Despite Zion Williamson’s 22 and 7 stat line, and despite his strength and skill around the rim, he won’t win Rookie of the Year. Yes, he has a tidy offensive rating of 117 and a PER of 25.8. And more than likely, he will be in the playoffs facing the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. But Rookie of the Year is out of the question.
He didn’t play 70 games. He didn’t play 50 games. He didn’t play 40 games. 35 games doesn’t cut it. It’s not fair to the likely ROY Ja Morant who, if he didn’t play another game, would still have played more games than if Zion plays every game until the season ends.
Ja Morant has played in 51 games with a 17 and 7 stat line. His PER and offensive rating isn’t Zion worthy but he’s a guard and floor general who has to do different things for the Grizzlies.
Everyone is projecting Shaq like things for Zion Williamson but slow the roll and let him get acclimated. The good part for Zion is that the schedule is in his favor. The Pelicans have the easiest 25 games remaining which makes them front runners for getting that 8 seed. But there is a reason why award winners have to do it game in and game out, week after week after week. Fatigue, attrition, stress play havoc in a long season. Part of winning ROY or MVP is the ability to stay healthy, focused and consistent in a long season.
The rookie wall is something Zion won’t have to deal with. He didn’t have a decision to make: pull out of the All-Star dunk contest (like Morant did) or win the trophy. Zion hasn’t had a second half.
We still don’t know enough about his game, particularly how he’ll fare when he’s tired. Giving a player who has only played 40% of the schedule ROY is a bad precedent. Showing up matters. The grind counts. It is the same reason why Kawhi Leonard isn’t a MVP candidate. Load management has taken him out of games and consideration.
Speaking of Kawhi. There are some who see Zion’s career playing out in symmetrical tones. As in Kawhi Leonard has never played an 82 game season. He has played 70+ games twice in his career. With the exception of his injury year, Kawhi usually plays about 66 games a year and rumor has it he told the Clippers that is what he intends to play this year.
66 games as a Zion goal seems reasonable and realistic. That his knee injury is keeping him out of the ROY running seems unfair. He has dominated the 12 games he has played. That he won’t get anything at the end of the year to acknowledge his effort, except for All-Rookie 1st team, is part of the welcome to the NBA introduction. You have to show up for six months.
Ja Morant has dominated his rookie year. He is a 4th quarter beast. He is shooting 55% in the 4th and has taken more shots in the 4th than any other quarter. The reason he is so hard to guard is that Morant has taken as many jump shots and drained them efficiently (44%) as he has taken layups (50%). Plus there are those Ja dunks, his trash talking, and his overall swag.
Although Zion has taken more shots in the second quarter than any other quarter, it is the second half in which he imposes his will. He has only missed one second half three and he is finishing at a ridiculous rate, 64%. Clearly he needs to work on his jumper, it’s pretty pathetic and like Morant, his defense is an afterthought. But give him points based on sheer athletic domination.
Is he really similar to Shaq (who did win ROY and was an All-Star his first year in the league)?
Let’s compare the first 12 games.
Shaq averaged 37 minutes. He scored 23 ppg and dominated the boards with 15 rebounds. He also added 3 blocks per game.
Zion plays 28 minutes. He averages 23 ppg and 7 rebounds. He doesn’t block shots. There is a lot that Zion has to add to his game before he is considered the next generation Shaquille O’Neal. But his first 12 games have proven he is ROY worthy, just not ROY. He needs a tougher resume. More games. More competition. More stress. More Zion.