Updated: Oct 9, 2021
At the beginning of each season, there's usually a short list of favorites for each NBA award. Of course, people like to proclaim their dark horse winner, especially for Most Valuable Player (Joel Embiid seems to sneak in there every year). But Rookie of the Year seems to be one of the most variable awards in the league. Still, there are some freshmen this year that I think will make a serious impact on their teams. In this article, I will be running through my top five candidates for this season's Rookie of the Year.
5. James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors
It's not clear how much Wiseman will factor into Golden State's offense to begin the season. What is clear is that when he is on the court, he will play a vital role in the pick-and-roll with Steph Curry. From setting screens for 3-pointers to finishing dunks after rolling to the rim, it should be exciting to see how the two players are meshing.
Assuming he is in the starting rotation from tip-off, Wiseman will be a nightly double-double threat. Though he may not put up monster scoring totals to begin his career, he doesn't have to. The Warriors have Curry and Kelly Oubre Jr. to take on that responsibility. Rebounds, on the other hand, shouldn't be an issue for Wiseman, who has a natural feel for the skill.
4. Killian Hayes, Detroit Pistons
There's a chance that Hayes comes out of the gate ready to facilitate for an NBA team at 19 years old. After all, he's had Derrick Rose as a mentor this offseason, a former MVP with 12 years of experience. Hayes has the skill set and physical profile to excel in the league for years to come. However, there will be certain nights that serve as learning experiences for the French point guard.
Hayes relies heavily on his left hand, something that professional defenses could exploit early on. Further ambidexterity will come with work in the future, but he will likely have an inefficient rookie season from the floor. One thing to look forward to is his passing. Hayes is excellent in the pick-and-roll, and it should be exciting to see his chemistry with big men like Blake Griffin.
3. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
In the last 10 seasons, only 3 of the 1st overall picks have won Rookie of the Year. Not to say that the odds are against Anthony Edwards, but recent history isn't necessarily on his side. The Timberwolves drafted Edwards because they saw him as the best overall talent in this year's draft. In a not-so-stacked class, Edwards' ability to pile on points in a hurry could cement him as its best player in a few years.
Edwards will act as the off-ball sidekick to point guard D'Angelo Russell and center Karl-Anthony Towns. As long as he doesn't play hero ball, he should be able to exhibit his offensive aptitude regularly. With that being said, there will be some ugly, inefficient, single-digit scoring nights. But it happens; it's just a matter of how long Edwards' adjustment to NBA defenses will take.
2. Obi Toppin, New York Knicks
Toppin is an absolute firecracker on offense and a perfect match for the New York market. The Knicks have been looking for direction ever since Carmelo Anthony left in 2017, so Toppin should help his team in that search. The Dayton product plays like a mini-Amar'e Stoudemire, exhibiting his explosive athleticism in the fastbreak.
In addition to RJ Barrett, the Knicks will definitely lean on Toppin for offensive production this season. Toppin focused heavily on his defense this offseason, but even the most casual NBA fans understand that offense wins Rookie of the Year. Defense still earns minutes, though, especially in the eyes of new head coach Tom Thibodeau. We'll see how Toppin does against bigger bodies when asked to post up.
1. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
Since high school, LaMelo has been one of the most hyped – and polarizing – prospects in basketball. Some saw his tantalizing playmaking ability and shooting range, while others pointed to his excessive flashiness and inconsistent mechanics. Ball will be looking to put all of that talk to rest, already receiving the keys from His Airness, Michael Jordan.
Ball will be a starter from the beginning for Charlotte, with high expectations for his production. Although all eyes are on him as the 3rd overall pick, head coach James Barrego has already called him a "high-level decision maker." Ball is excellent in the pick-and-roll, and with the Hornets adding shooters over the offseason, he should rack up assists from the jump. For every questionable decision Ball makes this season, there will likely be an exciting pass or fancy finish at the rim. Look forward to what he can accomplish during his first year in Charlotte.