In all this confusion, one thing seemed to be certain. Whatever may happen with the NBA season, awards will be given out at the end of it. Games stopped just when it appeared LeBron is going to make the MVP race interesting, but that is now surely in Giannis’s hands.
Rookie of the Year, on the other hand, was a thriller. We started with a guaranteed winner. Zion was as close to a sure thing as possible at the beginning of the season. Then the Pelicans did the smart thing and took every precaution necessary to let his knee heal and learn how to maintain his body through an NBA season. That opened the door for this guy.
Ja Morant was the second guy in a two franchise player draft. We knew he was talented, but Ja was coming in to play point guard in Memphis, so a grace period of a few years was built into our expectations. The Grizzlies had Jarren Jackson Jr. and a rookie point guard, a perfect position to play them a lot and lose, get a high draft pick and start building a winning team this summer.
Morant didn’t need a few years; he was ready back in October. The Grizzlies are sitting in 8th in the West, four games ahead of the Blazers in 9th. Suddenly we had a ROTY race on our hands. Kendrick Nunn agrees but feels it’s not a two-person showdown.
Nunn is, without a doubt, the biggest surprise this season. Undrafted in 2018, Nunn spent a year in the G-League trying to prove he can play NBA-level basketball. Miami gave him a shot, and Nunn didn’t disappoint. On January 2, Nunn became the first undrafted player in NBA history to win multiple Rookie of the Month awards.
When it comes to Nunn’s argument, I agree winning is important, but so is context. Out of the three teams, Nunn landed in the best basketball situation. Miami is in the East, and he has Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo on his team. Zion and Ja are playing in the West and don’t have as much top-level talent on their teams.
You may want to start a franchise with Zion over Morant, but that’s not the award we’re giving out here. This is solely about who was better in ’19/’20. That’s why my vote would go to Ja.
Rookie point guard is the most challenging gig in the NBA, and Morant has done superbly in it. His performance and stats are no less impressive than Zion’s and taking the number of games he played and his team’s ranking into account, Morant is the clear Rookie of the Year.