Updated: Aug 6, 2020
Author: Brett Sapin
Leading up to Zion’s January debut, Ja Morant was the clear frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, yet after only 19 games, is there a chance Zion has done enough to leap past Ja as the leading ROTY candidate?
Throughout 19 games, Williamson averaged 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. In 59 games, Ja averaged 17.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game. 19 games is too small of a sample size to extrapolate the numbers over an entire season, especially when Zion plays a unique play style that many teams would have adjusted to.
But numbers are not the only criteria for who deserves the ROTY award. Morant led the Grizzlies to a 32-33 record before the league shutdown, 7 games above Vegas’ projection for the full 82 game season. And to the surprise of nearly every NBA analyst, the Grizzlies finished the shortened season as a true playoff contender.
The Pelicans finished 28-36, with Zion going 10-9 in his 19 games of play, but once again these sample sizes are too small to assume he has the edge on Ja. The Grizzlies' point God has proven he’s a future NBA superstar and has led his team, the youngest team in the entire Association, to the 8th seed in a cutthroat Western Conference.
History has shown that you must play the majority of the season if you want the Rookie of the Year award. No player playing under 50 games in a season has been selected as ROTYl and while Zion’s performance has been great, it has not been enough to propel him over Morant.
We know the NBA has a narrative to push. They are trying to create a rivalry before either rookie star has played an entire season, and want a Zion vs. Lebron first-round series because Zion has shown he can bring in ratings.
Morant has done one thing that Zion has not. He has already proven to be a team leader and example for the rest of the squad. While both are still under the age of 21, Ja has embraced the city of Memphis whereas some players (I’m talking about you Andre Igoudala) would rather sit out than consider their time wasted on a team rebuilding.
This postseason will likely be a non-indicator of future performance due to the circumstances, but it will still be a great opportunity to see the future of the league battling it out for a shot at the title.
Zion’s marketability has fueled the coverage he’s received since his rookie debut and this has made him the ROTY in many fan’s eyes. Ja and Zion will both be a scary sight in the next few years, but Ja Morant is the Rookie of the Year and for the voting committee to take that away from him would put a stain on what the award is supposed to mean.