Zion Williamson Won’t Win the Rookie of the Year, And That’s Okay

Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images
Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images /

There’s been a near-unanimous belief that Zion Williamson is destined to dominate the Rookie of the Year discussion this year. It’s important that New Orleans Pelicans fans realize that , for the team, it might be better if he doesn’t.

Zion Williamson is having an interesting summer, all things considered. Not only has he only played nine minutes of preseason basketball for the New Orleans Pelicans, he has yet to step onto the court in a single game that counts (my apologies to all previous Summer League champions). He was given the best dunk rating in NBA 2K20, and it feels like every picture he’s in this summer sparks a debate about his height, weight, or even what position he’s best suited for in the NBA.

One thing people seem to agree on is the likelihood of his winning Rookie of the Year. During the annual Rookie Survey, his peers entering the league this year voted him as the most likely to win the award. In late August, ESPN did too. If you search, you can find dozens of articles that say the same thing.

This article won’t.

It’s not to say that Zion can’t win Rookie of the Year. He’s a generational athlete, and his comfort and ease in the spotlight will make him a natural draw to many. People will want to vote for him.

Still, it’s important that Pelicans fans temper their expectations as far as individual hardware is concerned. If Zion doesn’t win the Rookie of the Year award, it won’t necessarily mean that he’s had a subpar season. To understand why that’s true, it’s useful to look at history and see what, exactly, it means to win Rookie of the Year.

The following lists each of the last ten winners of the award, the year they won it, and, more importantly, their usage rates and team records, which play a key role in understanding why it isn’t vital for Zion to win this year.

Usage Rate, for those who might be unaware, is fairly simple: it’s the percentage of plays when a given player is on the court that ends with that same player shooting (either a field goal or free throw) or turning the ball over. Even simpler: it’s the number of plays that a player “uses” while on the court.

The first thing that jumps out when you look at this list is that only two teams have winning records the year their rookie won. When you focus even more closely on that, you’ll see that those two rookies also just so happen to have the lowest usage rates on the charts.

Malcolm Brogdon’s 2017 win came in what many considered a down year for the rookie class in general; Joel Embiid placed third in the same season while missing more than fifty of that year’s games. In 2018, Simmons won while playing an all-around game on a team that improved by 24 games (it likely helped that Embiid played literally twice as many that year).

What’s important to notice about those two winners is that their teams didn’t rely on them to score, but rather to do a little bit of everything. The other eight years are proof that typically, those aren’t the guys that win the award. Instead, it goes to guys who put up a lot of counting stats on teams that are right back in the lottery the next year.

In the end, there are two scenarios that could lead to Zion winning the Rookie of the Year Award in ten months: either he is a solid contributor on a playoff team, or he ends up putting up a lot of stats on a team that can’t smell the playoffs by the time March hits.

That first scenario would be difficult; the last Rookie of the Year in the Western Conference playoffs was Amar’e Stoudemire in 2003.

The second scenario, though, is actually a bigger worst-case scenario than Zion missing out on the award because this version of the Pelicans wasn’t built for Zion to put up the kind of numbers that Ja Morant and RJ Barrett are likely to see. If Zion’s usage starts creeping up to or above 25 percent, that means guys like Jrue Holiday, J.J Redick., and Brandon Ingram aren’t finishing as many possessions, and that’s exactly what the Pelicans don’t want happening this year.

dark. Next. New Orleans Pelicans: 5 Toughest Matchups of 2019-20 Season

Zion has time to be great. Right now, the Pelicans just want him to be good, and that’s okay.