Deandre Ayton's Case for Rookie of the Year

Deandre Ayton not only stood out among his draft class this year, but he had one of the most efficient and productive first seasons in NBA history on his way to being named a finalist for Rookie of the Year.

The first overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, Ayton made a statement the very first time he ever stepped onto the court in a Suns uniform. Ayton recorded 19 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists in his Phoenix debut against the Dallas Mavericks. He became the first player to record at least 18-10-6 in an NBA debut since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1969 according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

This was just the start for the young center as one of his most impressive performances of the season came just a few months later against the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 29. Ayton scored a career-high 33 points on 16-of-20 shooting with 14 rebounds (10 offensive) and a career-high 4 steals. He became the first rookie to shoot at least 80 percent from the field on 20-plus attempts since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984. Aside from his historic scoring efficiency, Ayton also became the first rookie since at least 1983 with at least 10 offensive rebounds and four steals in a game (Basketball-Reference).

Ayton dominated the glass throughout his rookie campaign as he ranked first among rookies (13th overall) with 10.3 rebounds per game to go along with his 16.3 points per game (4th among rookies). He led all rookies with 39 double-doubles on the season, nine more than second place Trae Young. Ayton reached his 30th double-double in his 51st career game and, since Shaquille O’Neal in 1992-93, only Blake Griffin, Emeka Okafor and Tim Duncan reached the mark in fewer career games (Basketball-Reference).

The Big Fella not only filled the stat sheet, but he did so at a highly efficient level ranking first among rookies and 10th overall in field goal percentage (58.5%). It is the highest field goal percentage by a rookie averaging a double-double in NBA history while also being the third-highest field goal percentage ever by a qualified rookie (Steve Johnson and Otis Thorpe). 

Ayton also finished just shy (74.6 FT%) of being the first rookie and just 10th different player overall in NBA history to record a season averaging at least 10 points and 10 rebounds while shooting at least 55% from the field and 75% from the free throw line. The complete list of players to do so, which includes seven Hall of Famers, are Brad Daugherty, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Artis Gilmore, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Swen Nater and Jerry Lucas. 

Efficient from the field and the free throw line, Ayton had a True Shooting Percentage of 60.8% for the second-highest True Shooting Percentage by a rookie averaging at least 15 points in NBA history (trailing only Bill Cartwright in 1979-80).

Looking at advanced metrics, Ayton ranked 2nd among rookies in Win Shares with 5.8 (Basketball-Reference), 2nd with a Player Impact Estimate of 13.9 (NBA.com/Stats) and 2nd with a Player Efficiency Rating of 20.54 (ESPN).

The 2018-19 NBA rookie class was one of the most impressive groups within the last decade, but there is no doubt that Ayton ranked near the top of them all, already earning himself All-Rookie First Team honors. Ayton was just the 12th rookie in the Lottery Era to average at least 15 points and 10 rebounds with nine of the previous 11 winning Rookie of the Year. Named a finalist for Rookie of the Year with Trae Young and Luka Doncic, Ayton pieced together a highly impressive and historic rookie campaign as all eyes will turn to the 2019 NBA Awards on June 24th to witness who claims the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy.  

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