Andrew Wiggins, whom the Cavaliers should have never traded, should win the NBA Rookie of the Year award, but a late flurry from Nerlens Noel of the 76ers and Nikola Mirotic of the Bulls has made the race interesting.
Early in the season, Wiggins looked to be the runaway winner, especially after Julius Randle of the Lakers fractured his tibia on opening night, and Jabari Parker of the Bucks went down with a torn ACL. With the No. 3 pick, Joel Embiid, sidelined the entire season, Wiggins had very little competition for ROY until Noel started to compile big stats in February and March, and the Bulls loosened the reigns on Mirotic (but not enough) after injuries decimated the roster.
Wiggins hit the rookie wall this month, which is no surprise, because he’s played more than double the number of games he played at Kansas last year, and he’s averaging 35 minutes a night, easily tops among 1st year players. Toss in the fact that he has to shoot and score and defend the opponent’s best wing player, and yeah, of course he’s going to be drained.
His shooting has declined from 47.1 from the field in January to 45.7 in February and 43.0 in March. His 3-point shooting has fallen off a cliff – from 34 percent in January to 18.2 percent in February and 15.4 percent in March.
But should his excellent November-January start be obscured because a couple of guys are posting more impressive stats in February and March?
The case for Noel: 6th in the NBA in blocks, and 9th in steals. He’s the defensive force many expected him to be. And perhaps the year off recovering from injury helped him: He’s gotten better after the All-Star break. [Counter from the Wiggins backers: Well duh, he’s never counted upon to score or create, like Wiggins is every night.]
For the stat heads who want to use PER …
Mirotic (19.8 minutes a night) is tops at 17.79. Jusuf Nurkic of Denver (52 games, 18 mpg) is 2nd at 15.62, and Noel is 5th at 14.68. Orlando’s Elfrid Payton, who will be on the All-Rookie team, is 7th at 13.35 and Wiggins is 8th at 13.31.
If you want to be a slave to stats and simply use them to make a decision, by all means, go for it. Then Mirotic – the only impact rookie who will be on a playoff team – is your guy. Noel is playing with a bunch of guys who probably won’t be in the league in five years and Wiggins is playing with a slew of talented but young kids. You don’t need to have written a book about basketball to know which rookie has the best coach.
First-team All-Rookie is easy: Payton and Wiggins at guard, and Mirotic, Nurkic and Noel on the frontline.
But don’t fall victim to recency bias. Wiggins was clearly the best rookie in the NBA for the entire season (only 10 games remain), and the award should be his.