New Orleans Pelicans: No route for Zion to win Rookie of the Year

Zion Williamson has proved worth the hype for the New Orleans Pelicans, but he pales in comparison to the body of work Ja Morant has compiled all season.

It took Zion Williamson all of 19 games to jump-start a frantic hype train that lay dormant amid his months-long absence to begin his rookie season with the New Orleans Pelicans.

His numbers placed him among the elite, with 23.6 points on 58.9 percent shooting and 6.8 rebounds in just 29.7 minutes a night. The Pelicans were 10-9 in his presence. A modest record but enough to bring them within 3.5 games of the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies before the season’s abrupt stoppage on March 11.

Zion’s points and rebounds usurp the official rookie leaders. Lord knows the media and NBA relish in propping the reigning No. 1 pick on the mantle of future greats. Leading a late playoff push could further aid that campaign. Even in the unlikely event New Orleans sneaks in, would that be enough to steal the Rookie of the Year award in such a short period of time?

Go back to the 2016-17 season, where the Rookie of the Year award was a fierce debate between Malcolm Brogdon and Joel Embiid.

There was no denying Embiid’s statistical superiority, nearly doubling Brogdon’s scoring average with more rebounds, blocks and better shooting in fewer minutes. What earned Brogdon the trophy was more than double the amount of games played, 75 to 31.

The best ability is availability. Just like giving Embiid the honor would diminish its value, so too would it be ridiculous to award Zion, who can finish the season with no more than 27 games under his belt. Especially when his competition has 59 appearances with a case that, compared to Brogdon’s underwhelming statistical contributions, stands on its own two feet just fine.

If Williamson has lived up to his hype, so has Ja Morant. His 17.6 points (56.8 true shooting) and 6.3 assists per game were exceeded only by 12 other players. 10  of those players were All-Stars along with Bradley Beal and Kyrie Irving.

The Memphis Grizzlies expected to compete for lottery odds this season with a promising core still under development. Pushed by the force of the No. 2 pick, Memphis now sits in a comfortable position to make an unexpected playoff appearance.

To even consider Zion for Rookie of the Year is to discredit the evidence Morant has laid out all season long. As much as Williamson may have been the prohibitive favorite, his absence didn’t drop the award into Ja’s lap. Morant seized it from the start and has done nothing since then, and especially not since Zion’s debut, to give it up.

Falling short is not indicative of future failure. Damian Lillard took home the award in 2013 and Anthony Davis, the No. 1 pick of the 2012 Draft, is doing just fine. The same goes for Embiid and Donovan Mitchell.

Zion is on track for a long and incredibly prosperous career, likely the best of the 2019 class. That doesn’t mean the Rookie of the Year honor has to be forced upon him to appease a narrative that’s followed him since high school.

Patrick Ewing holds the record for the fewest games played in a ROY season with 50. That means Zion Williamson would barely exceed half of that. He might have next. Ja has right now. Nothing about the season should say otherwise, no matter what happens down in Orlando. And that’s ok.

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