NBA Rookie of the Year Odds 2021-22: Trends, Best Bets, and Prediction
In what many are calling the best NBA draft since 2003, it’s put up or shut up time for this rookie class. Gone are the individual workouts, the interviews, and the mock drafts. We now know which team each and every one of these top prospects are going to play for, and it’s time to see what they can do against real NBA competition.
NBA Rookie of the Year Award History & Trends
Before we look at which rookies might represent the best value for this award at online sportsbooks, it is important to look back at previous Rookie of the Year winners to see what the voters value. After all, it is the voters (a global panel of 99 sportswriters & broadcasters, per the NBA) who technically decide who wins. At a certain point, the players can only do so much.
Before reviewing a few examples to illustrate exactly what I am talking about, I can tell you right from the jump that basketball bettors should be looking for two things before wagering on ROY futures: counting stats (points, rebounds, assists, etc.) & availability. No one cares about wins and losses. No one cares about PER (Player Efficiency Rating). Heck, when it comes down to it, I’m not even certain any of the voters care about defense.
All that matters is that you produce the surface stats and that you play in X amount of games.
How many games exactly? No one knows!
The goal posts (the basket?) always seem to be moving, and a lot of it is purely media driven. We actually have three recent examples that paint the perfect picture.
Recent ROY Winners
In the 2016-17 season, Malcolm Brogdon averaged 10.2 points, 4.2 assists, and 2.8 rebounds per game. In that same season, Joel Embiid averaged 20.2 points, 2.1 assists, and 7.8 rebounds. Embiid was clearly the better player that season for even the most casual of fan. So Embiid won Rookie of the Year, right? Nope. Embiid played in just 31 of 82 games (37.8%), while Brogdon played in 75 of 82 games (91.4%). Brogdon took home the award, and Embiid finished 3rd (behind teammate Dario Saric).
In the 2019-20 season, Ja Morant averaged 17.8 points, 7.3 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game. In that same season, Zion Williamson averaged 22.5 points, 2.1 assists, and 6.3 rebounds per game. While this ended up being a much tougher decision compared to the previous example (in regards to who had the better season on a per-game basis), the results were anything but close. Ja won Rookie of the Year in a runaway (99 of 100 first place votes), while Zion finished third behind Kendrick Nunn. Why? Games played! Ja played in 67 of 73 games (91.8%), while Zion played in just 24 of 72 games (33.3%).
And then most recently, in the 2020-21 season, we had a very similar situation. However, the pendulum finally ended up swinging to the guy who played far fewer games. LaMelo Ball played in just 51 of the 72 games (70.8%), averaging 15.7 points, 6.1 assists, and 5.9 rebounds per game. Anthony Edwards played in all 72 games, averaging 19.3 points, 2.9 assists, and 4.7 rebounds per game. LaMelo ended up winning the award handily, racking up 84 first place votes compared to just 15 for Edwards.
And just to hammer home the point of how much the counting stats matter, here are a few more examples of the stats among ROY candidates in the other seasons.
- Luka Doncic (1st): 72 games, 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists
- Trae Young (2nd): 81 games, 19.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 8.1 assists
- Deandre Ayton (3rd): 71 games, 16.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists
- Ben Simmons (1st): 81 games, 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 8.2 assists
- Donovan Mitchell (2nd): 79 games, 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists
- Jayson Tatum (3rd): 80 games, 13.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists
- Karl-Anthony Towns (1st): 82 games, 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists
- Kristaps Porzingis (2nd): 72 games, 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists
- Nikola Jokic (3rd): 80 games, 10.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists
So when we are looking ahead at ROY odds and contenders, the main question I want to answer is: who will have the best opportunity to put up the most counting stats? Since it is borderline impossible to predict players’ availability, we just want to see who has the cleanest path to putting up numbers.
Now that today’s history lesson has concluded, let’s jump right into the 2021-22 season.
