Despite being selected with the third overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and being considered by many to be the best player in the class, Luka Doncic may have his work cut out for him in his quest to win Rookie of the Year. Sure, he’s expected to be a featured piece on an exciting young team in the West, teaming with players like Dennis Smith Jr, Harrison Barnes, and DeAndre Jordan. And yes, Doncic brings a creative flair to the game few others can match. He’s a well-rounded offensive player with the kind of phenomenal vision and playmaking ability that is sure to dazzle onlookers all across the league. But if he’s going to win the 2018-19 Rookie of the Year award, he’ll have to do something no one has done since Pau Gasol in the 2001-02 season.
Need a hint? In addition to Pau, Doncic would join the likes of Ernie DiGregorio, Buck Williams, Grant Hill, and Michael Jordan. Each won Rookie of the Year after being selected with the third overall pick in their respective draft. To offer some additional context to that figure, 21 winners of the award have come from the first overall pick, and another 14 have captured it as the second pick.
Obviously, there isn’t an exact science to this evaluation as players can fall in the draft for a variety of reasons. As mentioned above, Doncic is believed by many to be the best, most NBA-ready player in this draft class. As such, his being selected third overall rather than first is likely due in part to him being a European player with less scouting coverage than Division 1 players typically receive Still, historically speaking, it’ll be a bit of an uphill battle for the Slovenia native. Based on various projections and the small sample size of preseason action we’ve seen from the former EuroLeague MVP, Doncic is projected to have a stat-line similar to the one shown below.
Luka Doncic (2018-19 prediction)
|14.4 Pts||5.9 Rbs||0.6 Blks||5.7 Asts|
Luka’s impact should affect the game on several fronts, allowing him to fill the stat sheet on any given night. But how does he compare to the noteworthy rookies of last year and other recent winners of the award? Dennis Smith Jr, now a teammate of Doncic, entered last season as the favorite to win the award. By the end the year, however, the conversation had definitively pivoted to a virtual dead-heat between Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons.
Let’s begin with last year’s favorite, DSJ.
Dennis Smith Jr. (2017-18)
|15.2 Pts||3.8 Rbs||0.3 Blks||5.2 Asts|
While Smith Jr’s ROTY hype had run cold by year’s end, through little fault of his own, he still provided solid averages across the board. For him, however, it was a sub-forty field goal percentage and 31% three-point average that contributed most to his loss of momentum.
It’s also interesting to see how largely similar Doncic’s projected stat line is with Smith Jr’s rookie season. Both are exciting young playmakers capable of getting their teammates involved, and both are capable of taking over a game. There is a reason people are excited about the Mavs’ young duo, after all.
Donovan Mitchell (2017-18)
|20.5 Pts||3.7 Rbs||0.3 Blks||3.7 Asts|
While Luka isn’t the scoring machine that Donovan Mitchell is, he’s more well-rounded with regard to his rebounding, shot-blocking, and playmaking. This should allow him to dictate the flow of a game even when his shot isn’t falling. Still, he’s not in the same class as Mitchell with regard to scoring.
But what about the guy who actually won Rookie of the Year last season?
Ben Simmons (2017-18 ROY)
|15.8 Pts||8.1 Rbs||0.9 Blks||8.2 Asts|
We can see that Doncic’s projections aren’t that far off from Ben Simmons’s award-winning season. The disadvantage for Doncic in this comparison, however, is that he will be forced to share the ball with last year’s first-round pick for Dallas, Dennis Smith Jr, as well as guys like Devin Harris, J.J. Barea, and Jalen Brunson. Simmons, on the other hand, is able to run the 76ers offense mostly on his own, allowing him to rack up impressive numbers in the process.
Okay, that’s interesting, but last year’s rookie class was insane. What about other recent winners?
Malcolm Brogdon (2016-17 ROY)
|10.2 Pts||3.0 Rbs||0.3 Blks||3.8 Asts|
This was a strange year for the Rookie of the Year award. Brogdon, clearly the outlier of this list, held averages of just over 10 points and was sub-4 in both the rebounding and assists department. Had Mitchell or Dennis Smith, last season’s second and third place finishers, come out a year earlier, they would’ve walked into the Rookie of the Year title by the All Star break.
Karl-Anthony Towns (2015-16 ROY)
|18.3 Pts||10.5 Rbs||1.7 Blks||2.0 Asts|
Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the best big men in the league today and his stat line more that supports that. Of the rookie seasons examined in this piece, he is the closest comp to this year’s first overall pick, DeAndre Ayton. If Ayton can perform at the level of Towns in his rookie year, he will be hard to beat.
Andrew Wiggins (2014-15 ROY)
|16.9 Pts||4.1 Rbs||0.6 Blks||2.1 Asts|
If a player in this year’s draft class could put forth Andrew Wiggins’ level of production, they would actually make for an interesting challenger in the race. While the points production is strong, the rebounding, shot-blocking, and assists output are lacking. Against an opponent like this, Doncic would likely be favored due to his “complete” game impact.
Although the league’s GM surveys overwhelmingly named Doncic as the favorite to win ROTY, it’s important to recognize that he will have some serious competition along the way. Ayton is a physical presence few can deny with range to boot. Marvin Bagley III was a complete scorer at Duke and a double-double machine. Trae Young, meanwhile, the man Doncic was effectively traded for on draft night, will be the primary ballhandler and playmaker for the Atlanta Hawks. In his one season at Oklahoma, Young led the country in scoring and assists, the only player to ever achieve such a feat.
What separates Doncic from the competition is that we’ve already seen him go up against professionals over the past few years. Sure, it wasn’t the same caliber of athlete he’ll now face in the NBA but ask just about any NBA scout and they’ll tell you that the level of competition in the EuroLeague is significantly greater than Division 1 here in the states. This is Doncic’s greatest edge.
Doncic will strive to bring Dallas its first Rookie of the Year since Jason Kidd in 1994. Of equally interesting note is that Kidd shared the award with the aforementioned Grant Hill, the third pick in the draft.
Doncic is more decorated and better prepared to face the rigors of NBA action than his peers. As such, the fact that he’s the favorite entering the season is hardly surprising. But favorite or not, if he’s going to win Rookie of the Year, he’ll have to join some rare company as the draft’s third pick.
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