LaMelo Ball’s recent wrist injury likely ends his season with 41 games played. He has been the best rookie this season but does his abbreviated season disqualify him from contention? Well, that really depends on how good the competition is. In this particular case, most of the other rookies who have played have had dubious value. Let’s run through the stats of all rookies with at least 1,000 minutes played so far:
-Ball, 41 gms, 1,174 mins, 15.9 ppg, .451 FG%, .528 eFG%, 5.9 rpg, 6.1 apg, 18.5 PER, .118 WS48, 2.7 BPM, 1.4 VORP
-Anthony Edwards, 45 gms, 1,367 mins, 16.8 ppg, .382 FG%, .448 eFG%, 4.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, 11.0 PER, -.030 WS48, -4.9 BPM, -1.0 VORP
-Isaac Okoro, 40 gms, 1,284 mins, 8.0 ppg, .420 FG%, .481 eFG%, 2.8 rpg, 1.8 apg, 6.8 PER, .015 WS48, -4.8 BPM, -0.9 VORP
-Patrick Williams, 42 gms, 1,193 mins, 9.6 ppg, .467 FG%, .521 eFG%, 4.9 rpg, 1.2 apg, 9.9 PER, .052 WS48, -3.5 BPM, -0.4 VORP
-Tyrese Haliburton, 39 gms, 1,172 mins, 13.1 ppg, .486 FG%, .597 eFG%, 3.4 rpg, 5.0 apg, 17.1 PER, .108 WS48, 1.9 BPM, 1.2 VORP
-Saddiq Bey, 42 gms, 1,032 mins, 10.7 ppg, .411 FG%, .547 eFG%, 4.1 rpg, 1.2 apg, 12.8 PER, .094 WS48, -0.5 BPM, 0.4 VORP
-Theo Maledon, 38 gms, 1,014 mins, 8.2 ppg, .384 FG%, .488 eFG%, 3.1 rpg, 3.4 apg, 7.7 PER, .007 WS48, -5.1 BPM, -0.8 VORP
-Immanuel Quickley, 40 gms, 799 mins, 12.8 ppg, .395 FG%, .490 eFG%, 2.3 rpg, 2.3 apg, 17.4 PER, .138 WS48, 1.5 BPM, 0.7 VORP
We added Quickley to the list because, though he hasn’t played as much, he is clearly the third-best rookie so far. The stats tell us that Ball is way better than all his competition (most of which have accrued negative value). The only real competitor is Haliburton. His advanced stats aren’t too far off and he should catch LaMelo in VORP with 17 games left to play this season.
On paper, if Haliburton stays at the same pace, his VORP should be about 2.0 versus 1.4 that Ball has put up. BPM (which is not affected by quantity because it is a rate state) shows Ball to be significantly better (as do the raw average stats). We have a quantity versus quality argument blooming here.
What about Ball winning ROY with 41 games played? Have other rookies won the ROY award with so few games/minutes played. If he wins, Ball would have the fewest games played by a ROY since the legendary Paul Hoffman in 1947-48 for the old Baltimore Bullets of the BAA. Hoffman’s 37 games played was not that bad, though, since the team played only 48 games. As a fun aside, the Bullets won the title and behind player-coach Buddy Jeanette and stars like Kleggie Hermsen. Hoffman missed the entire next season in a salary dispute where he worked as a salesman before returning to play for a few more years and later becoming a GM.
