Zion Williamson is having one of the best statistical performances ever in the NBA Preseason. His efficiency is off the charts and he looks like a bully out on the court. While a Rookie of the Year award looks inevitable for him, Dustin goes over a few other rookies in prime position to take advantage should Zion and the Pelicans slip.
We all know the preseason doesn’t matter. The star players aren’t playing as much, the games don’t count so the urgency isn’t there, but still, Zion Williamson has captured the imagination of NBA fans across the world. Looking every bit like the player he was advertised as; critics, analysts, and fans are already declaring the Rookie of the Year race over and to just give him the award now. While he’s still the favorite to win the award, these are just a few players I think have a chance to upstage Zion when the real games start.
5- Coby White/DeAndre Hunter (25 to 1 odds to win ROTY)
It’s probably not likely that either of these guys are taking the award but here is the road map to it just in case Zion underwhelms or misses any games with injury:Hunter: An incredible defender, Hunter has shown a better than expected shooting touch so far this preseason. If he can contribute reliable offense to the young and on the rise Hawks while raising their defensive abilities, the Hawks may find themselves in a fight for the 8-seed. White: Coby White is the first North Carolina guard to be drafted by the Bulls since…well, yikes, that’s a lot of pressure to put on a young player. White doesn’t seem to mind it at all though. Embracing the city and the responsibility that comes with leading a bad team that is on the rebuild, White will join Wendell Carter Jr, Lauri Markkanen, and Zach LaVine as the young core pushing to take the Bulls back to the playoffs. If everyone contributes and the Bulls remain in the playoff hunt, White may be rewarded for his efforts.
4- Tyler Herro (20 to 1 odds to win)
By no means do I think Herro is going to pull off this upset when the awards are handed out, but that doesn’t mean I can’t imagine the two weeks where his scorching hot shooting nights dominate the headlines. From Summer League to the Preseason, Tyler Herro has put on incredible heat-check shooting performances showing an ability to create his own shot, shoot off the dribble, step back from 3 and even attack the basket. He famously said “I’m a bucket” back in college and so far that’s what he’s looked like this season. Herro heating up is going to become must-see League Pass TV.
3- Michael Porter Jr (16 to 1 odds to win)
I told my friend I was thinking about putting some money on MPJ to win Rookie of the Year because the odds were good and I could see a path for him to sneak in and steal it. His response? “If you’re comfortable giving away money just burn it or let me have it.” Coming off a redshirt rookie season following back surgery, Porter Jr has the potential to immediately change the landscape of the Western Conference. That sounds like hyperbole until you remember that without him, the Denver Nuggets were second in an already loaded Western Conference and are packed with young talent that continues to develop and get better. If Porter can come in and contribute right away, that gives the Nuggets another outstanding young player to either build with or use in a trade of a few of their players for someone more established during the season.
2- Ja Morant (4.5 to 1 odds to win)
Second only to Zion in betting odds, Ja Morant’s historic season with Murray State and breakout March Madness game put a national spotlight on him. Now on the Memphis Grizzlies, it’s safe to say that while the team isn’t expected to make the playoffs or win the title right away, the pressure will be on Ja to lead the team and to gel with second-year forward Jaren Jackson Jr. If the Grizzlies overachieve and the Pelicans stumble out of the gates, Morant has a great opportunity to put his otherworldly handles and elite vision on display to an even larger audience.
1- R.J. Barrett (6 to 1 odds to win)
It feels insane to me to put R.J. ahead of Ja Morant who I believe to be the better overall player but there’s one thing Ja doesn’t have: the crazy New York media. Barrett in New York is going to be subjected to radical press coverage depending on how his last game went. If he hits a stretch scoring 18-20 points and like, 4 rebounds and 4 assists while Zion hits a slump, the Knicks fans and New York media can easily create a swell of support for Barrett to come in and make a move for ROTY honors.
The NBA season starts October 22nd. All eyes will be on Zion Williamson and the Pelicans to deliver right away. We’ll see if any of these other rookies can manage to make this race interesting or if it really is already over.
Dustin Brewer is a freelance writer and co-editor of HefferBrew. Follow him on Twitter. Be sure to follow HefferBrew for all the latest in the Rookie of the Year race as well as all NBA news and stories this season.