The NBA Rookie of the Year award is exactly what the name suggests. The Eddie Gottlieb Trophy goes to the top rookie of the regular season.
But what exactly defines a top rookie? Is the Rookie of the Year (ROY) the player with the best stats? Is it the rookie who makes the biggest impact on a winning team? Does ROY go to the rookie who most outperforms expectations? And how do we know which rookies are best to bet on?
We can learn a lot about what awards will be given out in the future by starting with looking at the past. Let’s build a historical Rookie of the Year profile by looking back at past winners, then consider the favorite, four other top betting options and the best sleepers to monitor heading into the new season.
So what sort of player wins Rookie of the Year, and whom should we bet on?
Who Wins Rookie of the Year?
Here are the 10 most recent Rookie of the Year winners:
- 2022 Scottie Barnes, Raptors
- 2021 LaMelo Ball, Hornets
- 2020 Ja Morant, Grizzlies
- 2019 Luka Doncic, Mavericks
- 2018 Ben Simmons, 76ers
- 2017 Malcolm Brogdon, Bucks
- 2016 Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves
- 2015 Andrew Wiggins, Timberwolves
- 2014 Michael Carter-Williams, 76ers
- 2013 Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers
I’ve got four main rules for betting NBA Rookie of the Year.
1. You Have to Score a Lot of Points.
Like usual, points are king.
Since LeBron James won it in 2004, all but one Rookie of the Year scored at least 15 PPG, so that sets a clear floor. That’s everyone but Malcolm Brogdon in 2017, 18 of the last 19 winners (95%).
The average Rookie of the Year over that span scored 17.6 PPG, and 13 of the last 20 ROYs led all rookies in scoring, about two of every three.
If we can predict which rookie will lead all debutantes in scoring, we have a good shot at guessing the Rookie of the Year.
2. Points + Rebounds + Assists is More Predictive Than Just Points.
Just guessing the PPG leader isn’t enough. Four of the last five ROYs didn’t actually lead in scoring. With heliocentric offenses and higher usage roles, ROY increasingly goes to a player who racks up high points + rebounds + assists (PRA).
ROYs finished tops in PPG 65% of the last two decades, but 15 of the last 18 — 83%! — led in PRA, and two of the non-leaders really only won ROY because Zion Williamson and Joel Embiid got hurt.
All but two ROYs since LeBron had at least 25 PRA, so that’s our floor. Our last five ROYs averaged 17.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists. That’s exactly 30 PRA, so that gives us a good target.
3. It’s Not About Defense, Efficiency, or Wins.
Unlike some awards, there’s no emphasis on intangibles or winning with Rookie of the Year. It’s mostly just a counting stats award.
Since Emeka Okafor won ROY in 2005 as a great interior defender, defense was only a meaningful part of the ROY case for maybe three or four players.
Using Box Plus-Minus (BPM) to measure efficiency, only five of the last 15 ROYs led all rookies in BPM. Under half of them finished in the top two, and the average ranking was 3.6. Voters forgive rookies for shooting inefficiency, turnovers, and bad defense.
They don’t penalize them for playing on bad teams either, which makes sense since the top rookies are usually drafted to bad teams. The last 15 ROY winners averaged a 32.8-win pace and a 10.8-seed. Only four (27%) were on a top-eight playoff seed. It’s almost better if a good rookie is on a bad team since it likely means a bigger role and more rope for the youngsters.
4. Always Bet on a Top Draft Pick — Like, a Really Top Pick.
It probably doesn’t surprise you to learn that ROY winners are often high draft picks, but you might be shocked to see just how high.
Since the 1950s, only four Rookies of the Year were drafted outside the top 10: 2017 Malcolm Brogdon (No. 36), 2011 Michael Carter-Williams (11), 1988 Mark Jackson (18), and 1974 Jamaal Wilkes (11). That’s 60 of 62 ROYs drafted in the top 11 (96.8%), with only one ROY ever outside the top 18.
That already whittles the field dramatically, but we’re not done yet. Only 13 of those 62 ROYs were even drafted outside the top five. That means almost four of every five (79%) Rookies of the Year were top five picks!
Since 1990, 23 of 34 ROYs (68%) were drafted in the top three, and nearly half (44%) went No. 1. In just the last 15 years, nine ROYs (60%) went top three, and three of those misses were due to injuries, or it might have been 80%.
The evidence is overwhelming, and it’s selection bias working in our favor. High draft picks are drafted high because they’re better and more prepared to contribute. They’re also going to the worst teams most in need of a high-usage player.
History says our Rookie of the Year will be likely someone drafted in the top five, probably top three, and that we should default to the No. 1 pick unless there’s a good reason not to.
Our Winning Most Improved Player Profile:
We’re looking for a rookie drafted in the top five who can put up at least 15 PPG and 25+ PRA, and we don’t need to worry about efficiency or winning.
