Zion’s Improbable Battle for Rookie of the Year


Heading into the resumption of the NBA season, Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans face an uphill task. 3.5 games behind Memphis, New Orleans has to be at their best to force a play-in series or capture the eight seed. Another subplot, the NBA awards. Giannis and LeBron will battle for MVP, and Zion and Ja will square off for Rookie of the Year.

Before the season halted, Zion Williamson was rapidly closing in on Ja Morant to be Rookie of the Year. New Orleans found their second wind and were challenging for the eighth seed. A comfortable run at home and growing chemistry had the Pelicans seemingly in the driver’s seat to dethrone Memphis.

Williamson was the biggest factor. His 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game provided the Pelicans much-needed scoring from the frontcourt. The sheer energy and passion Zion exudes catapulted the team to play inspired basketball.

Williamson’s uphill battle was similar to that of Joel Embiid’s rookie campaign. Zion was not going to play an adequate amount of games. If the full 82-game season happened, his maximum game total could have been 37. Now, his regular-season total can only be 27, though the remaining eight regular-season games have no impact on award voting.

Historically, there is no precedence for this. Embiid played 31 games in his rookie year. Although he was considerably better than any player in that class, 31 games were not significant enough to swing the votes.

The most significant difference between Embiid’s and Zion’s chase for the award is the strength of their competitors. Morant’s season has been nothing but spectacular. As the starting point guard, he is leading a Memphis team into their new era. Morant’s averages of 17.6 points and 6.9 assists per game are top-two for all rookies. In addition, he is the only rookie in the playoff seedings who averages at least 30 minutes per contest.

All in all, Morant is more than a worthy ROY winner. Zion’s season, though limited, remains incredible to date. Repping a scoring mark of 23.6 PPG, he will end up 17th overall in points per game in NBA history for a rookie, passing Allen Iverson (23.5), Shaquille O’Neal (23.4) and Blake Griffin (22.5). His win-shares per 48 minutes rank 71 spots ahead of Morant.

The defining factor will be team success. Either Memphis or New Orleans can make the playoffs. Voters were informed to not place a great emphasis on the last eight games, essentially not counting them towards their vote. As a result, voters will not be swayed by whose team has greater success. There is a high chance that both teams could meet in the play-in series, where voters would have a perfect opportunity to compare the two.

With Morant leading comfortably, Zion’s journey to ROY status is improbable. At this point, there is not much Zion can to to persuade voters. A lot of ‘what ifs’ will be discussed, but nonetheless both players have had memorable introductions into the NBA lifestyle.

About Vance Abreu

An Australian trying to make it big in Toronto, Canada. Weekly articles about the Pelicans journey to a NBA championship

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