Rescoring all the NBA Rookie of the Year winners

Who did the voters miss on?

Photo credit: Erik Drost from United States [CC BY 2.0 (]

Our first NBA post explained a scoring system for every rookie season since 2000, and today, we’re grading our homework. The dataset for the first post only contained season stats for rookies in each year, so we aren’t biased by future successes like LeBron’s endlessly productive career or sudden superstardom like Steph Curry’s ascendency. Yet, we can still look to the actual awards given out each season to see if my calculations fit the broader NBA orthodoxy at the time or present a radical alternative. My aim is to hit on the obvious picks while surfacing some underappreciated or unsung seasons in the more tightly-contested rookie of the year battles.

Season: 2017-2018

Rookie of the Year: Ben Simmons

My pick: Ben Simmons

Actual ROY rank: 1

Somewhere, Donovan Mitchell picks up his subtweeting hoodie and shakes his head at another scrub who falls for the Big Rookie dogma.

Season: 2016-2017

Rookie of the Year: Malcolm Brogdon

My pick: Joel Embiid

Actual ROY rank: 3

Our first difference, and one that is pretty explainable. Embiid lit the world on fire his rookie season, silencing any doubters and showing the destructive powers on both ends of the court that kept legions of Hinkie fanatics defending him to the death. He has the third best rookie season in this entire dataset, but, given the injuries that ended up derailing his season, Embiid lost out to Malcolm Brogdon, a heady if unspectacular point guard who performed at nearly the exact average for every stat we profiled. The other rookie I ranked above Brogdon? Former Knick double-double machine Willy Hernangomez, who has yet to recapture the promise of his first year.

Season:  2015-2016

Rookie of the Year: Karl-Anthony Towns

My pick: Karl-Anthony Towns

Actual ROY rank: 1

This season was insane for rookies, as KAT, Kristaps Porzingis, and Nikola Jokic formed a trio of versatile big men that have only continued to improve. The press release for KAT’s win made his case in one sentence: “Karl-Anthony Towns, who set Minnesota Timberwolves rookie records in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and field goal percentage this season, has unanimously won the 2015-16 Kia NBA Rookie of the Year Award”

Season: 2014-2015

Rookie of the Year: Andrew Wiggins

Actual ROY rank: 6

A drastic departure here! Wiggins slides to sixth in our rankings, as our model doesn’t reward inefficient scoring as much as the voters apparently did. Wiggins was below average in nearly every advanced stat, and his only saving grace was a higher points per game record than the typical rookie. This chart breaks out how he ranks relative to his rookie peers: remember, a zero is exactly average, while anything negative will tell you he’s below the mean and anything positive is above.

My model loves Nikola Mirotic, a sharpshooting big man who checks off all the boxes on advanced stats while still stuffing the boxscore efficiently. He’s aided by a reduced role on a good team in the 50-32 Chicago Bulls, but his 20 minutes per game produced enough of a mark to top our 2015 rookie class. Wiggins also fell behind Nerlens Noel, Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Parker, and Elfrid Payton in these rankings.

Season: 2013-2014

Rookie of the Year: Michael Carter-Williams

My pick: Mason Plumlee

Actual ROY rank: 2

Yikes. This rookie class had the worst ROY by a mile, and the model shrugs at all of the other candidates. Mason Plumlee fits the part of the effiicent big man, with high TS% and little other remarkable stats. Funnily enough, Victor Olapido came in third for our rankings, years before his explosion in Indiana.

Season: 2012-2013

Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard

Actual ROY rank: 3

This class is the exact opposite of the 2014 season, as all three of the top scorers (Davis, Andre Drummond, and Lillard) all performed incredibly well. Davis beat Lillard by 6 points in the total calculations, but any three of them were admirable choices. Do enjoy this ridiculous graph of Anthony Davis’s excellence, where the only stat he didn’t crush the competition in was assists—that may be due more to his teammates.

Season: 2011-2012

Rookie of the Year: Kyrie Irving

My pick: Kyrie Irving

Actual ROY rank: 1

Uncle Drew came on the scene and did so well he inspired LeBron to forgive Dan Gilbert and come home. No stats are more powerful than that.

