Entering the final games of the pandemic-shortened 2020 NBA season, Ja Morant is the heavy favorite to win the league’s Rookie of the Year award. With only eight games and 22 teams invited to the NBA Disney Bubble in Orlando, Fla., it’s unlikely to see any late-season pushes for awards. The rest of the top five includes names like Zion Williamson, one of the most hyped rookies of all-time, and some surprising undrafted rookies like Kendrick Nunn.
Ranking the Season’s Top Five Candidates for Rookie of the Year
5. Coby White, Chicago Bulls
Coby White’s rookie of the year campaign was cut short after the NBA announced that only the 22 teams in playoff contention will be invited for the league’s restart. Yet, White’s performance in the first 65 games earned him a spot on this list.
The Chicago Bulls guard selected seventh in the draft, earned immediate and considerable playing time during the team’s rebuild. White averaged 13.2 points per game including an incredible hot-streak in February that earned him the Kia NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month. During this streak, White recorded three-straight 30-point games. Trae Young is the only other rookie to accomplish this feat since 2000-01.
4. Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards
When Rui Hachimura was selected ninth in the 2019 NBA Draft, some questioned if this pick was a reach by the Washington Wizards. The combo forward from Gonzaga has shown surprising consistency in his rookie campaign. Hachimura has averaged 13.4 points per game, reaching double digits in 30 of his 41 games played.
Adding 6.0 rebounds per game in his 29.7 minutes of action, Hachimura has given the Wizards a boost on both ends of the court. Throughout the season, Bradley Beal has seen all of the headlines for the Wizards better-than-expected play this season, especially without John Wall (injury), but Hachimura’s contribution should be noted.
3. Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat
Without the star power of Morant and Williamson, Kendrick Nunn could easily be the favorite to win this year’s Rookie of the Year award. The undrafted rookie for the Miami Heat has exceeded everyone’s expectations this season. In 62 games, all starts, Nunn trails only Morant and Williamson in points per game at 15.6. He’s also added 3.4 assists, 2.7 rebounds per game while shooting better than 44 percent from the field. The Heat currently sits as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference thanks to Nunn’s rookie campaign.
Confident in his body of work, Nunn declared himself the Rookie of the Year to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel back in April. And he owns the hardware to prove it. Nunn took home three of the four Kia Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors this season.
2. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
Despite only playing 19 games, Zion Williamson’s star power and play earned him this spot on the list. The “generational talent” and No. 1-overall draft pick did not disappoint in his midseason debut for the New Orleans Pelicans. On January 22, Williamson scored 17-straight over a three-minute span and hasn’t looked back since. He’s been dominant, averaging 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, shooting close to 60 percent. In February, Williamson was named the Kia Western Conference Rookie of the Month. Pelicans fans are eager to see if he can propel them into the playoffs during the restart. New Orleans currently sits 10th in the standings.
1. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies: 2020 Rookie of the Year
According to Vegas and the sports betting odds, Ja Morant is the heavy favorite to take home the Rookie of the Year Award. It’s safe to put your money on Morant in this race. The Memphis Grizzlies guard has vaulted his squad from Draft lottery expectations to the No. 8-seed in the Western Conference. The No. 2-overall pick in the draft, Morant has proved the most dominant rookie all season long, especially with Williamson missing so much playing time due to injury.
Morant has averaged 17.6 points and 6.9 assists per game on close to 50 percent shooting. Because of his exceptional play, Morant has been named the Western Conference’s Rookie of the Month three of four months. Further proof? At the end of March, following the NBA’s season suspension, ESPN released a straw poll of 70 voters for Rookie of the Year honors. Morant took home first-place votes from all 70 of the voters.
Embed from Getty Images