This has been a strange year for everyone, but for rookies coming into the NBA for the 2020-21 season, it’s been very strange.
No NCAA Tournament to end a collegiate career. No in-person workouts before the draft. No summer league. A shortened training camp. And just like that, their professional careers begin. And so do our NBA Rookie of the Year projections.
Still, if the preseason is any indication, this year’s crop of rookies should be very good. And there’s no clear-cut top player, which makes projecting the Rookie of the Year race so much fun.
The writers got together and tossed around a few names of players who we think could come away with the hardware. Let’s take a look at who we can see winning this year’s Rookie of the Year award.
There was a wide range of players earning votes in our poll of the writing staff. Players like Jalen Smith of Phoenix, Isaac Okoro of Cleveland, Tyrese Haliburton of Sacramento, Killian Hayes of Detroit, and Anthony Edwards of Minnesota were among the top vote-getters who didn’t make our top three.
One of our writers had this to say about Hayes, who will be starting at the point for the Pistons:
Well, according to our experts, Hayes is outside the top three possibilities to win Rookie of the Year, but who knows? In this crazy year/season, seems like anything can happen.
3. James Wiseman, Golden State
James Wiseman, the No. 2 pick in the draft, didn’t play long at Memphis — just three games before being suspended and then withdrawing from school — but in that brief period, he showed why he was such a highly-regarded prospect. Now Wiseman joins a team in the Warriors where he won’t have to be the focus from day one.
With someone like Stephen Curry on your team, you’re not going to get the most shots, and Wiseman has other teammates like Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green who will be options offensively as well. But Golden State needs a big man and low-scoring threat, and Wiseman definitely provides that.
“The style of play in Golden State will give Wiseman the chance to rack up some incredible stats.”–Staff writer on Wiseman
The Warriors should be an up-and-coming team — or a resurgent team more like it — and Wiseman should be a big part of that. His shot-blocking and rebounding ability will be the focus early, but he’ll also get plenty of looks down low when defenses are worried about Curry.
The 7-1 19-year-old will have plenty of guidance and will be playing for one of the top coaches in the game in Steve Kerr, giving him every chance to excel in his first professional season.
2. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
We’ve known about LaMelo Ball for a while, thanks to his older brother Lonzo and, of course, his father, Lamar. As good as Lonzo has been since coming to the NBA, LaMelo should be even better.
LaMelo already has a highlight reel going just from the preseason, showing off his passing ability as well as his scoring touch. Ball’s desire and ability to pass the ball on the break is going to get teammates like Miles Bridges and Malik Monk out and running and make the Hornets a nightly staple on highlight shows.
But Ball came in second in our voting by the thinnest of margins. Could he win the award? Absolutely. Is he our pick? Not now.
NBA Rookie of the Year Prediction – 1. Obi Toppin, New York Knicks
The guy who seems ready to shine and will get the media attention from the get-go is Obi Toppin, the high-flying forward from Dayton. Older than most rookies at 22, Toppin is a polished player in the halfcourt but can also come up with exciting dunks out on the break.
“There is no doubt that this guy can score, there is also no doubt that Toppin is going to gain some attention playing in the Big Apple. How much can he help the Knicks improve is the biggest question.”–Staff Writer on Toppin
Toppin has Julius Randle starting ahead of him, but the rookie averaged 29 minutes off the bench in the Knicks’ last two preseason games, so he’ll likely have plenty of time to make an impact. And if he can help the Knicks improve as a team, the New York media will be pubbing him all season long.
Toppin is also able to make highlight plays on the defensive end with his leaping ability. He should bring some life to a franchise that has suffered through some difficult seasons in the past few years. And in our book, he’ll bring home a little hardware to Madison Square Garden as well.