2021-22 NBA Rookie of the Year Odds
The first five picks in the 2021 NBA Draft—Cade Cunningham (Pistons), Jalen Green (Rockets), Evan Mobley (Cavs), Scottie Barnes (Raptors), and Jalen Suggs (Magic)—also just so happen to be the five pretty distinct favorites to win the 2021-22 NBA Rookie of the Year. Coincidence? I think not! Here are the odds, per BetMGM, as of Tuesday, August 10th:
- Cade Cunningham +250
- Jalen Green +400
- Evan Mobley +550
- Scottie Barnes +650
- Jalen Suggs +800
It is very hard to envision anyone outside of those five rookies winning this award. So while I would love to sit here and write a bunch of words as to why you should bet on Joe Rookie at +3000, I simply don’t see the point. Anyone not in the group above would need an extreme change of fortune on their current team (e.g. a season-ending injury to a key player, massive trade, etc.), and I think that is a waste of everyone’s time to try and predict.
If we look at the last seven Rookie of the Year winners (LaMelo, Ja, Luka, Simmons, Brogdon, KAT, Wiggins), the only guy on that list who wasn’t +450 or lower to win ROY at the start of the NBA season was the aforementioned Malcolm Brogdon (being that he was the 36th pick in the draft, his odds were completely off the board). And as discussed above, Brogdon ended up receiving ROY honors almost by default due to Embiid playing in merelt 37.8% of games while no other rookies having a true standout season.
With the talent in this 2021 rookie class, I don’t think we run into that problem again. As a result, I’m almost certain that I want to pick (at least) one of those five guys above. So that begs the question: who of those five guys are our best bets?
Best Bets, Picks
First things first, allow me to make what I deem to be a very easy cut. And that guy, for me, is going to be Scottie Barnes.
Remember, we are looking for guys that will have the most opportunity to put up a great line of counting stats on their current team. And two things immediately jump out that make that path for Barnes a very difficult one.
For starters, the scouting reports on this guy say that his defense is well ahead of his offense. So while that should work out just fine for wins and losses and him earning minutes, that isn’t so great for an award that values points and assists so much.
And secondly, Barnes got drafted by a team, the Toronto Raptors, that by far has the most winning aspirations compared to the other four teams. And with guys already well above Barnes in the shot-taking pecking order—like Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Gary Trent, OG Anunoby, and Goran Dragic (assuming he stays with them)—I just don’t see a realistic path to him putting up a bunch of numbers. It is likely that he is in a reserve role this season behind Siakam and OG, which makes me think these odds aren’t anywhere close to good enough to take a shot on.
These other four guys though, I do see realistic paths to the awards ceremony.
Roadblocks for Suggs & Mobley
If I were forced to make another cut, it would probably be Jalen Suggs. And the main reason I say that is because he got drafted to a Magic team that is in straight-up “talent evaluation” mode.
Unfortunately, Suggs isn’t the only youngster there in Orlando; he just happens to be the most recent. They also have Cole Anthony (21 years old and last year’s 1st round pick) and R.J. Hampton (20 years old) in the backcourt. They have Wendell Carter (22 years old) and Mo Bamba (23 years old and their 2018 1st round pick) in the frontcourt. And let’s not forget that Jonathan Isaac (23 years old and their 2017 1st round pick) should be making his return this season too. Oh, and the Magic also have another promising rookie, Franz Wagner, that they took with the #8 pick. There is a lot of “talent” that needs evaluating in Orlando!
Let me be clear that I absolutely think Suggs has a path to winning Rookie of the Year. If he thoroughly outplays those other young guards from the very beginning—and their wing veterans like Gary Harris and Terrence Ross take a backseat (or get traded) due to the youth movement—Suggs could absolutely put up the stats worthy of winning this award. He certainly showed he’s capable in his first Summer League game, putting up 24 points and pulling down 9 rebounds in just 28 minutes. Ultimately, I just see more roadblocks in his path than these next three guys.
Evan Mobley falls a little bit in no-man’s-land for me, as I don’t love the combination of his odds and the roster around him. What I do love is the talent though, and there are plenty of draftniks out there that think he will be the best NBA player in this class 5-10 years from now.
The issue for Mobley is that he is going to a team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, that have two, shall we say, ball-hogging guards in Collin Sexton (29.7% usage rate and 22.6% assist rate last season) and Darius Garland (24.9% usage rate and 30.9% assist rate last season) in the backcourt. And the frontcourt has a guy they just gave a five-year, $100 million contract (Jarrett Allen), and another guy, Kevin Love, who likes to get his shots up and dominate the glass (when he actually plays).
