With approximately a month left in the regular season, it’s appropriate to assess where the members of the Class of 2020 rank in pursuit of the Kia NBA Rookie of the Year Award. And that’s exactly what the Charlotte Observer did over the weekend in what amounted to a straw poll of some potential voters.
Charlotte has a particular interest in this year’s ROY because Hornets guard LaMelo Ball was looking like a runaway favorite before suffering a broken wrist on March 20. He went down with what immediately generated speculation as a season-ending injury in his and Charlotte’s 41st game.
That raised the issue of whether 41 games is enough to earn one of the NBA’s top annual awards.
As veteran Hornets beat scribe Rick Bonnell wrote:
“Were Ball’s first three months so dominant that it doesn’t matter whether he plays again this season? That’s the divide among Rookie of the Year voters.
‘I think it’s going to be difficult for anyone to take this award away from Ball, who has been everything Charlotte could’ve hoped for — and then some — as a rookie,’ said ESPN reporter Tim Bontemps. ‘For as good as Haliburton has been this season, Ball has been on another level.’
However, Ball has played in 41 games and might not return before the end of a 72-game regular season. For some voters, that’s not enough.”
That included yours truly, at least for now. But the question remains open, with updates that Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak is hoping that Ball could be cleared to play again this season, in preparation for a playoff series. Playing even three games of mixed results would boost Ball’s participation a tick above Patrick Ewing, who won Rookie of the Year in 1986 playing only 61% of the season’s games, which remains the lowest percentage of games ever to win any of the NBA’s major awards (MVP, ROY, Defensive Player, Sixth Man, Most Improved).
Ball was leading all rookies in almost every statistical category and swept the first three monthly honors as the Eastern Conference’s best newcomer. Charlotte coach James Borrego thinks that’s enough even if Ball is done for the season.
“He has clearly impacted winning, more so than I even expected,” Borrego said. The Hornets woke up Wednesday with a 27-26 record, seventh in the East but only two games behind No. 4 Atlanta. Interestingly, Charlotte is 7-5 since Ball got hurt.
But Ball standing on his 41-game body of work will be measured against challengers such as Timberwolves wing Anthony Edwards and Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton, who are adding to their resumes and presumably improving over time.
Bonnell asked 12 media panelists who had ROY votes last season to cast a hypothetical 1-2-3 ballot. Based on the NBA’s points system attached to the ballots, his findings were:
Ball: Nine first-place votes, one second-place, two third-place = 50 points
Haliburton: Two firsts, six seconds, four thirds = 32 points
Edwards: One first, five seconds, five thirds = 25 points
Immanuel Quickley, New York: One third = 1 point
The Ladder has parked Ball at No. 6 since his injury, acknowledging his work to that point but allowing for some dynamic movement in the rankings as the rest of the season unfolded. By the end of the regular season, the final 2020-21 Ladder will reflect, at the top, an actual ROY ballot.
The Top 5 this week on the 2020-21 Kia Rookie Ladder:
(All stats through Monday, April 12)
1. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
It was less a rookie mistake than a young man’s orientation that had the Class of 2020’s No. 1 pick scratching his head the other day. Asked about the more famous of the tandem in line to buy the franchise from owner Glen Taylor, former baseball star Alex Rodriguez, Edwards said, “I don’t know who that is. … I don’t know anything about baseball.” Rodriguez reached out via social media to Edwards after that. All Rodriguez and business partner Marc Lore should care about is Edwards’ current and future play. His hold on the top rung here is fueled in part by averaging 23.6 points on 43.7% shooting since March 1, compared to 14.8 points and 37.2% through February.
2. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings
Back to a reserve role for the No. 12 pick, the better player in coach Luke Walton’s view to lead Sacramento’s backup unit. Not clear how that will affect his ROY chances, which he spoke about in an interview with The Athletic: “My brothers mess with me about it and stuff at home. Even my girl, she doesn’t even watch basketball and she’s like, ‘You play the Timberwolves, don’t they got Anthony Edwards?’ … I’m just coming out here trying to win basketball games.”
— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) April 13, 2021
3. Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets
Solid play at both ends continues for the 25-year-old undrafted rookie (by way of two seasons spent overseas). He and LaMelo Ball could become the 12th and 13th rookies since 2000-01 to average at least 10 points, five boards, two assists and one steal. He grabbed seven steals in two games against the Warriors and Suns, but went 1-for-14 from the arc over the past four.
Tate always brings the hustle. 💪 pic.twitter.com/ejdgbYDYMm
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) April 11, 2021
4. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons
Multiple Pistons insiders are already declaring them the winners in trading Luke Kennard and several second-round picks to Clippers for this guy. And at 38.2% on six 3-point attempts per game, he ranks among or atop some of the best rookie long-range shooters in league history, including Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic.
— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) April 11, 2021
5. Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies
It’s a big leap for Bane on this week’s Ladder (and a bigger drop by New York’s Immanuel Quickley), due in part to the speed bump we’ve created at Nos. 6 and 7 with injured high-lottery picks Ball and Wiseman. Bane’s contributions to a Memphis team that could be a dangerous first-round matchup merit this spot – the Grizzlies (27-25) are playing better than most of the other Ladder players’ teams. The No. 30 pick from Texas Christian has been shooting 51.5%/49.0%/89.5% in Memphis’ victories.
— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) April 10, 2021
The Next Five:
6. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
Parked here due to injury, but ready to rise upon return.
7. James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors
Last week’s “rollercoaster” label better than current right knee injury.
8. Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks
Coach Thibodeau’s lease will shorten with unreliable play.
9. Isaiah Stewart, Detroit Pistons
“Baby Ben Wallace” puts some old-school in Pistons.
T10. Jaden McDaniels, Minnesota Timberwolves
Now a go-to, two-way player for new Wolves coach Finch.
T10. Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls
No panic, but slippage coincides with Bulls’ continuing fade.
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