Putting aside the ancient times, the ROY winners to play the fewest games in an 82-game season are:
-1985-86, Patrick Ewing, 50 games
-2011-12, Kyrie Irving, 51 games
-1962-63, Terry Dischinger, 57 games (80-game season)
-2006-07, Brandon Roy, 57 games
(Vince Carter won ROY in 1998-99, playing 50 games in a 50-game lockout season, so we won’t count him). On a percentage basis, LaMelo’s playing 41 games out of 72 games this year (57%) is the lowest percentage of team games played, slightly fewer than current “leader” Ewing in 1985-86 (61%). The next interesting question is what sort competition each of these other abbreviated rookies had. Did they overcome players who had quantity arguments like Haliburton may have? Let’s briefly run through each of these ROYs and their competition:
1985-86 ROY: Ewing versus the tall and the small
Ewing was the top pick and a superstar in the making at the time coming out of Georgetown. Alas, Ewing’s knees were bad and he had to shut down his season early. Ewing didn’t have much competition that year. Ewing had the best BPM of any rookie with more than 1,500 minutes. Interestingly, his strongest competition came from role players with extreme heights:
-Patrick Ewing: 1,771 mins, 20.0 ppg, .474 eFG%, 9.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 17.4 PER, .084 WS48, 1.1 BPM, 1.4 VORP
-Spud Webb: 1,229 mins, 7.8 ppg, .485 eFG%, 1.6 rpg, 4.3 apg, 18.5 PER, .137 WS48, 2.9 BPM, 1.5 VORP
-Manute Bol: 2,090 mins, 3.7 ppg, .460 eFG%, 6.0 rpg, 0.3 apg, 5.0 bpg, .089 WS48, 0.9 BPM, 1.5 VORP
Ewing was a relatively easy choice. Webb was great but played only 15 minutes a night. Manute was interesting as a guy who could only block shots but was not really as good as Ewing and didn’t play that many more minutes anyway.
2011-12 ROY: Kyrie’s best competition played less than he did
Kyrie sure has always missed a lot of time. He barely played in college and his rookie year also got shut down early as well. The weird thing is his choice was pretty clear. There was no quantity option to compete with Kyrie. He led all rookies in BPM with 4.1 and the only players near his ballpark played fewer minutes (Kawhi Leonard had 3.4 BPM in 24 fewer minutes). Kyrie also led the entire rookie class in VORP with 2.4 (Kawhi was second with 2.1). The only rookie who broke 2,000 minutes played that year was Brandon Knight with 2,129 but his season was decidedly negative (-0.3 VORP). So, Kyrie’s lack of games played was not really an issue.
1962-63: Dischinger racked up minutes with a crappy team
There were fewer stats available when Dischinger won ROY with the expansion Chicago Packers so we can’t view his season through BPM or VORP. Dischinger’s raw stats were pretty impressive (25.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg) for a terrible team (25-55) with few players who could play (it was Dischinger and Walt Bellamy). Despite missing 23 games, Dischinger played a ton of minutes and was third of all rookies in minutes played. So, Dischinger’s lack of games played wasn’t really an issue in terms of accruing value. We do note that his choice was dubious. The Packers had the worst defense in the NBA (though they were third in offense) and Len Chappell, John Havlicek, and Chet Walker had pretty good arguments to win ROY as more well-rounded players.
2006-07: Roy dominated the field in all respects
Like Kyrie, Brandon Roy had no real competition from a good player with more minutes played. The only two rookies with more minutes played were non-factors. Adam Morrison led the rooks in minutes played but had an execrable -5.1 BPM (yuck). Rudy Gay was second in minutes and had a less bad -2.2 BPM. Roy was the BPM star (2.0) and also led the group in VORP (also 2.0). The only rookies with VORP in the ballpark were Jorge Garbajosa (a 29-year old Spanish vet) who had 1.1, and Renaldo Balkman and Paul Millsap (0.9). Not bad but not nearly enough to get in the ROY conversations.
Ball’s situation is definitely new
These past results show how unique Ball’s ROY campaign is. Ewing, Kyrie, Dischinger, and Roy had no competition that could plausibly argue they had added more value by playing more minutes. Ball has played a lower percentage of games than any of these other ROYs, fewer minutes, and, more importantly, has a more bona fide competitor in Haliburton who is relatively close in value and better than any of the second place options for Ewing, Roy, or Kyrie (Dischinger is a totally different scenario).
What does this all tell us? The short answers are as follows:
-Only three rookies this year have been very helpful: Ball, Haliburton, and Quickley (Bey is also in the conversation but he is more replacement-level at this point).
-It’s hard for rookies to have positive value. Williams has looked good at times, as has Edwards, but the efficiency is just not there yet. There have been plenty of good players with crappy rookie stats but early returns are pessimistic.
-Ball has been just good enough to have the award locked in unless Haliburton takes his stats to a higher level the next month or so. I’m still inclined to pick Ball as my ROY but his challenge in winning the award is definitely unprecedented.