Now that we have a profile, let’s look at the field. We’ll start with the big favorite, then consider the four others with shorter odds and a few long shots to keep an eye on heading into the new season.
Odds Are the Best Available as of Oct. 8
Bet on the Favorite
Paolo Banchero, Magic +210 (Caesars)
Paolo Banchero is the clear Rookie of the Year front runner, and he’s been my pick since draft night.
I recommended Banchero at +460 right after the draft, doubled down after Chet Holmgren’s incredible Summer League debut, and urged listeners to grab Paolo +400 in our July Buckets ROY episode, noting that the number should be half that large. Well, would you look at that!
Really think you should grab Paolo ROY while you can get the long odds.
9 of last 15 Rookies of Year were top 3 picks. Banchero has NBA body and will have ball in his hands and rack up PRA. Much readier for heavy load than Chet/Jabari.
I wouldn’t make him longer than +250. https://t.co/gDuDr9Ltiu
— Brandon Anderson (@wheatonbrando) July 9, 2022
Banchero’s odds opened at +460 and dropped steadily to around +325 before Chet Holmgren’s injury sidelined him for the season. Instantly, Banchero’s number plummeted to +200, where he sits now at most books.
I think there’s still value, even at +200.
Remember, 68% of all ROYs since 1990 were top-three picks. If you could just bet on “top-three picks” versus the field, you’d have -209 implied odds to win. No. 1 picks alone have won 44% of that stretch, an implied +127. We’re still getting a sizable margin on that number, and Banchero’s biggest ROY competition, the No. 2 pick, is out for the year.
Banchero checks all the boxes. He was in a top-three tier all draft season and is clearly the most physically NBA-ready of the three. He steps into a great situation in Orlando with massive usage available, and that situation has only moved in his favor of over the past month as Magic guards Gary Harris, Markelle Fultz and Jalen Suggs have been sidelined with injury.
Orlando had only three players average 12 PPG last season, none of them over 16.3 PPG. The Magic also had no one over 5.7 APG. The team has a huge scoring and playmaking void, and Banchero is poised and ready to step into that void. He scored over 20 PPG in Summer League action with a full scoring arsenal and also dazzled with five or six assists a game most nights.
Add in the rebounds, and that easily crosses our 25 PRA mark toward 30-plus and puts Banchero very much in the mix to lead all rookies in scoring. He has a real chance to lead the Magic in both points and assists.
Only two of the past 17 ROYs were big men, though Williamson, Embiid, and Evan Mobley looked poised to join them before injury. We also haven’t had many drafts like this with three big men clearly alone at the top.
Five of our last six ROYs were point guards, and even Scottie Barnes ran point occasionally for Toronto. In an increasingly positionless NBA, though, it’s more accurate to say that four of the last five winners functioned as the offensive hub or engine, the guy everything ran through.
Banchero won’t play point guard, but he should absolutely be the hub of the Magic offense, especially with so many Orlando guards out. Banchero is a great, NBA-ready prospect who should fill up the box score in a weak draft class now missing the No. 2 pick.
Banchero is the heavy favorite to win Rookie of the Year, and there’s still value even at +210. I’d consider Banchero against the field (implied +100), and it’s possible he comes out and ends this race so quickly that there’s a minus in front of this number by December.
But what if Banchero doesn’t win? The books have four other favorites well ahead of the rest of the field.
The Other Four Names at the Top
Keegan Murray, Kings +550 (FOX Bet)
Banchero wasn’t the only one to see his odds sliced after the Holmgren injury. Keegan Murray was around +1000 at most books before seeing his odds halved with Holmgren sidelined, crushing any potential value on the Kings forward.
Murray was a star at Summer League, one of the leading scorers with 23 points in five of six games along with excellent rebounding numbers, at least seven in all but one game. He’s not going to record many assists, which hurts the PRA a bit, but he looks like an All-Rookie First Team lock and might be even more NBA-ready than Banchero.
Murray’s problem is his teammates, and in this case, that’s not a Kings diss. Domantas Sabonis averaged 19/12/6 for Sacramento last year, and De’Aaron Fox scored 23 PPG, up to 29 after Sabonis arrived. Harrison Barnes, Malik Monk, and Kevin Huerter will score plenty, and Davion Mitchell is another major handler.
The Kings actually have a lot of bodies — too many for the rookie to take on a huge role or act anything like a hub. It’s reasonable to expect something like an efficient 16 points and six rebounds, but Banchero likely tops both of those numbers and adds assists too.
Murray is really good, and he would be a strong contender to win this if Banchero falters, but any betting value entering the season was killed when his number was sliced after the Holmgren injury.
