The NBA Rookie of the Year award is exactly what it sounds like. The Eddie Gottlieb Trophy is awarded to the best rookie during the regular season.
But what exactly qualifies as a top rookie? Is the player with the best stats the Rookie of the Year (ROY)? Is it the rookie who has the greatest influence on a winning team? Is ROY awarded to the rookie who outperforms expectations the most? And how do we determine which rookies are the best bets to make?
By looking at the past, we can learn a lot about what prizes will be given out in the future. Let’s create a historical Rookie of the Year profile by reviewing previous winners, then look at the favorite, four other top betting choices, and the best sleepers to keep an eye on moving into the new season.
So, who will win Rookie of the Year, and who should we bet on?
Who will be named Rookie of the Year?
The following are the ten most recent Rookie of the Year winners:
- Raptors’ Scottie Barnes
- Hornets’ LaMelo Ball
- Grizzlies’ Ja Morant
- Mavericks’ Luka Doncic
- Ben Simmons, 76ers, 2018
- Bucks’ Malcolm Brogdon
- Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns in 2016
- Andrew Wiggins, Timberwolves, 2015
- 76ers’ Michael Carter-Williams in 2014
- Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard in 2013.
I have four major rules for betting on NBA Rookie of the Year.
1.. You must accumulate a large number of points.
Points, as usual, are king.
Since LeBron James won it in 2004, every Rookie of the Year has averaged at least 15 points per game, establishing a firm floor. Except for Malcolm Brogdon in 2017, 18 of the last 19 winners (95%).
Over that time, the average Rookie of the Year scored 17.6 points per game, and 13 of the last 20 ROYs led all rookies in scoring, accounting for roughly two out of every three.
We have a good chance of predicting the Rookie of the Year if we can determine which rookie will lead all debutantes in scoring.
2. Points + Rebounds + Assists Outperform Points Alone
Simply guessing the PPG leader is insufficient. Four of the last five ROYs did not lead the league in scoring. With heliocentric offenses and increased usage responsibilities, the ROY award is increasingly going to a player who accumulates a high number of points, rebounds, and assists (PRA).
ROYs ended first in PPG 65% of the time over the last two decades, but 15 of the last 18 — 83%! — led in PRA, and two of the non-leaders won because Zion Williamson and Joel Embiid were injured.
Since LeBron has at least 25 PRA, we’ve had all but two ROYs, so that’s our starting point. Our last five ROYs averaged 17.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game. That is exactly 30 PRA, so we have an excellent target.
3. It isn’t about defense, efficiency, or victories.
In contrast to other accolades, there is no emphasis on intangibles or winning Rookie of the Year. It’s primarily a counting stats prize.
Since Emeka Okafor earned ROY as a great interior defender in 2005, defense has only been a significant element of the ROY case for three or four players.
Only five of the last 15 ROYs lead all rookies in Box Plus-Minus (BPM), a measure of efficiency. The average rating was 3.6, with less than half of them finishing in the top two. Voters overlook rookies’ ineffective shooting, turnovers, and poor defense.
They also do not penalize them for playing for bad teams, which makes sense given that the best rookies are frequently drafted by bad clubs. The previous 15 ROY winners had a 32.8 win rate and a 10.8 seed. Only four people (27%) had a top-eight playoff seed. It’s almost preferable for a talented rookie to be on a losing team since it offers a bigger role and more rope for the youth.
4. Always bet on a high draft pick – like, a really high draft pick.
It probably doesn’t surprise you that ROY winners are frequently high draft picks, but you might be surprised at how high.
Only four Rookies of the Year have been drafted outside the top 10 since the 1950s: 2017 Malcolm Brogdon (No. 36), 2011 Michael Carter-Williams (11), 1988 Mark Jackson (18), and 1974 Jamaal Wilkes (11). That’s 60 of 62 ROYs (96.8%) drafted in the top 11, with only one ROY ever drafted outside the top 18.
That already narrows the field significantly, but we’re not done yet. Only 13 of the 62 ROYs were selected outside of the top five. That indicates that nearly four out of every five (79%) Rookies of the Year were first-round picks!
Since 1990, 23 of 34 ROYs (68%) have been picked in the top three, with nearly half (44%) going first overall. In the last 15 years, nine ROYs (60%) have finished in the top three, and three of those misses were due to injuries, thus it might have been 80%.
The evidence is overwhelming, and it is due to selection bias. High draft picks are chosen because they are better prepared to contribute. They’ll also go to the worst teams in desperate need of a high-usage player.
Our Rookie of the Year will most likely be selected in the top five, if not the top three, and we should take the No. 1 pick unless there is a compelling reason not to.
Our Winning Most Improved Player Profile: We want a rookie picked in the top five who can put up at least 15 PPG and 25+ PRA without worrying about efficiency or winning.
Let’s take a look at the field now that we have a profile. We’ll start with the huge favorite, then look at four others with shorter odds and a couple long shots to keep an eye on when the season begins.