NBA Rookie of the Year odds: Ja Morant taking advantage of Zion Williamson’s injury, but dark horses emerge

Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, Nov. 4, 2019
Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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New Orleans Pelicans phenom Zion Williamson was the heavy favorite (-225 odds) for Rookie of the Year before a torn meniscus delayed his NBA debut. Williamson’s recovery timetable has been set for six to eight weeks, meaning he should be back in early-to-mid-December.

The injury obviously has a major impact on Williamson’s odds to win the award. He’s going to miss at least a quarter of the season and will then have to work his way back into playing shape. With his price adjusted to +450 at the Westgate SuperBook, he’s no longer the betting favorite.

This doesn’t mean Williamson is out of the running for the award. The 19-year-old was dominant in preseason, going for 23.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 71.4%, so he might get up to speed real quick and put up big numbers right away.

Kyrie Irving won Rookie of the Year in 2011-12 while playing only 51 games. Vince Carter and Patrick Ewing both won it playing 50 games. If Williamson stays relatively healthy the rest of the way, he’ll play around that amount of games.

Still, these circumstances have helped open the door for others, and Memphis Grizzlies rookie point guard Ja Morant has seized the moment to become the new favorite at +200.

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Morant made waves at Murray State last year and played himself into the No. 2 pick behind Zion. With Mike Conley off to the Utah Jazz, Morant was given the keys to the Grizzlies’ rebuild.

While Memphis is just 2-5 ahead of Friday’s game in Orlando and will lose a boatload of games this season, Morant has been terrific. The point guard is averaging a robust 20.4 points, 5.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds while shooting 52.3% overall and 50.0% from 3-land. He has a 30-point game to his name and has scored at least 23 points in each of the last three games.

That type of efficiency isn’t going to hold over a long season, but there’s zero reason to think Morant’s raw numbers will dip all that much. The 20-year-old will be the star of the show all season for the rebuilding Grizzlies, so he’ll have the opportunity to rack up big numbers.

Morant is a good bet to win Rookie of the Year given how he has looked, but there are others to keep an eye on, including several players who have come out of nowhere.

RJ Barrett (+400)

The New York Knicks are a joke yet again, but Barrett has been a relative bright spot. The 19-year-old is averaging 17.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists in a whopping 36.7 minutes per game, which has been a point of contention.

Knicks coach David Fizdale got hot when asked about playing Barrett big minutes in a recent blowout, scoffing at the idea of load management and admitting the youngster is going to be playing a ton. That alone is a good reason to believe Barrett will be in the running for the award as long as he stays healthy.

There are concerns about Barrett’s efficiency. He’s only at 48.2% true shooting thanks in part to a woeful 49.1% mark at the charity stripe, and he plays an aggressive, physical style that could make him more susceptible to hitting a rookie wall given his high-minutes load.

Still, the No. 3 pick’s prolific raw numbers will have him in the conversation. Playing for the Knicks won’t hurt.

Kendrick Nunn (+800)

Here’s one of those out-of-nowhere guys. Nunn went undrafted out of Oakland in 2018 and played with the Golden State Warriors’ G League club last season before signing with the Miami Heat.

Nunn put up 40 points in the preseason finale this season and earned a starting spot. He proceeded to score 112 points in his first five games, the most ever for an undrafted player through the first five games of an NBA career.

Nunn has since come back down to earth after the hot start, averaging 9.0 points on 33.0% shooting over the last three. The guard isn’t as good as his red-hot start and isn’t as bad as his recent slump, so he’ll probably wind up being a solid contributor on a quality Heat squad. That’s not good enough to win Rookie of the Year, but Miami can’t complain.

Tyler Herro (+1200)

Nunn isn’t the only Heat rookie on the radar. Herro, the No. 13 pick out of Kentucky, made a major impression throughout preseason.

The 19-year-old sharpshooter has been stellar out of the gate in the regular season as well, averaging 13.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists and shooting nearly 40% from deep.

While Herro looks like a potential cornerstone, he and Nunn won’t stand out enough from each other, so the numbers just won’t be there to win the award.

Coby White, Rui Hachimura, Eric Paschall (+1400)

White is getting his shots up as a member of the Chicago Bulls’ bench. The No. 7 pick is taking nearly 12 shots in per game in 23.6 minutes per contest, but unfortunately is shooting just 35.8%. The point guard will have his fun moments, but the efficiency isn’t there.

Hachimura is averaging a stellar 12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds, and he may get a bigger opportunity as the season goes along. The Washington Wizards aren’t going to be in the playoff conversation, so an increase in workload makes sense.

Paschall is an interesting case. The Golden State Warriors are hurting, with Stephen Curry out for three months, Klay Thompson out maybe all season and Draymond Green banged up. Paschall has stepped up with averages of 17.0 points on 56.8% shooting to go along with 4.6 rebounds per game. With the Warriors focusing on development, the 23-year-old could put up big numbers and be a dark-horse candidate for Rookie of the Year.

P.J. Washington (+2500)

The Charlotte Hornets rookie probably isn’t going to win this award, but he has been really good to start the season. Washington set an NBA record for most 3-pointers in a debut with seven, and he’s averaging 13.8 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 52.6% overall and 45.2% on 3-pointers.

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