As cranky as some people already are that their favorite player isn’t standing atop the latest Kia Rookie Ladder, odds are they’re going to get crankier still when the actual NBA Rookie of the Year balloting results are announced.
That’s when seemingly close races for such an award often wind up as blowouts.
And that’s what might happen again despite the relatively tight grouping – Evan Mobley, Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes – to the top candidates this season.
We only have to go back nine months to see how a fiercely contested and hotly debated ROY competition can end up looking like Secretariat vs. the field. Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball, after a slow start off the bench, was dazzling folks with his playmaking and clutch moments. But he missed 21 of 72 games to injury, during which time Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, with his strong second half, significantly closed the distance in his supporters’ minds.
Ballots were cast, the league tabulated the results and … it wasn’t even close. Ball got 84 first-place votes and 465 points in the system that awards five points for a first, three for a second-place vote and one for a third-place vote. Edwards finished with 15 and 309. Tyrese Haliburton was third with 114 points.
And so it has gone in recent ROY races. Here’s a quick recap of the voting results:
• Ja Morant got 99 of the 100 first-place votes in 2020, a true runaway with Zion Williamson playing only 24 games.
• In 2019, nine players appeared on ballots, but Luka Doncic got 98 firsts and 496 points. Trae Young got the other two first-place votes toward 301 points, and Deandre Ayton placed third with 66 points.
• Ben Simmons got 90 of 101 firsts in 2018, so his 481-323 points win over Donovan Mitchell (11 firsts) was bigger than it already appears. Jayson Tatum was third with 101 points.
• Even in 2017, in what wasn’t a bumper crop for rookie seasons, Malcolm Brogdon won it as the 36th pick with 64 firsts and 414 points. Dario Saric was second with 13 and 266, while Joel Embiid got 23 first-place votes and 177 points while playing in only 31 games.
• The five years prior to that were runaways, too, for Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Michael Carter-Williams, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving. Never mind that their competition included the likes of Kristaps Porzingis, Victor Oladipo, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis and Ricky Rubio.
• The closest ROY voting in recent memory came in 2010. Tyreke Evans won with 491 to Steph Curry’s 391 thanks to Evans’ 67-43 advantage in firsts.
• Back in 2005, Emeka Okafor beat out Ben Gordon by 71 points, 514-443. And in 2003, it was Amar’e Stoudemire winning the trophy with 458 points to Yao Ming’s 405, owing to Stoudemire’s 59-45 edge in first-place votes.
• Prior to 2005, the ROY was decided by a straight, one-choice ballot rather than the three-spot points system. In 2002, Pau Gasol got 117 of 126 votes, while Richard Jefferson, Andrei Kirilenko, Jason Richardson and Jamaal Tinsley divvied up the other nine.
• Probably the tightest ROY race came in 1981 with a much smaller number of voters. Darrell Griffith’s 19 votes beat out Kelvin Ransey with 18, Larry Smith 14 and Kevin McHale 11.
• There have been three ties for ROY. Splitting one’s votes no longer is permitted, but it could conceivably happen again if the numbers break right. The ties: 2001, Elton Brand and Steve Francis, 58-58; 1995, Grant Hill and Jason Kidd, 43 votes each; and 1971, Dave Cowens and Geoff Petrie, 36-36.
Perhaps the most memorable and misleading ROY outcome came in 1980. That’s when Larry Bird smoked the runnerup, 63-3. Magic Johnson had to settle for leading the Lakers to the 1980 NBA title at the front end of one of the league’s greatest rivalries.
The Top 5 this week on the 2021-22 Kia Rookie Ladder:
(All stats through Monday, March 21)
1. Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers
Mobley’s work at both ends keeps him atop the Ladder. He passed a huge test Friday going against Denver and defending MVP Nikola Jokic, scoring 27 points with 11 rebounds in the Cavs’ overtime victory. Nine of those points came in the OT. Eight of his 20 double-doubles have come in Cleveland’s last 15 games. “He plays tough,” Minnesota coach Chris Finch said of Mobley recently. “He seems to have really good instincts, certainly defensively. He unfolds. He’s super-long. And offensively, he’s got a nice touch, and you can see a ton of upside there as well to develop.”
2. Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons
The good news: Cunningham shot 50% for the week, getting his season rate up to 40.8%. He leads all rookies in scoring average, as well as field-goal attempts, and he has 10 double-doubles. The not-so-good news: He nearly had a dubious 11th when he scored 25 points with nine turnovers in a home loss to Portland Monday. The Pistons guard is averaging 3.6 turnovers, and his 203 total is tied for 10th (though in good company with LaMelo Ball. And Luka Doncic has 256).
— Pistons PR (@Pistons_PR) March 21, 2022
3. Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors
Barnes was working on a masterpiece against the Lakers Friday, eventually finishing with 31 points on 14-of-21 shooting, 17 rebounds (four offensive) and a plus-5. But his paint brush inadvertently grazed the canvas – his inbounds pass near the end of regulation wound up in Russell Westbrook’s hands, enabling the veteran guard to send the game into OT. And the Raptors lost 128-123. Barnes’ 16.8 ppg this week came on exactly 16.8 FGA per game.
4. Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic
The lowest-drafted of the Ladder’s top six is one of the Class of 2021 who is doing more with less – less usage, to be exact. Wagner’s rate – an estimate of the percentage of a team’s plays “used” by a player while on the court – is 20.6%, which ranks 13th among rookies who have played in at least 40 games. Granted, all those ahead of him except Jonathan Kuminga and Alperen Sengun are guards, and ROY candidates Mobley (20.2) and Barnes (18.8) rank lower still. But a case can be made Wagner’s teammates and coaches should be seeking him out more in the guard-heavy Magic offense.
5. Jalen Green, Houston Rockets
Since the All-Star break, Green has averaged 19.2 points on 48% shooting, compared to 14.6 on 39% pre-break. And Rockets fans were pleased with a piece in The Ringer that offered up statistically derived comparisons among rookies in “this century.” Green’s purported comps: Bradley Beal, J.R. Smith, Jamal Murray, Devin Booker and Tyler Herro. You’re welcome to assess the methodology, but that arguably was the best list for any of this year’s newcomers.
The Next 7:
6. Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder
Thunder to offer update on Giddey’s hip soreness by end of week.
7. Herbert Jones, New Orleans Pelicans
Zeal for D and tough matchups has made “Not On Herb” a NOLA thing.
8. Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago Bulls
Out of starting lineup but essential with Lonzo still out.
9. Davion Mitchell, Sacramento Kings
Biggest game yet (28p, 9a) vs. Phoenix starting for De’Aaron Fox.
10. Jonathan Kuminga, Golden State Warriors
Been drilling nearly 82% of free throws since All-Star (65% before).
11. Chris Duarte, Indiana Pacers
Shadow of his pre-All-Star self thanks to toe injury, roster tumult.
12. Bones Hyland, Denver Nuggets
Drawing comparisons to Jamal Crawford, Lou Williams as instant offense.
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