The list of past NBA Rookie of the Year winners includes the likes of Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Lew Alcindor, Rick Barry, Oscar Robertson, and Wilt Chamberlain.
While your odd Mike Miller and Emeka Okafor are also on the list, winning the award is one of the surest indicators of future superstardom.
Who among the NBA’s talented crop of 2015 rookies will join recent winners Michael Carter-Williams, Damian Lillard, and Kyrie Irving?
With a quarter of the season left to play, Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins is the odds-on favorite, especially since Bucs rookie Jabari Parker tore his ACL in January. However, at least one other first year player in the NBA is still in contention and making a push.
Let’s survey the current Rookie of the Year landscape.
2015 NBA Rookie of the Year Odds:
Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota Timberwolves): 1/5
Wiggins is 1/5 to take the prize. At nearly 16 points a game, his scoring average is four points better than any rookie besides the sidelined Parker, and seven points clear of any first year player who has participated in 50 games or more. He ranks sixth among rookies in rebounding, and sixth in both field goal and three-point percentage. He is second on the Wolves in scoring, and won the MVP during the Rising Stars Challenge at NBA All Star Weekend.
He may not be the next LeBron – as people predicted when he was just 15 years old – but Wiggins looks capable of being the centerpiece for a successful T-Wolves rebuild.
Nelens Noel (Philadelphia 76ers): 12/1
The Sixers’ Nerlens Noel is our second choice at 12/1. He missed all of last season with a knee injury, but has been productive during his delayed rookie campaign. He leads all NBA rookies (and the Sixers) in both rebounds (7.3) and steals (1.6). He’s also fifth in scoring (8.8 PPG) and shooting-percentage (45.1)
Noel’s true calling card in his young career is his defense. He is sixth among all players in the league in blocked shots (1.9), and routinely finds himself on Sportscenter protecting the Philly rim. What gives Noel a real shot to still win the award is the fact that he has picked up the pace since Philly shipped leading scorer Michael Carter-Williams to Milwaukee; Noel is averaging 12.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per game since the All Star break.
Elfrid Payton (Orlando Magic): 20/1
The best passing rookie in the NBA this year is Orlando’s Elfrid Payton. He’s 20/1 to win the ROY Award. Payton, who averages nearly six helpers a game, leads all rookies in assists by almost two per game. He ranks seventh among rookies in scoring, and is second in steals. After coming off the bench for a stretch early in the year, Payton has started the last 30+ games for the Magic and is pairing nicely with Victor Oladipo in the Orlando backcourt.
Jusef Nurkic (Denver Nuggets): 30/1
Denver’s Jusef Nurkic has been one of the lone bright spots during a terrible season for the Nuggets. The young Bosnian is 30/1 to win the Rookie of the Year. Nurkic’s play has been good enough for the Nuggets to trade Timofey Mozgov and rid themselves of JaVale McGee so that the rookie can grow. At nearly seven rebounds a contest, he is second among first year players in boards, and is also second in blocked shots. He is currently out with an ankle injury but is clearly a piece for Denver to build around.
Nikola Mirotic (Chicago Bulls): 30/1
Finally, the Bulls Nikola Mirotic should not be overlooked. He is 30-1 to win the award and is the only player on our list helping a playoff team. He hasn’t had the opportunities as the others on this list because the Bulls are loaded with talent; but even so, Mirotic is just outside the top-ten in rookie scoring, and ranks sixth in rebounding. He averages only 17 minutes a night, but has put together some big games recently, including a 31 point, nine rebound performance against the Clippers on Sunday.
Full 2014-15 NBA Rookie of the Year Odds:
- Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota Timberwolves): 1/5
- Nerlens Noel (Philadelphia 76ers): 12/1
- Elfrid Payton (Orlando Magic): 20/1
- Jusef Nurkic (Denver Nuggets): 30/1
- Nikola Mirotic (Chicago Bulls): 30/1
With about 20 games left for the rookies to strut their stuff, it’s going to be hard for anyone to catch Wiggins. But Noel has become the de facto leader of the Sixers now that Carter-Williams has been shipped out of town. If he can lead his team to a decent final quarter of the season, he may just give the voters some pause.
(Photo credit: Brent Burford Photography (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)