Okay so maybe this isn’t a campaign already — or is it....
The preseason hasn't even started but I would argue that it is never too early to declare a favorite for the award.
As a math guy, I typically look to logic and proof in everything, and I believe that there is a logical argument to be made that Ja Morant might run away with the Rookie of the Year award. Could there be a guy that makes it a little closer than expected like Trae Young did for Luka Doncic last year? Sure.
There are a number of factors that contribute to a player winning ROY:
Talent around him.
With all of these combined, Ja Morant has the best combination of factors to aid him in his Rookie campaign.
The number one overall pick is an obvious candidate for ROY, as you would hope your top selection would be. The talent is obviously there, but I don't believe he is the most skilled basketball player in this draft class.
Zion has made his way to this by being freakishly athletic and just bigger than everyone else. He was a man amongst boys in college. Well, in the Association, they are all men. Every night Zion will be up against grown men that are faster, stronger and know the nuances of the game better than him. His athletic advantage has shrunk significantly.
He will need to improve his ball handling and shooting — actual skills— for him to truly stand out in the NBA like he has his entire life.
The opportunity will be there for Zion in New Orleans. It is probably safe to say that he will start between Brandon Ingram and Derrick Favors as the opening night “power forward” — for those of you still in the mindset of position basketball still existing. He will get 30+ minutes per night and have every chance to put the numbers up for the award.
There might be a little too much talent around him for Zion to be able to stand out. Coach Alvin Gentry will be building game plans to win games, not feature Zion — unless, of course, featuring Zion is what wins games. With Jrue Holiday, JJ Redick, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Derrick Favors surrounding him, Zion will not be relied upon heavily to carry this team, which will ultimately hurt his case compared to other contenders.
Darius Garland is a serious contender for many of the same reasons we will discuss in regards to Ja. He has a lot to prove after missing most of his freshman year at Vanderbilt due to injury, and we will get the chance. Based on opportunity alone, Garland might have the best chance to put up the numbers needed to win this award.
As far as the talent surrounding him, it is far less than what Zion has in New Orleans. Outside of Kevin Love, Colin Sexton and Cedi Osman, the Cleveland Cavaliers are hurting for talent on the court. Garland will step in day one either beside Sexton or in place of him with all the room to grow, due to there being no expectation of a playoff run for this team.
If RJ finds his 3-point stroke, there is a chance he could run away with this award. Unfortunately for him, that doesn't typically happen the first year in the league. Heading into his freshman season at Duke, Barrett was the #1 prospect, because he was a more all-around skilled basketball player and not just a freak athlete. His length and playmaking are ready for the league, but his shooting is subpar, which will hurt him statistically.
The state of this franchise may also contribute to him never being in the conversation. The only attention the New York Knicks get this day is how bad of a train wreck they are. With 17 power forwards on their roster and not much wing talent, the Knicks will be atrocious this upcoming season. Bad play and a poorly-constructed roster do not typically help young players grow and mature. Barrett could surprise, which is why he is a contender but at the end of the race, he will still be on the backstretch.
Now the part you all came for. Why is Ja Morant the favorite for Rookie of the Year?
Well he is insanely talented. He has floor vision that can not be taught, he went to the “Russell Westbrook School of Rim Attacking Point Guards”, and can knock down the 3-point shot. His talent isn't in question.
So what about opportunity? Well, the Memphis Grizzlies traded away beloved franchise star Mike Conley to make room for Ja. He will be the starting point guard from the jump and will most likely be handed the keys to the team at the same time.
The talent around him combined with the opportunity is what puts Ja above the rest. There is plenty of talent on the roster to surround Ja. With Jonas Valanciunas, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Kyle Anderson, and Tyus Jones to name a few, Morant will have an opportunity to easily average a double-double in his rookie season.
The talent around him, while good, won't overshadow him. Unlike Zion, Ja will very much have to be apart of the game plan for this team to have success. With Jaren and Jonas as the only two players that can be trusted to put points on the board, Ja will have to be the third scorer on this team at worst.
Ja having the ball in his hands more than Zion will also be a key factor. Being the point guard, Ja will set up the offense and lead in transition. Zion will rely on his teammates to get him the ball in spots. Usage rate alone will contribute to the eye test, for voters.
- Ja Morant
- Zion Williamson
- Darius Garland
- RJ Barrett
Follow @sbngrizzlies, as we cover Ja’s rookie year and his journey to the Rookie of the Year award. Let the campaign begin.