Barnes/Mobley And The Closest ROY Votes Since 2002-03

Today, Scottie Barnes won the Rookie of the Year over Evan Mobley in the closest vote in over 20 years.  According to the NBA, Barnes received 378 voting points and Mobley got 363 (the current voting format gives 5 points for a first place vote, 3 points for a second place vote, and 1 point for a third place vote).  The closeness of the vote and the reference to historically close votes has inspired me to do a moderate dive into the vote and other close ROY votes.

Was there any voting weirdness?

Not too much weirdness.  In reviewing the results a few things pop out:

-Barnes and Mobley appear to be the best two rookies yet Mobley was actually omitted from one of the ballots.  As odd as that decision is, it didn’t change anything since the additional 3 points (assuming Mobley got a second place vote) was not enough to close the voting gap anyway.

-Jalen Green somehow got a second place vote.  His raw stats look okay (17.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.6 apg) but his advanced stats are decidedly negative (0.15 WS48, -2.8 bpm, -0.5 VORP).  Those advanced stats are consistent with the eye test, which showed Green to be very mistake-prone most of the year.  He did improve over the season but not nearly as much as Cade Cunningham, who looked better objectively and by raw stats as well (17.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5.6 apg).

-Both Herbert Jones and Franz Wagner received a few third place votes. Each player had cognizable arguments to be voted ahead of Cunningham.  They both were better for the full year, even though Cunningham finished strong and clearly has the higher ceiling going forward.  That raises an interesting philosophical question about whether a player’s future potential should matter in ROY voting.  I’m agnostic on this issue but, in a very close case, I could see erring on the side of a brighter projected future. 

Were there any candidates who deserved a vote but didn’t receive one?

Arguably, Josh Giddey, Bones Hyland, and Alperen Senguin were candidates.  They all looked pretty good but just didn’t play enough minutes to warrant a third place vote over Jones, Wagner, or Cunningham.

Who did deserve to win between Barnes and Mobley?

Let’s start with the stat tale-of-the-tape:

-Barnes: 35.4 mpg, 15.3 ppg, .552 TS%, 7.4 rpg, 3.5 apg, 16.3 PER, .122 WS48, 0.9 BPM, 1.9 VORP

-Mobley: 32.6 mpg, 17.4 ppg, .549 TS%, 8.3 rpg, 2.5 apg, 16.1 PER, .107 WS48, 0.6 BPM, 1.5 VORP

Barnes appears to have the edge.  He’s not quite the scorer that Mobley was but Barnes was versatile on defense and is slightly better in advanced stats.  Barnes also played five more games, which ups the edge a little more as well.

On Mobley’s end, his argument rests on his scoring and the fact that he’s a big man who can guard on the perimeter.  Barnes is no slouch on defense either but Mobley feelslike higher ceiling player.  As noted above, though, Barnes has narrow but discernable edge and would’ve gotten my vote.

A look at other close votes in the modern voting format

And now the interesting part….a look at other close votes.  Without even looking at historical records, I recall the two famous ROY voting ties: 1994-95 (Grant Hill with Jason Kidd) and 1999-00 (Elton Brand with Steve Francis).  The voting has changed a bit since those days.  Before 2002-03, each voter had only a first place vote.  This binary system was ditched for the current 5-3-1 weighted vote in 2002-03.  Since that time, there have been few close votes (and plenty of unanimous or near unanimous ROYs) but here are the votes that were closest in that time:

2009-10, Tyreke Evans defeats Stephen Curry, 491-391 (+100).  Yup, the player who changed how basketball is played lost out to Evans (who is now remembered for other not great reasons).  Tyreke had a pretty strong stat argument:

Evans, 18.2 PER, .097 WS48, 1.3 BPM, 2.2 VORP

-Curry, 16.3 PER, .077 WS48,0.7 BPM, 2.0 VORP

Curry was lower usage and still turned the ball over a bit more.  Since then, Curry has pulled ahead slightly.

2003-04, LeBron James defeats Carmelo Anthony 508-430 (+78).  The consensus, at the time, was that LBJ was clearly the better player.  I’m actually pretty surprised that it was so close given that James scored about the same (21 ppg) and was essentially the Cavs point guard (6 apg versus 2.8 apg for Anthony).  It seems that Anthony got some extra credit for bringing a previously terrible Denver team to the playoffs, while Cleveland didn’t quite get in.  

Of course, it’s a bit simplistic to over-credit Melo for Denver’s good season (they also had Andre Miller, Marcus Camby, and Nene).  The head-to-head advanced stats favored James:

-Anthony, 17.6 PER, .098 WS48, 0.0 BPM, 1.5 VORP

-James, 18.3 PER, .078 WS48, 1.7 BPM, 2.9 VORP

LBJ hadn’t quite lapped Melo yet but it’s pretty hard to justify an argument that Anthony had a better season.

2004-05, Emeka Okafor defeats Ben Gordon 514-443 (+71).  This was a close vote between two solid UConn teammates, neither of whom had incredible years.  Okafor had 15.1 ppg, .447 FG%, 10.9 rpg and Gordon had 15.1 ppg, .411 FG%, .405 3FG%, 2.0 apg.  In reality, Dwight Howard was the real star of that draft class.  Did Howard have a cognizable claim to the ROY as well?  Well, he came in third in the vote with 161 points and his raw stats were competitive (12 ppg, .520 FG%, 10 rpg).  Let’s look at the advanced stats:

-Gordon, 14.9 PER, .084 WS48, 0.7 BPM, 1.4 VORP

-Howard, 17.2 PER, .131 WS48, 0.0 BPM, 1.4 VORP

-Okafor, 16.3 PER, .074 WS48, -2.0 BPM, 0.0 VORP

On top of the fact that Okafor has distinctly lower stats, he played nine fewer games than the other two (though he soaked up virtually the same minutes played as Howard and 600 more minutes than Gordon).  Howard was the clear best player of the group, even as a teenager.  He played the most and was most effective when he did play.

2002-03, Amare Stoudemire defeats Yao Ming, 458-405 (+53).  The closest vote of the modern ROY voting era looked closest on paper too. Check their raw stats:

-Yao, 29.0 mpg, 13.5 ppg, .498 FG%, 8.2 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.8 bpg, 2.1 topg,

-Amare, 31.3 mpg, 13.5 ppg, .472 FG%, 8.8 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.1 bpg, 2.3 topg

I remember looking at these raw stats at the time and thinking that, as exciting as Amare was, he just didn’t shoot, pass, or block shots as well as Yao.  Since that time, we have the benefit of advanced stats and they really tell a clear story even more in Yao’s favor:

-Yao: 20.6 PER, .570 TS%, .176 WS48, 2.2 BPM, 2.5 VORP

-Amare: 16.2 PER, .530 TS%, .116 WS48, -1.3 BPM, 0.4 VORP

Ironically, a March 16, 2013 Houston Chronicle article reported that Yao “appeared to be the runaway winner of the 2002-03 Rookie of the Year award…In an informal poll of 28 voters for NBA postseason awards, Yao was named as the choice for Rookie of the Year by 20 voters, with Phoenix rookie Amare Stoudemire getting the other eight.”  Well, that didn’t work out as expected.  Amare ended up getting 59 first place votes to 45 for Yao.  The twist was that Caron Butler (15.4 ppg, .416 FG%, .318 3FG%, 5.1 rpg, 2.7 apg) somehow got the other 13 first place votes.