NBA futures: Odds and best value bets for Rookie of the Year
Chris Sheridan examines this season's NBA Rookie of the Year candidates and picks out some value bets at big prices.
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The rookie who led the NBA in scoring this preseason has odds of +8000 to win Rookie of the Year, which actually makes sense because not a lot of people outside of Waco, Texas and college basketball circles remember that Jared Butler won the Most Outstanding Player at the 2021 Final Four after Baylor won its first national championship.
Butler slipped all the way to the 40th pick of the draft, where he was selected by New Orleans and then shipped to Memphis as part of the Jonas Valanciunas-Steven Adams trade. He was subsequently dealt to Utah along with a pair of future second-round picks in exchange for the draft rights to Santi Aldama. Trust me, you are going to want to know all of this stuff for when you brag to your friends about how you were one of the few people who ID’d Butler as a legit Rookie of the Year candidate way back in mid-October.
Butler does not have the high profile of a Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 overall pick by Detroit, or of Jalen Green, who went from the G-League Ignite to the Houston Rockets with the No. 2 selection, but anybody who watched the Final Four closely can recall how Butler led the underdog Bears past Gonzaga for the national championship. And anybody reading this column can now learn that he graduated in three years with a degree in business management, completing graduation requirements in less than three years.
So the kid is smart, but will he get the kind of playing time needed to actually competing for this award? He has been playing 24 minutes per game at shooting guard and will go into the season as the backup to Donovan Mitchell.
No second-round draft pick has won Rookie of the Year since 2017 when Malcolm Brogdon, the 36th overall pick in the prior draft, won the award when he played for the Milwaukee Bucks. Last year’s winner, LaMelo Ball, was selected No. 3 overall by Charlotte in the 2020 draft. The prior year, Ja Morant of Memphis, the second overall pick, won the award. In 2018 it was Luke Doncic, the No. 3 overall pick.
There have been 19 winners who were selected first overall, and Cunningham is the slight favorite to win the award with preseason odds of +250, just ahead of Jalen Green of Houston at +275, Jalen Suggs of Orlando at +700 and Evan Mobley of the Cavs at +900.
All four of those players will be performing for bad teams, and in the Rookie of the Year race it usually matters very little whether the player’s team was good or bad. The rule(s) of thumb in looking at who the frontrunners are consist of looking at a player’s stats compared to the stats of other rookies; and looking at his team’s collective performance and figuring out whether that rookie played a part in his team exceeding expectations.
Different rookies perform differently under the stress and strain of an 82-game season, which is new to all of them and is a grind that newcomers to the NBA always say they were never truly prepared for.
And over the course of those 82 games – not just the first 41, when writers and broadcasters will be quick to anoint someone the “leading ROY candidate”. Winning this award is a marathon, not a sprint. But this category (unlike Most Improved Player and Sixth Man) lends itself to having a midseason favorite stick in that spot throughout the final months of the season, because generally rookies who are getting major minutes and producing big numbers are experiencing trial by fire as the coaches of their bad teams try to get them as much game experience as possible without burning them out.
Let’s have a look at the field and try to find another Butler or two. Heck, anybody can pick Cunningham. It is trying to pick a Brogdon that makes this market especially enticing and challenging.
A few outlier picks:
Chris Duarte, Indiana Pacers (+3500): The No. 13 overall pick in the NBA Draft out of Oregon has been starting for the Indiana Pacers because Caris LeVert (back) and T.J. Warren (foot) are sidelined. He is fourth in the NBA in preseason rookie scoring with an average of 15.7 points, and he is averaging 3.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
If he begins the season as a starter and comes out of the gate quick, coach Rock Carlisle will eventually have a conundrum on how he can continue to keep using him.
Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder (+2500): The sixth overall pick of the 2021 draft only turned 19 last week, and he has been having a terrific preseason for the NBA team most likely to finish with the worst record in the league (unless the Orlando Magic out-tank them).
Giddey is shooting nearly 53 percent while averaging 13.7 points along with seven rebounds (fourth among rookies) and five assists (second among rookies). If he becomes a full-time starter alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder will be starting two point guards. And remember, a starting assignment leads to major minutes, which could lead to major production.
Alperin Sengun, Houston Rockets (+1300): He has been starting alongside Christian Wood in what amounts to a two-center alignment for coach Stephen Silas, averaging 7.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists. He has played only 18.5 minutes per game and averaged a shade under 10 points per game, so the test here is whether Silas will stick with him and increase his playing time.
The Rockets have absolutely nothing to play for other than developing their youngsters, and while Green is their more high-profile rookie, Sengun was tabbed by NBA general managers as one of the steals of the draft at No. 16. The 19-year-old Turk has been playing professionally since age 15, so he has a maturity level in terms of playing with grown men that most of his rookie colleagues lack.
Trey Murphy III, New Orleans Pelicans (+6000): The No. 17 overall pick has been shooting nearly 54 percent on 3-pointers this preseason for a Pelican team that just found out it will be starting the season without Zion Williamson. That means there will be more shots to go around for everyone else.
He has averaged 17.5 points in the preseason, second in the NBA behind Butler, who was involved in that same trade between the Pelicans and Grizzlies that rerouted nine players along with two future first-round draft picks. Murphy was second among rookies in scoring in the preseason, averaging 17.5 points, and was first in minutes played at 29.5.
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