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Zion closing gap on Ja Morant in Rookie of the Year race

Zion Williamson continues to gain steam on Ja Morant for top rookie. We take a look at the odds on DraftKings Sportsbook.

ion Williamson of Team USA and Ja Morant talk during the NBA Rising Stars on Friday, February 14, 2020 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.  Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

When Zion Williamson first came back from knee surgery, it seemed unlikely he could win Rookie of the Year. Ja Morant was playing at a really high level and the Memphis Grizzlies were holding onto a playoff spot. Fast forward six weeks later, the New Orleans Pelicans are closing in on the final playoff spot in the West and it’s largely due to the play of Zion. New Orleans has won nine of it’s last 14 games, moving to within three games of the Grizzlies.

Comparing numbers, Morant is averaging 17.7 points, 7.0 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. Williamson is averaging 24.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Without a doubt, Zion’s numbers are more impressive, especially when considering that he’s shooting 59.3% from the field, which includes 41.7% shooting from three. The reason Morant is favored at -400 odds is the difference in games played. Williamson is a +250 underdog because he’s only played in 15 games compared to 54 games for Morant.

NBA Rookie of the Year Odds Update

Player Opening Night 2/6 2/24 3/2 Odds Change since Opening Night
Player Opening Night 2/6 2/24 3/2 Odds Change since Opening Night
Ja Morant 215 -560 -560 -400 -615
Zion Williamson 120 550 450 250 130
Kendrick Nunn OTB 2000 3000 5000 -
RJ Barrett 500 5000 5000 10000 9500
Brandon Clarke OTB OTB 10000 10000 -

What has to happen for Williamson to win Rookie of the Year?

If Williamson is going to win the award, the Pelicans have to make the playoffs. A month ago, this seemed like a tall ask, but now, it seems pretty realistic. Despite being down three games in the standings, fivethirtyeight.com is giving New Orleans a 67% chance to make the playoffs and just an 8% chance to Memphis. The big difference is strength of schedule. The Grizzlies remaining opponents have a 54.2% win rate compared to a 44.1% win rate left for Pelicans’ opposition. If the Pelicans make the postseason, we could see a narrative that Zion propelled New Orleans to the playoffs, leading voters to select him ROY. Recency bias could also be on his side since his missed games were at the start of the season and not the end.

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