Posted on June 23, 2019, by Travis Pulver
If there was one name that even the most casual college basketball observer was aware of heading into last week’s NBA Draft, it was Zion Williamson. He had been considered the consensus No. 1 pick no matter who held the selection for months.
With his combination of size instinct, talent athleticism, and raw power, he is going to be a force to be reckoned with next season in the NBA. But don’t be in a rush to put money on him to win Rookie of the ear honors just yet.
Oddsmakers have made him the favorite, of course, at -200 which means he has a 66.67 percent chance of taking home the hardware. With a percentage that high, it sounds like a lock, right? Maybe—but it isn’t.
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At least, that is what history tells us.
As the No. 1 pick in the draft, a case could be made that he should be the favorite since he was clearly the best player in college basketball last season. While few (if any) would argue that contention, almost every other No. 1 pick in recent history could say the same thing. But being a star in college doesn’t necessarily translate to being a star in the pros.
There are countless examples throughout the history of professional sports of college stars that end up being busts once they turn pro. Of course, at the same time, there are plenty of college superstars that do go on to be superstars as professionals.
Okay—so there is a chance he will be a star and a chance that he will not be one. That clears up absolutely nothing. But there are a few historical indicators that may help. For example, should he go on to win ROY honors next season, he will become only the second odds-on favorite to do so since 2006 according to SportsOddsHistory).
Kevin Durant was the other back in 2007.
Not convinced one way or the other? Since 1985, only 12 No. 1 picks went on to win Rookie of the Year.
It is not that the guys that failed to win were bad players or had poor rookie seasons. Some adjust to the NBA game faster than others, and some have more of an opportunity to put their game on display. Not much is expected of the Pelicans next season, but they actually do have an impressive collection of young talent.
If Alvin Gentry can get them all on the same page and playing like a team, fans may be talking about the Pelicans and not any one particular player.
Award-winning seasons are often about the opportunity as much as skill. A great player playing for a good team becomes part of the winning process. But a great player playing for a bad team becomes the show. With that in mind, guys like RJ Barrett (Knicks +600), Ja Morant (Grizzlies; +400), Darius Garland (Cavaliers; +1000) and Jarrett Culver (Suns; +1600) may be wiser bets than Zion Williamson.
So—can we go ahead and crown the next Rookie of the Year for the NBA? Of course not, but we can look forward to watching them.