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Deandre Ayton finalist for Rookie of the Year; Mikal Bridges has case for All-Rookie

Two Phoenix Suns rookies could add awards to their resume after quality rookie seasons.

NBA: Phoenix Suns-Press Conference Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday, the NBA announced that Suns rookie center Deandre Ayton was named as one of three finalists for the Kia-sponsored Rookie of the Year award, which will be announced in late June.

The Suns franchise has not had a Rookie of the Year since Amar’e Stoudemire was named in 2003, and almost certainly won’t break that string this year either despite boasting the No. 1 overall draft pick.

All awards have three finalists, and it’s feather in the cap for anyone to be in the top three of possibly historically good draft class. But the award is Luka Doncic’s to lose, with Ayton and Young just fighting for positioning in second or third place.

Doncic won the Western Conference Rookie of the Month every month of the 2018-19 season after winning numerous awards in Europe before joining the NBA as a precocious 19-year old playmaker.

The Rookie of the Year award almost always goes to the highest scorer from the draft class, and Ayton comes in fourth in that area among his peers.

Doncic finished tops among rookies in minutes per game (32.2) and points per game (21.2) while also racking up an astounding 7.8 rebounds and 6 assists on average. No rookie has put up those numbers since Oscar Robertson way back in 1960.

Trae Young came on strong in the second half for an Atlanta team that had fun winning some unexpected games. Young has deep shooting range like Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, plus incredible passing chops and handle along with an alpha-scorer mentality.

Meanwhile, Ayton quietly put up one of the best rookie seasons for a center in league history.

Place in league history

Only 13 rookie big men 6’11” or taller in the last 66 years (since Ray Felix in 1953) have ever put up better numbers than Ayton’s 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds.

The only other player with those numbers in the last 20 years has been Karl-Anthony Towns.

And not one of them converted his shots at a 58% clip like Ayton did last year.

No one else in the NBA put up Ayton’s numbers in total points and rebounds, and he was second in the whole rookie class in Win Shares, 4th in Box Plus-Minus and 3rd in Value Over Replacement Player. All while playing on the Suns.

Ayton might not win the Rookie of the Year award, but he should certainly be making first-team All-Rookie.

Place in Suns history

That would be the first Suns player to make the first-team since Devin Booker in 2015-16 (who, incidentally, came in second in ROY voting to Towns).

He would be the 10th first-team All-Rookie in the Suns 51 year history: Booker, Stoudemire, Michael Finley, Armen Gilliam, Walter Davis, Ron Lee, Alvan Adams, Mike Bantom and Gary Gregor — those who became All-Stars in bold).

Will Ayton become an All-Star or make an All-NBA team? Maybe. Probably. His offensive touch is sublime and his two-way potential has a high ceiling. How close he reaches his ceiling depends on maturity and coaching, but even the Ayton we see today will naturally grow into a KAT-type player — and Towns is a two-time All-Star and All-NBA player. Ayton just needs to be on a team that approaches playoff contention.

What about Bridges?

The Suns took three other rookies in the 2018 draft and acquired another one via trade for some reason. They started six rookies at various times throughout the season. Not just played. STARTED. Did any other rookies show enough value to make an All-Rookie first or second team?

Beyond minutes per game (29.5, 5th) and total minutes (2,417, 3rd), Bridges did not rack up the basic stats to rate him among the top 10 rookies. On a per-game basis, he was only 14th in points, 16th in rebounds and 10th in assists.

A case to put him on the second-team All-Rookie would focus on his tertiary stats like steals per game (1.6, best overall) and his advanced stats including Win Shares (9th), Box Plus-Minus (7th) and Value Over Replacement Player (4th) which show that he does the all-around things that help teams win games. He was also 4th in three-pointers made per game (1.3) and 12th in blocks (0.5) despite being a lanky small forward.

Stay tuned. The Rookie of the Year and All-Rookie teams will be announced by the NBA in late June.

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