Following the 2016 NBA Draft and Orlando, Las Vegas, and Utah Summer Leagues, the latest NBA Rookie of the Year contest is on and many of the early favorites for the prize are exactly who fans expected. A very top heavy draft class has made their presence known well before the official tip of the 2016-17 season and given the award’s history it’s almost a certainty that a lottery pick will take home their first piece of NBA hardware.
The odds favor No. 1 overall pick of the Philadelphia 76ers, Ben Simmons, and does history. Rookie of the Year honors have gone to top selection in the draft 21 times, and only twice has the prize gone to a player selected after the lottery.
Oddsmakers, who are quite aware of the award’s history, are also leaning heavily on Simmons. The former LSU forward and playmaker sits at 2/1 odds to win ROY, followed by the Los Angeles Lakers' Brandon Ingram and Minnesota Timberwolves' Kris Dunn at 5/1. Sixers' big man Joel Embiid (who was drafted two years ago but has been inactive due to a foot injury) at 10/1, and Oklahoma City Thunder forward/center Domantas Sabonis at 15/1, according to Sportsbook.ag.
Based off their play in Summer League, as well as the likely opportunities they’ll each have on rebuilding squads, here’s a quick breakdown of each of the leading candidates for ROY next season.
Ben Simmons, SF/PF, Philadelphia 76ers
With a gift for the flair, Simmons has lit up the summer league with some incredible no-look passes and seems poised to run Philadelphia’s offense as a point forward with 5.5 assists a game, sixth best among all players in Las Vegas. His scoring is relatively low at 12.3 points but he’s shooting much better than most anticipated at 40.9 percent, and pulling down 7.8 rebounds with 1.5 steals. It’s currently Simmons award to lose.
Brandon Ingram, SF, Los Angeles Lakers
Hailed as the next Kevin Durant due to his lanky build, smooth shooting, and the effortless way he glides around the floor, Ingram stands as Simmons biggest threat for ROY so far. His summer league numbers (12.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 27.4 minutes, 41.2 percent shooting) are roughly the same as Simmons, but Ingram’s lithe 6-foot-10 body is clearly affected by much stronger players inside and he’ll need to crash the boards much more in the regular season.
Denzel Valentine, Chicago Bulls
Consider Valentine, as the last lottery pick of this year’s draft, the dark horse. But he’s a solid passer and rebounder and could spend much of his rookie campaign feeding Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler while taking some pressure off floor general Rajon Rondo. Valentine at first may have trouble getting minutes behind Wade but his work on the boards in Las Vegas (6.7 a game over seven contests) is better than fellow Bulls rookie Cristiano Felicio, who’s 6-foot-10.
Buddy Hield, New Orleans Pelicans
The Oklahoma sharpshooter is certainly filling the stat sheet with 16.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists over 32 minutes in five games. But Hield must hone his shot selection and maybe let the game come to him more. He’s shooting 32.7 percent in Las Vegas off a whopping 98 shots. With Eric Gordon now gone, it’s possible Hield works his way into the starting lineup should Tyreke Evans be moved to small forward. That will afford Hield lots of chances to flash his incredible scoring mettle.
Jamal Murray, SG, Denver Nuggets
Murray will make to battle fellow rookie Malik Beasley and established starting shooting guard Gary Harris, but his 19.6 points and 42.5 percent along with 5.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists show the ex-Kentucky stud can make an immediate impact on a Nuggets offense that was No. 20 in the league last season.