A few of the new faces around the NBA are making names for themselves and cases to be the Rookie of the Year. There are at least two names many expected to be there. But there’s also a pair of surprise contenders for the award. Who takes the award home will depend on who among them can keep up their pace.
Getting Familiar with the NBA’s New Faces in the Rookie of the Year Race
1. LaMelo Ball
The youngest Ball brother (and January Rookie of the Month in the Eastern Conference) has quickly made a name for himself in the NBA. LaMelo Ball is the current front-runner for Rookie of the Year and he’s only started six games for the Charlotte Hornets. Don’t get it twisted, though. He’s been playing at or near starter’s minutes since the end of December. Ball is averaging 14.3/5.8/6.1 and slashing .438/.359/.791 across 26 games.
LaMelo Ball is on FIRE 🔥
Leads all rookies in total points, rebounds, assists and steals
Now -280 to win Rookie of the Year after dropping 24 and 10 with 7 threes last night
(odds via @FDSportsbook) pic.twitter.com/gJoWlUgQ5b
— br_betting (@br_betting) February 9, 2021
As a starter, however, Ball is putting up 21.7 points per game, 5.3 boards, and 6.3 assists per contest. His efficiency went up too, to 45.2% from the floor, 48.8% from deep, and 88.9% from the charity stripe. Among rookies, LaMelo leads all rookies in assists per game, steals per game, is first with six games of at least 20 points, and is second in rebounds. Oh! Charlotte is currently seventh in the East, too.
The one knock on Ball is his defense. As this chart illustrates, he is one of the worst defenders among first-year players. He’s offset that with his offensive production. But on nights when his shot isn’t falling he will have to get into a few more passing lanes than usual. Even with that, he will be tough to overtake.
2. Tyrese Haliburton
This is a topic that’s near and dear as someone who stumped for his favorite team to target Tyrese Haliburton in the draft. The former Iowa State Cyclone was the Rookie of the Month in the West for January. Haliburton is putting up a smooth 12.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 5.3 assists in 29.4 minutes per contest.
1 minute and 20 seconds of Tyrese Haliburton being sneaky and baiting the other team into a turnover this season pic.twitter.com/DYtz3lWfNQ
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) February 5, 2021
He’s only drawn a single start but he’s fifth on the team in minutes per; higher than 2017 first-rounder Marvin Bagley. The graphic used for Ball also illustrates how much of a steadying presence Haliburton has been for the wayward Sacramento Kings. Digging into the numbers, Haliburton improves his team’s offensive rating by nearly a point when he’s on the floor. When he’s off the court, the Kings defensive rating worsens by 2.5 points.
Sacramento sits at ninth, square in the mix for the playoff play-in game that was introduced during the bubble. Haliburton is second in minutes per, assists, and steals and is shooting nearly 50% from the floor. On a bad team with several high-profile names, Haliburton is making a name for himself.
3. James Wiseman
The second-overall pick in this past NBA Draft, James Wiseman is currently recuperating from a sprained wrist. But the 7-footer was sent to the bench even before that as head coach Steve Kerr opted for Kevon Looney in the starting lineup. That led to better defense for the Warriors but Kerr believes it will only help Wiseman in the long run.
Vital question for the Warriors franchise the next couple seasons: Can James Wiseman thrive within the team's typical fluid, speedy, alert, ball movement ecosystem that's often at its best without a traditional center?
Here's Draymond Green on that topic today pic.twitter.com/vHhWYDq6EU
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 5, 2021
Maybe Kerr’s on to something (who would’ve guessed, right?) because Wiseman averaged 11.8 points and 6.1 rebounds as a starter. The Warriors were 8-8 over that stretch. Coming off the bench with the reserves, the (ever so briefly) former Memphis Tiger is putting up 13.5 points and 6.3 boards per game.
Wiseman’s block numbers have taken a hit; falling from 1.4 to 1.0 per game but some of that may be due to the adjustment. The bigger “issue” is getting him back on the floor. Wiseman leads all rookies in rebounds, blocks, and is third in scoring. None of that matters, though, if he is unable to take the court.
4. Immanuel Quickley
An out-of-nowhere candidate for Rookie of the Year honors, Immanuel Quickley has turned himself into a weapon off the bench in short order. Averaging 11.8 points per game for the surprising New York Knicks is an honorable feat for a rookie as it is. Cracking a Tom Thibodeau lineup as a greenhorn is an accomplishment unto itself.
Immanuel Quickley with the pretty finish 🙌
— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) February 6, 2021
Quickley is fifth among rookies in scoring, but again, he’s playing behind a resurgent Elfrid Payton. He’s slashing 40.2% from the floor, 35.8% from outside, and 93.4 at the free-throw line. He hasn’t been overly efficient, he hasn’t been a detriment either. He even boosted his numbers in January to 12.8 points on 41.2% shooting and 37.0% from beyond the arc.
The rookie is one-dimensional at this point. When his shot isn’t falling he isn’t offering much beyond a threat. So far in February (five games) Quickley seems to be coming back to Earth. He’s averaging just 9.8 points shooting 36.6% from the floor and 33.3% from three. Add in the addition of Derrick Rose and you just hope Quickley’s best in his rookie season isn’t behind him.
5. Patrick Williams and Desmond Bane
Yup, we’re cheating on this one. The bottom of the Rookie of the Year race is rather crowded but the two players that make the list are certainly making an impact. Patrick Williams leads all rookies in games started with 23.
Updated odds to win NBA Rookie of the Year (BetOnline):
— Odds Shark (@OddsShark) February 6, 2021
He’s averaging a modest 10.3 points and 4.4 boards with an equally modest slash line of .466/.396/.800 in just over 27 minutes per game (third among rookies). But it’s his willingness on defense that’s separated him from the pack as he’s drawn the opposing team’s best player and held up respectably night after night.
Looking at what Desmond Bane is doing so far in his rookie campaign it feels like he should be much higher on this list. His numbers are solid for any rookie, let alone one drafted 30th overall in this past NBA Draft. He’s dropping 10.3 points per game in just under 23 minutes per contest for the 10-10 Memphis Grizzlies.
It’s his efficiency that stands out the most. He’s shooting 48.4% from the floor, 48.2% from three, and 82.4% from the line. More encouraging is that in his two starts, he’s averaging 15.5 points and 2.5 assists.
Catching Up in the Rookie of the Year Race
You might notice Anthony Edwards and Cole Anthony didn’t make the list. Both are in the top-six in rookie scoring; Edwards second and Anthony sixth. Neither has been efficient in the early going.
The first-overall pick by the Timberwolves, Edwards is averaging 13.9 points but is shooting just 37.9% from the floor and 32.4% from deep. Second-generation player Anthony is up to 11.0 points per but is shooting 37.5% and 32.5% from the floor and three, respectively.