Like almost everything else in the world, the conclusion of the 2019-2020 NBA season is still an uncertainty that may not have a resolution for months as the globe waits for the COVID-19 Pandemic to run its course. However, though the games have come to a halt, debates and discussions concerning the season so far are certainly still ongoing.
One of the most popular discussions as the season entered March for the playoff push was the NBA Rookie of the Year race. Since Zion Williamson had returned and immediately displayed one stellar performance after another, along with the New Orleans Pelicans chasing the Memphis Grizzlies for the final playoff spot in the West, many felt he could emerge as a true challenger to Ja Morant’s firm grasp on the award.
However, according to a straw poll released by ESPN today, while the “race” for the award may be fun to discuss, it seems that there is clearly nothing further to debate.
Among 70 voters who cover the NBA on various levels, Morant was voted unanimously as the Rookie of the Year. His amazing individual play, durability, and efforts in making the Grizzlies one of the biggest surprise successes of the season all contributed to the voting results. Though Williamson has clearly played at a higher level, the fact that he missed more than half a season of play was too much to overcome.
Though this poll is unofficial, there are two reasons why its results should be considered significant. For one, the cast of voters were comprised of local, national, and international media members and reporters. This shows that the impact and appeal Morant has created this year extends across the entire league, a good sign that he is well on his way to becoming the first true superstar to play for the Grizzlies franchise.
Secondly, the voting for this straw poll was setup to mimic the voting of the actual NBA Rookie of the Year award. If Morant were to have a clean sweep of first place votes when the real award is presented, he would join top current NBA names Damian Lillard, Karl Anthony-Towns, and Blake Griffin as the only players to ever win the Rookie of the Year award unanimously.
Though the fact that Morant is clearly on his way to becoming the first Grizzlies player to win Rookie of the Year since Pau Gasol is certainly something to celebrate, the bigger point of pride may be how highly regarded Morant is both domestically and internationally. Both Morant and Williamson, along with Luka Doncic, Trae Young and others who have entered the league over the past few years, have created an amazing group of young talent that has allowed the NBA to have a future to look forward too. As a result, for Grizzlies fans, this is simply more validation that the best is yet to come for one of the most exciting franchises in the NBA.