Season: 2010-2011

Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin

My pick: Blake Griffin

Actual ROY rank: 1

Nothing I can write will better sum up Blake’s rookie year like this detonation on poor, poor Timofey Mozgov.

Season: 2009-2010

Rookie of the Year: Tyreke Evans

My pick: Tyreke Evans

Actual ROY rank: 1

All due respect to Tyreke, who tossed out a LeBron-like rookie season, but my favorite observation here is that the second place scorer in both my model and real life was Steph Curry, many years before his supernova.

Season: 2008-2009

Rookie of the Year: Derrick Rose

My pick: Marc Gasol

Actual ROY rank: 6

Interesting results here, as the model doesn’t particularly like Rose’s season as much as the voters (without adjusting for general human awfulness that Kizito Madu captured here). Rose’s advanced stats weren’t terribly impressive, while Gasol contributed nicely to a Memphis team, with a 1.2 BPM, a 2.1 VORP, and a 59% true shooting rate. Rose’s biggest demerit comes in his low FTr, which he improved later in his career, and a sky-high turnover rate.

Season: 2007-2008

Rookie of the Year: Kevin Durant

My pick: Carl Landry

Actual ROY rank: 3

This is the only season that made me question my entire methodology, as KD slipped down three spots in our rankings. His high turnovers per game knocked down his total score by a large margin, as KD’s high offensive workload produced nearly three turnovers a game. While scoring a ton, KD wasn’t the most efficient, and he slipped behind Carl Landry, who produced effectively in a smaller role for a playoff-bound Rockets squad. Here is a potential pitfall of our model prioritizing a diverse skill-set, as KD was certainly the most productive rookie out of this class but lacked the advanced metrics to excel in this methodology.

Season: 2006-2007

Rookie of the Year: Brandon Roy

My pick: Brandon Roy

Actual ROY rank: 1

I miss Brandon Roy immensely, but I’m glad to see Dame continue his legacy of an immensely cool game and clutch buckets in Portland.

Season: 2005-2006

Rookie of the Year: Chris Paul

My pick: Chris Paul

Actual ROY rank: 1

In a future post, we’ll break out CP3’s unreal rookie year, which topped our entire dataset.

Season: 2004-2005

Rookie of the Year: Emeka Okafor

My pick: Dwight Howard

Actual ROY rank: 3

The debate here mirrors the debate at the top of the 2004 draft, as Emeka Okafor and Dwight Howard duke it out once more for the top choice. Dwight jumped ahead of Okafor and Andre Iguodala, the second place rookie, through his high true shooting and superb rebounding and blocks. My rank projects out a bit nicer in the long term, as Dwight eventually turned into an MVP candidate and centerpiece of an Orlando Magic team that made the NBA Finals, while Okafor never really hit his full stride in the league.

Season: 2003-2004

Rookie of the Year: LeBron James

My pick: LeBron James

Actual ROY rank: 1

Breaking to Warm the Bench: LeBron James is, was, and will be good.

Season: 2002-2003

Rookie of the Year: Amar’e Stoudemire

My pick: Yao Ming

Actual ROY rank: 5

Another strange one, as Amar’e slips in five in our rankings and Yao Ming climbs to the top. Yao destroy the league with blocks, rebounds, and above-average efficiency. Amar’e struggled in our advanced categories, dropping below Yao on VORP, WS/48, PER, and BPM. The voting was indeed close, as Yao finished 53 points behind Amar’re in the NBA tally.

Season: 2001-2002

Rookie of the Year: Pau Gasol

My pick: Pau Gasol

Actual ROY rank: 1

Pau doing so well isn’t a surprise to me, but it was fun to see Russian legend and owner of the infamous hall pass, Andrei Kirilenko, pop back into our consciousness. He’s one of the players I so badly wish could join the league now as a stretchy defensive stalwart with some jump shooting prowess. It’s just too bad he’s only a smoldering crater these days after Baron Davis’s We Believe dunk.

Season: 2000-2001

Rookie of the Year: Mike Miller

My pick: Kenyon Martin

Actual ROY rank: 4

Nothing I can say for this draft will even come close to the FreeDarko brilliance in their seminal book on basketball, but I do promise that I didn’t give extra points for neck tattoos in my model.