Dallas forward Luka Doncic has established himself as the favorite for NBA Rookie of the Year, but bettors might want to look a little further down the board. In the last five years, only one player with the best odds took home the hardware, and it was a controversial winner.
The regular season begins today, with 22 of the 30 teams in action, and the rookies will begin their quest to see who is voted the best in June. The two top choices for the award will face off in a late game, as Dallas plays Phoenix.
The hometown Suns are 1-point picks to down the Mavericks, but the more interesting aspect of the game is how Doncic performs compared to Phoenix’s No. 1 draft pick Deandre Ayton.
Battling Before Season
As soon as odds on the ROY were released, Ayton was a slight favorite over Doncic. The 7-foot-one-inch center was at 13/5, while the 6-foot-seven-inch swingman was at 3/1.
Ayton was the consensus No. 1 pick of the June NBA Draft. The Suns were in desperate need of a big man, and grabbed the local University of Arizona player with the first selection.
Doncic was bypassed by Sacramento with the second pick, and Dallas traded a future first-round draft pick to Atlanta in order to get the Slovenian player. The Mavericks, who added former Clipper big man DeAndre Jordan to its roster, and already had veterans like future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki, and Harrison Barnes, were a perfect fit for the 19-year-old.
Doncic was labeled as the most NBA-ready first-year player, having played professionally in Europe since the age of 13. His game impressed teammate J.J. Barea.
“He’s not quick, but he’s going to play at a good pace, always under control,” Barea said. “He’s tall and can pass over people. He’s a great passer. And he can shoot it, too, so you’ve got to guard him.”
Other Contenders to Consider
That, as well as an impressive preseason, moved Doncic to the top of the betting board for ROY. He jumped to 3/1 in July, while Ayton slid to 9/2. This week BetOnline tightened the race between the two, with Doncic at 5/2 and Ayton at 11/4.
But Doncic is on a roster of talented players who will make a push for the playoffs. He also has recent history against him. Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons won as the favorite last year, but was the first one to do so in five years. His award was controversial in that he was drafted in 2016, but missed the entire season with an injury. There were some that said he shouldn’t be eligible for the award since it was technically his second year in the league.
Ayton will have the task of having to go up against some talented centers in the Western Conference, including Dallas’ Jordan and Golden State’s DeMarcus Cousins.
Some darkhorse candidates might actually be a better pick. In 2017, Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon won the award and didn’t even have odds, because he was the 36th pick in the draft. In 2016, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns was the sixth pick and won at 7/1, and the year before his teammate Andrew Wiggins was fourth at 4/1 and grabbed the award.
This year Kevin Knox is a pick that bettors like. The New York Knicks forward is 16/1 and plays on a team that is starving for offense. If he can put up decent stats, he could have a chance.
Another player with long odds to consider is Cleveland’s Collin Sexton, who is at 7/1. The point guard will be expected to contribute immediately, and with a lineup that will sorely miss superstar LeBron James, he could get the requisite number of minutes and stats to win the award.