NBA Rookie of the Year: Has Zion Williamson done enough to win?

NBA New Orleans Pelicans Zion Williamson (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
NBA New Orleans Pelicans Zion Williamson (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

The 2019 NBA rookie class has shown promise but it has shaped up to be a two-man race: Who will win Rookie of the year, Ja Morant or Zion Williamson?

There have been a few pleasant surprises in the NBA this year when talking about the rookie class. Names like Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro have been revelations down in South Beach. RJ Barrett and Coby White have shown flashes of brilliance for their respective franchises.

While these rookies, along with others around the league, have been solid and will no doubt continue to improve as they mature, there are two players who have clearly separated themselves from the pact. Those two players are Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans and Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Drafted No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, Williamson and Morant have been nothing short of sensational. Both players were expected to lead their teams from the start and they’ve been doing exactly that.  Both pass the eye test and are one of the centerpieces of not only their teams but the NBA going forward.

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Morant has led the Grizzlies to the 8th seed in the Western Conference, a place no one thought they would be at the start of the season. Morant is averaging 17.5 points per game, seven assists per game, shooting an efficient 49 percent from the field and is checking all the boxes you want in a franchise player. He is must-see TV and well worth the price of admission. With Morant as the centerpiece of the Grizzlies, they are in good hands for the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, Zion Williamson has been as great as advertised. What is there to say about him that hasn’t been said? He is truly performing like a No. 1 pick and dominating whenever he is on the court. He is currently averaging 23.3 points per game, seven rebounds per game while shooting an absurd 57 percent from the field. The Pelicans clearly look better when Williamson is on the floor and are now only three games back of the 8th seed held by his counterpart led rookie team, the Memphis Grizzlies.

Williamson is taking the league by storm and there seems to be no answer for him. Coming in at 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, he is a matchup nightmare for everyone in the league and teams have not found an answer. It should be a blast seeing these young and exciting teams battle it out for that final playoff spot.

While both rookies are playing at an extremely high level, there is an argument against Zion Williamson which is definitely a fair one. He has only played 15 games compared to the 53 games that Morant has played. That is a difference of 39 games and even though Zion has been dominant in his time playing, he hasn’t been doing it over the course of a season as Morant has.

If Williamson played more games and performed like this, there would be no doubt who the rookie of the year would be. If the season ended today, Ja Morant would have my vote as rookie of the year but with approximately 24 games left in the season, Williamson has time to make up ground.

Most of these awards, in any sport, are voted on by the media and its writers. One thing that the media loves is a good story and there is a lot of recency bias when it comes to these awards. With these things in mind, I believe it will come down to whichever team makes the playoffs, barring both of them missing it. If Morant and Grizzlies hold off the teams nipping at their heels, he should be the rookie of the year and rightfully so. He has been consistent all season and more importantly, ended the season on a high note as he would lead his team to the playoffs.

A team that wasn’t supposed to be a playoff contender will now be playing in the first round. If this does up being a reality, there is no way Morant can be denied the rookie of the year.

On the contrary, it would be hard to deny Williamson the award if the Pelicans make the playoffs. A team that was entertaining to watch but not good enough to win games consistently, found new life with the return of Williamson. His impact in only 15 games has been undeniable and if he continues to play like this for the remainder of the season and the Pelicans make the playoffs, there is not much Morant or anyone else could do.

The story would write itself with the No. 1 pick returning from injury, leading his team to the playoffs. The media takes things like this into account and start asking questions such as “what have you done for me lately?” in which it would be hard to deny the rookie who is in the playoffs. Zion is one of the poster boys of the NBA and rightfully so. A dominant player on the court who is very marketable and has been in the spotlight since high school now has a chance to put the Pelicans on his back and lead them to the playoffs.

There is the possibility that both players miss the playoffs, in which the award should go to Morant. He has played more games, been consistent throughout the season, with the Grizzlies exceeding expectations. Both players are amazing talents and will be faces of the league for the next decade, barring any injuries.

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The two former AAU teammates are now battling it out for rookie of the year which was expected. They’ll continue to battle it out for more awards throughout the years and it should be a joy to watch. When talking about the rookie of the year award, Morant holds the keys to the award.