OK, five bonus points if you can honestly say you knew that the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award was officially called the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy and that you also knew Gottlieb was a former coach and owner of the Philadelphia Warriors. He was enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1972 as a contributor to the game.
Anyway, if you want to win the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy you better have been a Top-5 pick in the NBA Draft. Since Larry Bird was named the league’s top rookie in the 1979-80 season after being the No. 6 pick the year before (Bird stayed and played his season at Indiana State -- it was a loophole that was soon closed), only four players drafted lower than No. 5 have won the award: Knicks guard Mark Jackson, the 18th pick in the 1987 draft; Raptors guard Damon Stoudamire, the seventh pick of Raptors in 1995; Amare Stoudemire, the ninth pick of the 2002 draft by the Suns; and Brandon Roy, the No. 6 pick in 2006 by Portland (and who apparently is making a comeback, although not with the Blazers).
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So that leads me to Bovada’s odds for the NBA’s top rookie next season. The Top-5 picks went as follows: Kentucky’s Anthony Davis at No. 1 overall to New Orleans, UK teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist No. 2 to Charlotte, Florida’s Bradley Beal No. 3 to Washington, Syracuse’s Dion Waiters No. 4 to Cleveland and Kansas’ Thomas Robinson No. 5 to Sacramento.
You can probably throw out any other player having a chance at winning – except for one guy who wasn’t drafted this year. That would be Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas, who went No. 5 in 2011 and probably would have gone No. 2 this year. He’s the best European player currently not in the NBA, although he will be next season.
Let’s start at the top with Davis, who is the 6/5 favorite on the site to win Rookie of the Year. Of course, he was the National Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year last season while leading Kentucky to the national title (and was named Final Four MOP). Davis is considered the best big-man prospect to enter the NBA at least since Portland took Greg Oden ahead of Kevin Durant five years ago. A lot of scouts believe Davis could become a player in the mold of Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett. Defensively, Davis is already there and likely will be a top shot-blocker right away, just as he was in college.
But I worry he may get pushed around as a rookie considering he has about only 220 pounds on his 6-foot-11 frame. Davis will get immense playing time as a rookie, as Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving did in winning the award last year. The Hornets already cleared the decks for him by trading Emeka Okafor to Washington. Okafor, incidentally, was the last center to win ROY in 2004-05.
Kidd-Gilchrist (7/1) should be an excellent defensive player right away and a total energy guy for the wretched Bobcats, but MKG really can’t shoot the ball yet. He will have to score via garbage points, so I don’t see him having the numbers to get ROY votes.
Beal (19/2) fills a huge need for Washington and has a terrific point guard (albeit shoot-first at times) in John Wall to get him the ball when Wall is doubled while driving the lane. But Beal wasn’t the best player on his Gators team most nights last year and shot only 33.9 percent from three-point range. That must improve in the NBA.
Waiters (20/1) was the surprise pick of this year’s Top 5. He didn’t even start for Syracuse last year but is considered to have the best pure scoring upside of any guard in the draft, including Beal. No team has had back-to-back Rookies of the Year since Bob McAdoo and Ernie DiGregorio in 1972-73 and 73-74, respectively, for the Buffalo Braves. So that’s working against Waiters.
I love Robinson at 19/2. He should start right away to force a beast of a frontcourt with DeMarcus Cousins. Robinson is probably the most NBA-ready overall player right now, especially physically, but he just doesn’t have the ceiling of Davis.
Valanciunas also is very tempting at 10/1. Bettors can get a look at the seven-footer in this summer’s London Games for Lithuania even though the Raptors don’t want him to play there so he can play in the NBA’s summer league. If Toronto is able to lure free agent Steve Nash back to his home country, Valanciunas’ value increases a ton. Only one European has won ROY: Spain’s Pau Gasol for Memphis in 2001.
(As an aside, I was high on Washington’s Jan Vesely for ROY last year but the big man from the Czech Republic averaged only 4.7 points and 4.4 boards in around 19 minutes a game. So I’m skeptical any Euro can win this award, but Valanciunas waiting a year to get stronger should help).
But as of right now, I think Robinson is the best value for my Rookie of the Year predictions.
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