Lots of publications and online analysts are predicting that Luka Doncic will beat out Deandre Ayton for NBA Rookie of the Year in 2018-19.
This is despite Ayton showing the dominant strength, soft touch and exuberant personality that even casual NBA fans have always rallied around.
For the first time since Steve Nash, the Suns have a star who, along with Devin Booker, will help propel the Suns back onto the national stage.
But Ayton is unlikely to win the Rookie of the Year award, no matter what else happens.
Let me explain why.
2017 — 2008
Here’s the list of the 10 most recent Top Overall Picks and where they finished in the ROY race.
- 2017: Markelle Fultz (barely played due to injury)
- 2016: Ben Simmons (won in 2017-18 after missing his first season)
- 2015: Karl-Anthony Towns (won)
- 2014: Andrew Wiggins (won)
- 2013: Anthony Bennett (lol)
- 2012: Anthony Davis (lost to Damian Lillard, who went 6th; has since become an All-Star and MVP candidate)
- 2011: Kyrie Irving (won)
- 2010: John Wall (lost to Blake Griffin, who was #1 overall in 2009)
- 2009: Blake Griffin (won in 2010-11 after missing his first season)
- 2008: Derrick Rose (won)
Over the last 10 years, 6 of the Top picks won the Rookie of the Year.
The other 4 years...
One lost out to the prior year’s top pick (Wall). One was injured his rookie year (Fultz). One was Anthony Bennett from an historically bad draft where the #11 overall pick took home the honors while Bennett got lots of DNPs and was released after just one season. And no one batted an eye.
The only relatively healthy #1 overall pick not named Bennett who wasn’t competing with the prior year’s #1 overall pick and failed to win Rookie of the Year was... Anthony Davis. Davis put up 13/8 for the Pelicans and got beat out by Damian Lillard. I think the Pelicans are okay with how AD turned out anyway.
In fact, of the last 10 #1 overall picks, six are already All-Stars (including AD) and Ben Simmons will soon join them to make it seven. Andrew Wiggins and Markelle Fultz still have the talent to reach that level too.
Only Anthony Bennett, released after one season and now trying to catch on in the G-League, is assured of never making an All-Star team.
So when there’s a decade of evidence showing 70% chance a healthy #1 overall pick wins the Rookie of the Year, why do so many prognosticators assume Deandre Ayton won’t?
Are they assuming season-long injury, like Blake Griffin or Ben Simmons?
Are they assuming Markelle Fultz will roar back to win the ROY over Ayton, like Griffin and Simmons?
So they must be assuming this is a reprisal of 2012, where uber-talented but raw Anthony Davis was good but not great and Damian Lillard stole the show with long range shooting and playmaking?
Maybe that’s it.
But maybe not. Maybe it’s just about the position that Ayton plays.
To recap, the Top Picks in this past decade were 5 point guards, 3 power forwards, 1 shooting guard, 1 center. Six (going on seven) All-Stars. Six ROYs.
The ROYs in this decade: 7 point guard/playmakers (including Simmons), 1 shooting guard, 1 power forward, 1 center.
Clearly, playmakers have a leg up on draft night and ROY voters in the past decade, possibly explaining why people are predicting Doncic to win the award.
Suns fans hope Ayton is the next Karl-Anthony Towns.
Let’s go further back then, Dave.
1998 — 2007
In the decade before (1998-2007), only 2 of 10 Top Overall Picks won the ROY.
And a whopping SEVEN of those eight who missed the ROY award were... ugh... centers: Michael Olowakandi, Kwame Brown, Yao Ming, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bogut, Andre Bargnani and Greg Oden.
Surely, the worry is that Ayton is another one of THOSE guys, from back when the league was obsessed with finding the next great 7-footer.
Did the Suns obsess too much over finding the next great seven-footer, and buck the recent trend to take the best player regardless of position.
The Top Picks in that decade: 7 centers, 2 power forwards, and LeBron James. All big men. Five All-Stars. Two ROYs.
The ROYs in that decade: 5 guard/wings (Vince Carter, Mike Miller, LeBron James, Brandon Roy, Kevin Durant), 2 centers (Pau Gasol, Emeka Okafor), 2 power forwards (Amare Stoudemire, Elton Brand) and 2 point guards (Steve Francis, Chris Paul).
Is Ayton another mistake like those 7 centers taken that decade, when time after time a player from another position ends up with the award?
Of those seven big men who went #1 overall between 1998-2007 that did NOT win the ROY, let’s see a little more about them:
- three were total busts (Brown, Olowakandi, Bargnani)
- one suffered a career-ending injury that began rookie season (Oden)
- three are (or are likely) Hall of Famers (Ming, Bogut, Howard)
I don’t think even Ayton’s biggest detractors would argue he’s going to be a total bust. Kwame, Bargs and Kandi Man were dumb picks, just like Anthony Bennett in the more recent decade.
That’s four dumb picks in 20 years.
Did the Suns make it 5 in 21? I don’t believe so.
None of those dumb picks averaged 20 and 11 in college, none led the NCAA in shooting efficiency like Ayton.
That’s leaves Dwight Howard, Andrew Bogut, Yao Ming and Greg Oden as fellow non-bust Top Pick centers.
None of them won the ROY, but three became All-Stars (like Anthony Davis in the previous grouping) and likely Hall of Fame inductees.
And frankly, if Oden could have stayed healthy, I think we’d all agree he would have made an All-Star game or 10.
Oden posted just about 9 points and 7 rebounds as a rookie for the 54-28 Blazers. They were 41-20 with him in the rotation, sharing time with Joel Przybilla. That young Blazers team was fun and filled with so much promise, led by 24 year old Brandon Roy and 23 year old LaMarcus Aldridge and boasting 8 of their top 10 players aged 24 or younger. Only Steve Blake and Przybilla were the “veterans” in the rotation.
Oden missed 21 of the 82 games that year, his healthiest of his career, and lost out ROY to some guy named Kevin Durant. He only played 44 more games the rest of his career.
Judging by past voting results, mercurial playmakers got most of the ROY votes in the past decade, while highlight reel guard/wings got most of the votes the decade before.
In the past 20 years, only three centers (Towns, Okafor and Gasol) have won the ROY, and the only one of those went #1 overall (Towns).
It’s also true that of the 8 centers taken with the Top Pick in the last 20 years, 3 are likely Hall of Famers and another (Towns) is a perennial All-Star.
So, yeah, it’s quite probable that the Suns’ Deandre Ayton doesn’t win the ROY this year, but that doesn’t take away from the potentiality of a long, star-studded career.
Where Ayton will likely pay immediate dividends is at the box office and a rebirth of national coverage of the Suns.
Soon after the draft, the Suns reported a tripling of season ticket sales compared to the year before. Casual fans know the name Deandre Ayton, in some circles even better than Devin Booker. It’s a ground swell of casual fans that pack the stadiums and buy the merchandise.
And today, the NBA unveils the opening-week schedule of national TV games — where the Suns are more likely to be featured than in any year since Steve Nash left almost a decade ago.
When the whole season schedule comes out on Friday, we might just see the Suns back in the regular rotation on national TV throughout the season.
Ayton might not win the ROY award this year, but he will help the Suns rise back out of the ashes of anonymity that had befallen one of the great NBA towns in the country.
What happens with Ayton?
This poll is closed
Wins ROY and makes multiple All-Star games
Loses ROY, but makes multiple All-Star games
Will be an average NBA center (no ROY, no All-Star)
Will be a bust like Kandi Man or Kwame
Yet another dumb poll not worth taking