaquille O’Neal, and like nobody else in the league right now, but can shoot and handle the ball like a guard. It’s not an over-statement to say that, should he stay healthy, he is the future of this league.
But Morant could also lay claim to that title, should his game continue to evolve. If he plays at the same level that he’s been playing at over the first half of the season, he should be able to leave a gap too wide for Williamson to catch up. A player who’s currently on the edge of of being a part of the 50/40/90 club (being the only rookie to that if he does), Morant’s game is just too advanced for a player who’s missed half the season to overcome.
Honestly, it might even be hard for Williamson to beat Kendrick Nunn at this point. The All-Star Break is coming up, and it has the potential to cool the huge wave of momentum that Zion has been riding, and not only will his play settle down but so will the hype over his game.
The debate about whether or not Zion would’ve beat Morant for the ROY award had he not been injured will probably go on to be one of the NBA’s biggest modern “What-if’s”. But regardless, Morant should feel safe, knowing that his elite-level play has earned him a spot amongst the NBA award winners.