Jabari Smith, Rockets +600 (DraftKings)
Smith is the other remaining top-three draft pick, so history suggests there could be some value at +600. He’s looked good in the preseason, enough so that this number has shortened some.
But I don’t see it. Smith doesn’t look ready physically, so he could struggle on both ends as his body adds strength, much like Holmgren was expected to. It looks like he’ll play a lot of center too, which is likely to lead to foul trouble and inconsistent minutes and could make rebounding matchups difficult too.
Smith is also heavily reliant on his teammates offensively. He ran very hot and cold at Auburn since his entire offense right now depends on whether his shot is falling and whether his teammates get him the ball. Houston has a ton of young mouths to feed and no true point guard, and Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. are not guys you want to rely on feeding your ROY pick.
Smith should be a good pro down the line, but he’s not the right fit here.
Jaden Ivey, Pistons +700 (DraftKings)
Ivey was the top lead guard prospect in the class by a mile, and remember, four of our last five winners were point guards. Unfortunately, he also joins a team featuring last year’s No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham, who will be the hub of this offense. He may also need to beat out another recent high pick, Killian Hayes, for point guard minutes. He’ll also have to fend off Saddiq Bey, Marvin Bagley, Jalen Duren, and Isaiah Stewart for shots, all likely double-digit scorers.
Ivey is a freak athlete and a big scorer. He has a path to 14 to 16 points and a handful of assists, which would put him in the mix. If he’s better than expected, maybe he actually does function as the lead hub here and help push the Pistons into the play-in race.
Even if you believe, it could be a slow start for Ivey with Cunningham and Hayes on the ball early, so you should wait for a better number.
Bennedict Mathurin, Pacers +1200 (DraftKings)
We’ve hit the entire top five now, and don’t forget that only 13 of the last 62 ROYs (21%) were selected outside the top five. History says we could take Mathurin and every other rookie on the board remaining, and that entire group should still be an implied +400 or so.
The worse you expect the Pacers to be, the more intriguing Mathurin gets. If you bet on Mathurin, you’re hoping Buddy Hield gets traded, and Tyrese Haliburton gets shut down with a phantom injury as Indiana turns its offense over to Mathurin down the stretch in a tanking effort.
This shoot-first SG archetype has a notoriously difficult and long growth curve. Mathurin also isn’t likely to see many rebounds or assists, and we need PRA, so he may have to lap the field in PPG to win this. It’s just too big an ask, and this is another number that should lengthen awhile as Pacers veterans play.
I don’t like the value on any of these four second-tier Rookie of the Year contenders. But if you’re not content betting on Banchero, there are three long shots down the board worth considering.
Three Sleepers to Consider Nibbling
Shaedon Sharpe, Blazers +3600 (FanDuel)
Sharpe was the draft’s great mystery man, and he remains mostly a mystery after barely seeing the court in Summer League with injury.
Some considered Sharpe the best non-big in the draft and maybe even a contender for the No. 1 pick, and he’s dazzled in the preseason as a three-level scorer, flashing his athleticism, handle, footwork and feel. It’s not outlandish to think he could be Portland’s second-leading scorer if he grabs minutes early and settles in quickly on what could be an elite offense.
This number is long at FanDuel, twice as long as at other books, and it’s too long for a player this talented that went No. 6 in the draft. Sharpe is the sort of player whose number could drop to +500 after two or three games if he pops early and gets everyone buzzing.
Sharpe is the best sleeper bet on the board. Now or never.
Shaedon Sharpe Masterpiece pic.twitter.com/RTQydZm969
— BLAZERS MONK (@DiogenesMadlad) October 7, 2022
Jalen Williams, Thunder +3600 (FanDuel)
Williams was one of the high risers in the draft, from unknown to first rounder to surprise lottery pick. He might be rising even further in Oklahoma City with Holmgren out for the year and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander sidelined to start the season, leaving this offense wide open with endless usage available.
The No. 12 pick would be the third-lowest draft pick to win ROY since the 1950s, but Williams can fill up the box score as a passer and rebounder. If he surprises as a scorer for a team with plenty of shots available, his PRA numbers could be tough to ignore, and he should get plenty of opportunity down the stretch for a tanking team.
Williams’s number is already dropping this preseason, so don’t wait around.
Blake Wesley, Spurs +6600 (BetMGM)
Like with Oklahoma City’s barren roster, somebody has to produce for the Spurs. San Antonio lost Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, which vacates 35 points, 12 rebounds, and 15 assists. Somebody on the Spurs has to gobble up those numbers, and the roster could get even weaker if the team trades away veterans like Jakob Poeltl or Josh Richardson.
Wesley popped at Summer League with his elite burst and ability to get to the rim, and he was an impressive freshman scorer at Notre Dame. He could even see time at point guard for a team that doesn’t really have a starting PG. He’s a longshot, but this far down the board, you’re just looking for opportunity.