Setting Odds for 2014-15 NBA Rookie of the Year
The 2014-15 NBA Rookie of the Year race feels pretty wide-open. This was one of the deeper classes of recent memory, and there are multiple talented young players who should receive heavy minutes this year. This could break a few different ways.
For the sake of this exercise, we'll rank the five rookies with the best odds of winning Rookie of the Year and explain why opportunity can be just as important as talent when it comes to this award.
Before we get to our list, let's look at a few players who didn't make the cut.
Los Angeles Lakers rookie Julius Randle missed the list, primarily because the power forward position is a little crowded for the Lakers (Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, Jordan Hill and Ryan Kelly could all get minutes there) and because Randle doesn't have the jumper to put up big scoring numbers quite yet.
Chicago Bulls rookie Doug McDermott was left off, as Tom Thibodeau typically doesn't like to give rookies big minutes right off the bat. McDermott should be a nice bench scorer, but since he'll be playing almost exclusively at the 3 instead of the 4, the other stats (rebounding and blocks) might not be up to par.
Boston Celtics rookie Marcus Smart has a bright future as a box-score filler, but playing time behind Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley may be scarce and his jumper might not be quite ready yet, either.
Let's take a look at the five players with the best odds of winning Rookie of the Year.
5. Elfrid Payton
It may be a surprise to see Orlando Magic rookie Elfrid Payton crack the top five, as there are more polished scorers (Sacramento Kings rookie Nik Stauskas) and a higher draft pick (Aaron Gordon) on his own team.
Payton was also a very shaky shooter out of tiny Louisiana Lafayette. Perhaps no first-round choice will face a bigger adjustment in terms of opponent talent level.
Still, with all that said, Payton will have two things a lot of other players won't: full opportunity and the ball. Point guards typically tend to do well in Rookie of the Year races simply because they have so many opportunities to make plays and put up numbers.
Payton won't be challenged by backup point guard Luke Ridnour for minutes, so this should be his show right off the bat so long as Orlando doesn't keep up the charade of playing Victor Oladipo at the point.
Payton should be a threat to lead all rookies in steals while posting very strong rebounding and assist numbers. If Orlando surprises and makes a play for the No. 8 seed with Payton at point, that won't hurt either.
He's a definite dark horse, but Payton should have one of the longer leashes and best opportunities of any rookie player.
4. Andrew Wiggins
It's hard to say how Andrew Wiggins being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves will impact his Rookie of the Year candidacy.
On one front, he should get more playing time and much more opportunity to be a top scorer. With LeBron James and Kyrie Irving as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wiggins was always going to be a third or fourth option offensively. In Minnesota, he could easily assume top-dog status very early on.
With that being said, there were advantages that Cleveland offered. Playing a significant role for one of the Eastern Conference's best teams would have been huge in the eyes of voters, especially since everyone would be watching James in his return.
Stats usually take precedent in this race, but being on a winner definitely plays a role. Going to a young Minnesota team will definitely hurt in that regard.
The good news is Wiggins should put up some nice scoring numbers with Ricky Rubio feeding him. Outside of Nikola Pekovic, the Wolves really don't have a lot of half-court options, so Wiggins will get his chances, ready or not.
Unfortunately, Wiggins might not be fully ready to be a top scorer quite yet. He has an affinity for taking difficult step-back jumpers, and he doesn't always utilize his athletic gifts. He's raw, basically, and his impact will probably be felt initially in transition and on the defensive end more than offensively.
Wiggins should put up strong raw numbers by default, but lofty expectations and draft status may actually hurt his case in the end.
3. Jabari Parker
This probably feels way too low, as Milwaukee Bucks rookie Jabari Parker has been touted as a favorite to win the award and as the most "NBA ready" player for a while now.
Despite that, I'm still not all the way bought in on Parker's talent or opportunity. Although there's little doubt they'll create plenty of playing time for him, the Bucks are a little crowded at the 4 with Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson needing minutes as well. That might require Parker to play a little more at the 3, which might pull him away from the paint more than you'd like.
While Parker certainly looks like a physical scorer who can overwhelm defenders on the block or off the bounce, his three-point range is still in question. Parker shot 35.8 percent in college but went just 2 of 11 from deep in summer league. Parker definitely looked more comfortable shooting pull-up long twos, which is at least a little troubling.
Parker has a good chance to put up the gaudiest point and rebounding totals of all the rookies, though, and this is a stat-based award. With advanced stats factoring into everything more and more, however, Parker's potential lack of efficiency and propensity to turn over the ball could hurt him.
There's a lot to like here, but you'd be more confident if Parker had a legitimate point guard to set him up. If he's asked to create offense solely for himself, he might have a rougher time than most seem to think.
2. Dante Exum
In the last 10 years, the Rookie of the Year Award has been won by a point guard or "lead guard" seven times. Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and Michael Carter-Williams are all very different players, but they all dominated the ball in their rookie years.
Dante Exum is of a similar ilk to a guy like Roy. He may not be playing point guard (that will be Trey Burke), but he'll be doing a lot of the heavy lifting offensively.
In just a few summer league games, Exum displayed a keen understanding of the pick-and-roll and a lightning-quick first step. So long as he doesn't shy away from possessions and embraces the lead-guard role, he's capable of putting up big numbers.
The size, intelligence and athleticism is all there, but like so many other rookies, Exum will need a reliable jumper in order to fully utilize it all.
Still, the ball should be in his hands a ton, and he should play all the minutes he can handle for a rebuilding team. We'll see how quickly he can put it all together, but as a general rule, guards usually have the easiest transition to the pros of any position. He should produce quality numbers.
1. Nerlens Noel
It may seem a little crazy, but Nerlens Noel is my favorite to win Rookie of the Year this season for a few different reasons.
For one, he has a leg up on the competition. Noel missed all of last year with injury, but he got to spend the season practicing and training with pro players and staff. That's a big deal, and he should be ready to handle the rookie wall both mentally and physically as well as anyone. Missing a year certainly helped Blake Griffin when he won Rookie of the Year.
While Noel is certainly not Griffin, he is in the perfect environment to put up huge stats. The Philadelphia 76ers play at the league's fastest pace, which means there are more possessions to use over the course of a game. That means more points, more rebounds and more block opportunities.
Noel should make his impact felt mostly with the latter, as he projects to be an elite rim protector. The other stats should come virtually by default as being the biggest guy out on the court. Noel doesn't need to be polished to put up the numbers; he just needs to play with the same motor we saw at Kentucky.
More than any other rookie, Noel has the best combination of fit, talent and opportunity for this season. Philadelphia has no plans of competing and can give Noel all the minutes he wants. A lack of talent throughout the roster means Noel can take on a big role from day one.
That, in part, was what helped Michael Carter-Williams win the award last year.
Some may be concerned about Joel Embiid taking away his minutes or role, but it wouldn't be a surprise if Embiid missed most of the year. The two big men can also play together, as it's not like Philadelphia is sacrificing anything by doing so given their depth and goals.
Noel could help make it two straight award wins for Philadelphia, even if voters may take his numbers with a grain of salt if the 76ers are as bad as they appear.
In the end, it just might be too hard to ignore Noel's production. He has the highest floor of any rookie this season, and so long as he can stay healthy, he's a strong pick for Rookie of the Year.