Analyzing the latest odds for the 2018 NBA Rookie of the Year

Bovada just gave updated odds on the Rookie of the Year race in the NBA for 2018. Needless to say, there are some issues with what they have.

The last decade or so of Rookie of the Year contests have been fairly one-sided. Between Kevin Durant, a “sophomore” Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and others, many of these races were clearcut.

Others have been disappointing, especially as of late. Michael-Carter Williams won Rookie of the Year in 2014, representing a draft class that hasn’t aged well. The following year, Andrew Wiggins‘ competition, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid, had shortened seasons due to injury.

And then this year, Joel Embiid’s impressive 31 games wasn’t enough to beat out Malcolm Brogdon, arguably the most underwhelming Rookie of the Year in the 21st century.

Now, while the award’s recent history often lacked excitement, 2017 could be one of the greatest races we’ve ever had. With a dynamite lottery and the inclusion of Ben Simmons, who missed last season, there are at least five bonafide candidates for Rookie of the Year. Depending on how some players’ seasons go, we may have close to eight legitimate contenders.

EL SEGUEDO, CA- JUNE 23: Lonzo Ball #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers poses for a picture following a press conference to introduce Los Angeles Lakers 2017 NBA Draft picks in El Segundo, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Rookie of the Year odds

Amidst talk of this special class, Bovada, through SportsLine, put out updated odds for the award following NBA Summer League. As recent as August, the current odds look as follows:

  1. Lonzo Ball – 2/1
  2. Dennis Smith Jr. – 3/1
  3. Ben Simmons – 5/1
  4. Jayson Tatum – 5/1
  5. Markelle Fultz – 9/1
  6. De’Aaron Fox – 12/1
  7. Malik Monk – 18/1
  8. Josh Jackson – 20/1
  9. Jonathan Isaac – 33/1
  10. Justin Jackson – 33/1
  11. Lauri Markkanen – 33/1
  12. John Collins – 33/1

You’ll see most of the top rookies there. Surprisingly though, there were no odds for Frank Ntilikina or Donovan Mitchell. Both guards figure to play quality minutes this year, and Mitchell faired better than Jackson, Markkanen, Monk and Isaac in Summer League.

With these numbers and the notes on Mitchell and Ntilikina, let’s break it down. How good are these odds? What changes should be made?

Factoring fit into Bovada’s odds

Starting at the bottom, Markkanen, Collins and Isaac make a lot of sense as dark horses. No problem there. However, Justin Jackson doesn’t belong on this list. As we’ll explain with the Philadelphia 76ers, his usage and stats will be measured against his teammate, Fox.

Given Monk’s injuries, a crowded backcourt in Charlotte and Josh Jackson’s struggles with efficiency in Summer League, those two belong right about where they are. Right above the aforementioned players at the bottom, both he and Jackson are more skilled and in positions to get playing time this season. Ntilikina and Mitchell probably belong in their range too, especially given how much playing time those two should receive.

So not too many issues with the bottom. Now, onto the top six. Bovada has it as Ball at the top, followed by Smith, Simmons, Tatum, Fultz and then Fox. The elephant in the room is Jayson Tatum. Tatum wowed the Vegas crowd with a plethora of fadeaway jumpers and All-Star caliber moves. Getting caught up in awe is understandable, but it’s a mistake.

Moves like this show that Tatum is talented enough to win Rookie of the year. However, look at the Boston Celtics roster and ask yourself, how many minutes he will get? How consistent will that playing time be? That, combined with his inefficiency, does not scream a Rookie of the Year favorite. Tatum should not be in the top-five. Playing time, thus creating an ability to put up big numbers, is imperative for this award.

Placing Tatum sixth is probably fair, but lower, given possible playing time, is fair too. As for the top-five, it’s fair to bump Fox up to the that No. 5 spot.

He’ll have the ball in his hands plenty, but Fox will also suffer from how often he’s up against top teams and top point guards in the west. The NBA showed this year that it does value winning in picking Brogdon. Losing teams’ players can win, but it still factors in.

Additionally, Fox is simply just less talented than Fultz, Ball, Simmons and Smith, all of which will have ample time on the court too. Those four resemble the legitimate, open race for Rookie of the Year.

The top four

What’s fascinating about these four players is how different they are. Simmons and Ball are well-rounded, revolutionary passers, who won’t necessarily put up the scoring numbers of past winners. Scoring, with some playmaking, is the punch that Smith and Fultz will offer.

Given the Summer League performances and the fact that Simmons will have the ball a lot, third or fourth best odds are probably fair for Fultz. That’s a good bet to make, mind you. While Smith and Fultz fit the bill of former young, gunning guards who have won Rookie of the Year, like Lillard and Irving, the uniqueness of Simmons and Ball make them the favorites.

In addition, Fultz and Smith aren’t ready to run a team yet. Simmons and Ball are closer to doing that. Simmons probably hurts Fultz’s chances, similarly to what we saw with Embiid and Dario Saric. In their own way, each guy (Ball and Simmons) creates a dynamic transition game and as rookies, are already two of the league’s best passers. That stands out.

As big point guards, their uniqueness is going to draw mouthwatering flattery and attention. Guys who score a bit, but run their teams and rack up rebounds are going to have nice well-rounded stats by the year’s end.

Stats don’t determine everything, but a nice line isn’t insignificant. Just like how sick step-backs can make an impression, so can passing like this.

Between Ball’s next-level passing and Simmons’ size, it’s a tough call on who should be the favorite. Given the Sixers are ready to take a jump and that Simmons has a year in the league, even on the bench, he might have the edge. Equal odds, especially because Simmons’ NBA translation is an unknown, seems probably the fairest outcome for now.

However, Vegas loves a winner, so they’ll likely keep one guy ahead at all times. Bottom line, Tatum should be much lower, and the clear favorites are Ball and Simmons. That doesn’t mean, however, that guys like Fultz and Smith, or others, can’t be dangerous dark horses. This is going to be exhilarating to follow.