If you’re going to make a preseason bet on the NBA Rookie of the Year award, it should be on Paolo Banchero. I’ll be looking for something special in these awards previews, but if Banchero stays healthy, he’s the favorite to win the award in the beta. He is currently at +225 at Caesars Sportsbook. He would still be a good value bet for even money.
Chet Homgren’s injury is part of that, but it goes much deeper. Winning Rookie of the Year is primarily about accumulating assets. We saw this play last season when Evan Mobley lost to Scotty Barnes despite having the greatest defensive season in rookie history. Barnes had more latitude to put up numbers, and that gave him a slight edge when the votes were counted.
Only two big men have won this award since 2006: Karl-Anthony Towns and Blake Griffin. Griffin’s Clippers traded their starting point guard midway through the season. Towns had Ricky Rubio, one of the NBA’s most unselfish lead ball handlers, at point guard. Both are positioned to catch the ball and score more points. And that’s what they did. It is an opportunity given to a few beginners. Since 2006, only the 40s have averaged 15 points per game. 16 of the 40 have won Rookie of the Year, meaning a rookie averaging 15 points per game has a 40 percent chance of winning the award.
You won’t be surprised to hear what kind of rookies are given that many scoring opportunities. Since Chris Paul won in 2006, every winner except Malcolm Brogdon has been selected by lottery. In total, six winners were ranked No. 1, two came second, and five more ranked No. 5. Essentially, this means we’re looking for high draft picks who will be given a break to catch the ball and score.
Why does he point us to Banchero? Well, let’s take a look at the next few picks in the 2022 NBA Draft. Holmgren is out for the year. Jabari Smith, the shooting guard, who is more prepared for shooting and defense, is playing on a team in Houston with Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. Green averages less than four assists per 100 possessions, one of the lowest numbers of Houston’s main ball handlers. To put that in perspective, his 3.9 assists per 100 possessions average is JJ Redick’s career mark. Porter’s assist numbers were much better a season ago, and he’s really grown as a playmaker since Houston moved him to guard. But he’s still a goal scorer in a contract year. Smith may be a better player than Banchero one day, but he doesn’t get the ball to excel as a rookie.
We’d slightly pick Keegan Murray at No. 4 overall and Benedict Maturin at No. 6 overall, but No. 5 pick Jaden Eavy is a shaky shooter who’s joined by Kad Cunningham’s team. If the shooting improves the sky is the limit, but this season, the touches may not be. No. 7 Shaddon Sharp sits with Damian Lillard’s team and sits behind Anferni Simmons and Josh Hart. They picked No. 8 Dyson Daniels and No. 9 Jeremy Socha, who are primarily defensive players this season. No. 10 Johnny Davis is battling for minutes against three established NBA rookies and two recent lottery picks. This includes the top 10. Not particularly encouraging, eh?
All of this leads us to Banchero, who is primed to be an offensive fulcrum on a team that lacks a single proven guard on the roster. None of us can say for sure what kind of NBA player Banchero will be in 10 years, but even if it is a punch, there are many precedents for such players to win this award. Michael Carter-Williams and Tyreke Evans are Rookie of the Year winners. There is very little correlation between this award and future success. It’s all about posting numbers in the first season.
So ok, we’ve confirmed that Banchero is the best value on the board at +225. Are there any other players worth sniffing? If you’re looking to diversify your Yearly portfolio, I’d consider the following players reasonable sleepers. (Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.)
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Keegan Murray, Kings (+430)
Murray won’t be the primary ball handler, but he will play with two generous teams. Domantas Sabinis is the best passing center west of Nikola Jokic, and De’Aaron Fox’s speed creates a lot of gravity at the rim, so a shooter like Murray should get plenty of open looks both inside and outside the arc. His mid-range game complements Fox’s drive and the rest of Sacramento’s shooters well, and one of the appeals of drafting him fourth is that he’s already 22. This is not a teenager who can help online. Now the kings have chosen him to help.
This is the real reason to make this bet. The Kings are desperate for a playoff push and will get narrative momentum to help Murray get one. While narrative help is intangible, workloads are quantifiable. If he is necessary to win, the Kings will not be able to load Murray. In a busy Western Conference, it squeezes enough minutes to post numbers by default.
This was a much more attractive bet before Holmgren got hurt. Betting markets often look for second favorites against heavy tickets on one candidate and Murray has fallen into that position by default. Banchero has few teammates he can disrupt with his own offense. In addition to Fox and Sabinis, Murray will have to compete for touches with Malik Monk, Kevin Huerter, Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes and Davion Mitchell. There are many mouths to feed in Sacramento. That’s just not true for magic. If you bet on Murray, you’re betting on the Kings making a serious playoff push. That’s what it will take to close what could be a meaningful statistical gap between him and the favorite.
Malcolm Brogdon is gone. Buddy Hield and Myles Turner could soon join him. The team is now firmly owned by Tyrese Halliburton, but all the games he’s missed can be picked off, and during a clean sweep, minor bruises and bruises tend to stay out longer. The point here is that there are plenty of shots to go around in Indiana, and aside from Chris Duarte, there aren’t many Pacers eager to take them.
Stylistically, Maturin should play well with Halliburton in the lineup. His best attribute is his jump shot, but he’s also a good enough ball handler to kill overzealous defenders closing in on him. He’s not yet a master pick-and-roll technician, but he doesn’t need to be. It’s not like Banchero and Murray are expected to post assist numbers.
Honestly, I’d wait until preseason to make this bet. We don’t know yet how Indiana will draft its lineup. Is he about to start maturin? He’s more likely to come off the bench behind Duarte. How often does Rick Carlyle play three guards? The story suggests that it was something he considered. The odds shouldn’t change too much between now and opening night, so there’s no reason to rush into this bet.
A lot of the same logic that applies to Maturin applies to abuse, but you’re tripling the odds. He’s currently in a team that’s collapsing into a sweater. There will be no shortage of shot attempts for Agabaji, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s coming into the NBA as a relatively solid defender. He’s a four-year college player, so the learning curve won’t be too steep. If the Jazz trade Mike Conley before opening night, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Agbaji start in Utah’s backcourt alongside Collin Sexton.
The obvious problem here is that Agbaji is a star shooter but not much of a ball handler. He’s on Sexton’s team, and Sexton isn’t exactly known for his passing. If you’re looking for a Utah long shot bet, Sexton at +5000 looks more attractive to most improved players.
Okay, the longest of all long shots. What applies to Smith also applies to Washington. The difference is you are getting one at +650 and the other at 100-to-1. Washington will not play enough minutes to win this award or seriously compete for it. But Porter is flexible, and until he signs a contract extension, he’s a trade candidate by default. If he or Green get hurt, Washington will get heavy minutes just because of their youth on a tanking team.
Am I going to bet on this? No, but if you’re looking for the longest long shots, you’re looking at guards with up-to-the-minute routes despite taking damage. Likewise, Jaden Hardy is a somewhat reasonable lottery ticket at +5000 because Jalen Brunson left Dallas and Spencer Dinwiddie has an extensive injury history. I would have bet on him, but this is a formula for a choice that is not above. Brogodon won the award after the Bucs traded away point guard Michael Carter-Williams nine days before the season. The odds don’t reflect how unlikely something like that is, but if you’re looking for one, there’s a precedent for it.