By Guest Writer Eesha Gudiseva
Photo from https://www.nba.com/grizzlies/
With the first pick at the 2019 NBA Draft, the New Orleans Pelicans selected Zion Williamson after his just one outstanding season at Duke, where he averaged 25 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, helping them reach the elite eight. With the second pick, the Memphis Grizzlies selected Ja Morant, having just finished his second season at Murray State where he became the first-ever NCAA player to average 20 points and 10 assists per game in a single season.
Naturally, the race for Rookie of the Year (ROTY) will soon begin with these two young athletes competing to add their names to a list of phenomenal players that includes Larry Bird, Kyrie Irving, and Lebron James.
During preseason training right after the draft, Williamson tore his meniscus, causing him to miss the first 33 games of the season. He only recently made his NBA debut on Jan. 22 in a game against the San Antonio Spurs. Commentators were quick to comment on his relatively tentative playing, saying he was too frequently handing off the ball to his teammates, not driving the ball to the basket. Williamson is known for his flashy game; being 6 foot 6 inches, he is able to run over small defenders and can consistently dunk the ball. However, in the fourth quarter, he came out more aggressively and went on to score 17 points — scoring on seven straight possessions — in just over three minutes, totaling 22 points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.
He played great, but that is just one game. Ja Morant has played 33 more games than him and is leading all NBA rookies in scoring with an average of 17.6 points per game. Plus, Morant has already won Rookie of the Month twice. In just his first season with the Grizzlies, he has set a franchise record for the highest-scoring game in a rookie season and has made an immediate impact on and off the court. Over the course of the season, there have been so many improvements to his game, his ball-handling skills and his ability to direct the team's offense. Obviously, I have a little inherent bias as a lifelong Grizzlies fan, but just based on the stats and Zion’s missing over half the season, it would be clear to anyone that Ja should be the front runner for ROTY.
So why is it that I see articles with headlines like “Could Zion Williamson Win Rookie of the Year?” or “NBA Rookie of the Year Odds and Best Bets: Zion Williamson among favorites?” I am no sports analyst, but it seems obvious that someone who sat out half of the season and who has not proven himself a consistent player (yet) should win. It is almost like doing most of the work in a group project and the last-minute person ending up with a higher grade.
With the resurgence of sports in Memphis this year (Tigers football and basketball and the Grizzlies), it would be devastating if Morant was not given ROTY. He has proven himself to be a consistent and reliable player, and it would be heartbreaking if his hard work went unnoticed.
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