Are there paths to him winning? Of course. Perhaps one of Sexland gets traded. Or maybe the Cavs are finally able to move Kevin Love too. Or maybe Mobley is just so freaking good that the Cavs can’t not play him. But like I said with Suggs, I just see more roadblocks here than these last two guys.
Cunningham & Green are deserving favorites
And these last two guys do seem to have the clearest path to winning this award. Yes, I know, that is lame of me to say considering they have the least favorable odds. But they have the least favorable odds for a reason.
In regards to the #1 pick, Cade Cunningham, the path to him winning Rookie of the Year is far clearer than the three guys mentioned above. For one, he should step in and start right away (which is something we can’t say right now about Barnes, Suggs, or even Mobley). And if he ends up being as good as everyone says he is, the numbers should follow.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Cade is no sure thing to win this award. Let’s not forget that the Pistons took a point guard with the #7 pick in last year’s draft too, Killian Hayes. Do I think Cade will be better than Killian? Yes, but that doesn’t mean the Pistons aren’t still going to try and develop Killian right along with Cade. And if the two start together, does that mean Killian plays more on-ball, with Cade more off-ball, like we have seen in the early going during Summer League?
The Pistons also have Jerami Grant on this roster, a chucker that would make George Costanza jealous, and he’s only 27 years old (Grant, not George). Grant led the Pistons in usage rate last season at 28.5%. They also have plenty of other young players at guard and on the wing that Cade will be competing with (a few of whom that like to shoot), such as Josh Jackson, Hamidou Diallo (assuming he returns), Saddiq Bey, and Saben Lee. They also have veterans Cory Joseph (yet another guard who will command some minutes) and Kelly Olynyk (he’ll be in the frontcourt but we know the dude likes to shoot).
Ultimately, what I am trying to say is, it’s no sure thing that Cade is just given the keys to this franchise and this offense and told to cook. I certainly don’t think he is any more likely than the next guy to discuss, who also just so happens to have more favorable odds.
Which brings us to Jalen Green. The Houston Rockets seem insanely high on this kid; they locked in on him at #2 in this year’s draft and didn’t seem to even consider anyone else. I do wonder if they even would have taken him at #1 over Cade if that had that slot.
Green is 6’6” and pretty lean (Basketball Reference has him listed at just 178 lbs), but his ceiling is sky-high when it comes to how he projects as an NBA player. He is a big-time athlete, can probably play both guard spots right now (and may even be asked to play some three for the Rockets), and showed some improvement with his outside shooting with the G League Ignite team this past season. And he showed that off in his first Summer League game too, going 4 for 9 from deep.
I am not going to pretend that Green doesn’t have his own roadblocks to this award as well. The Rockets still have John Wall and his $44 million on the books (and a player option next year at $47 million) planted in at their point guard spot. But Wall only played in 40 of their 72 games last season, and he clearly isn’t part of their future plans (I am assuming, at least).
Houston also took a flier on Kevin Porter last season, acquiring him from the Cavs and immediately sending him to the G League to turn him into a point guard. Based on what KPJ showed in his 26 games last season for the Rockets, that gamble seems to have easily paid off. KPJ’s comeback is certainly a great story, but the Rockets aren’t invested in him quite like they are with Green.
And lastly, the Rockets do have guys like Christian Wood in the frontcourt and Eric Gordon on the wing who will certainly want their fair share of shots. But with Wood, he could actually be a good pick-and-roll companion for Green. As for Gordon, it would probably behoove the Rockets to trade him sooner rather than later, as he doesn’t fit their timeline and could probably help another team that wants to win right now.
2021-22 Rookie of the Year Prediction
Ultimately, I think this Rookie of the Year race comes down to Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green. If you agree, you could actually bet on both and still come out ahead. At the time I am writing this, the most favorable odds I see for Cade are +260 at Caesars. As for Green? You can get him at +450 at DraftKings.
If it’s me, I am rolling with my gut here and simply going with the better odds on Green. I think he has just as clear of a path to put up at least the same, if not better, numbers than Cunningham. And since it looks like he has the flash to go with it, the hype should be there for him too.
PICK: Jalen Green to win Rookie of the Year – +450 (DraftKings)
Image Credit: Imagn