WAS JA MORANT OR ZION WILLIAMSON THE BEST ROOKIE IN THE NBA THIS SEASON?
That depends on what question you’re really asking. Which player was more valuable to their NBA team? Which player was better when on the court? Which of them will one day be the better player? The fun part about awards is that there are no set-in-stone criteria. If there were, columns like these would be pointless. We’d just throw all the names and numbers into the big MVP cruncher computer, press go, and spit out the results. But that’s not real life. These races are subjective, and the more post-All-Star-break basketball we got, the more Zion vs Ja became a real question. It would only have amplified over the game’s final six weeks. A whopping 115 rookies debuted this season, even without the final 18 games robbed by Coronavirus. Yesterday we looked at
this season. Today we’ll count down the top 10 with this year’s final Rookie Ladder, choosing First and Second-Team All-Rookie in the process and declaring a Rookie of the Year winner.
Not Enough Minutes To Tell
(G) John Konchar, Memphis
If you only went by per-minute numbers and advanced metrics, the Rookie of the Year race would definitely come down to Zion Williamson and two Memphis Grizzlies… neither of which is Ja Morant. John Konchar was an analytics darling at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (go Mastodons!). He went undrafted but got a late-season chance during the Grizzlies playoff push, playing 11 minutes per game over the final 15 games. He didn’t disappoint. Despite playing so little, Konchar somehow ranked top 10 among all rookies in VORP. He made 44% of his threes and an incredible 73% of his twos with a 143 offensive rating and a ridiculous +8.5 on/off per 100 possessions playing off the bench in essentially playoff games.
Somehow playing 11mpg and averaging 3.4ppg, John Konchar ranked third among all rookies in PER, an almost exclusively counting stat. Konchar finished the season with a 5.0 BPM, a number typically reserved for All-NBA players. Don’t believe me? Check out the list of 12 NBA players that finished this season with a 5.0 BPM:
Giannis. Harden. Kawhi. LeBron. Brow. Luka. KAT. Kyrie. Jokic. Dame. Butler. Embiid. And John Konchar.
What a world.
(G) Jordan McLaughlin, Minnesota
The Timberwolves season got pretty wonky, but Jordan McLaughlin sure did his job. For a team without a point guard, the Summer League standout played 20mpg off the bench and finished second among all rookies with 4.2 assists per game. In fact, his 31% assist rate made him the only rookie not named Ja over 20%. Throw in some quality shooting numbers, and don’t be surprised to see McLaughlin stick around on next year’s roster too.
(F) Nicolo Melli, New Orleans
In a world where everyone wants a stretch four, the NBA sent Nikola Mirotic to Europe last summer but got back then 28-year-old “rookie” Nicolo Melli. Melli was a very dependent player but he was indeed quite stretchy, hitting 36% of his threes, which made up almost two-thirds of his shots. That included a memorable twisting corner three over Kristaps Porzingis’s outstretched arms to send a late-season game to overtime. Melli joined the big boys and did just fine for himself.
(F) Grant Williams, Boston
Williams was not good on offense. Let’s just get that part out of the way. He was terrible. He made only 42% of his field goals, horrid for a big man, and turned the ball over on 18% of his possessions. That included going literally 0-for-his-first-20-games on threes, an ugly 0/25 start to his career, but hit 35% of his treys from December 9 forward.
Still, Williams was supposed to be a defender, and he already looks the part. He’s a brick house on that end and already shows wisdom beyond his years reading the play and playing strong team defense, defending the pick-and-roll, and communicating on that end. He’s quite clearly an NBA defender. Now he just needs to find enough offense to stay on the court.