Most NBA teams have between 15-17 regular-season games remaining if the league were to get back up and running and complete its season. If the NBA’s hiatus runs longer than expected and the rest of the regular season is canceled, teams have put in a good 65 games and could jump into playoff seeding based on those games. Those 65 games are also a good enough sample size to determine the league’s award winners. One of those awards includes the much-anticipated Rookie-of-the-Year battle between Ja Morant and Zion Williamson.
Ja Morant has Grizzlies in unfamiliar playoff territory
If the season ended today, Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies would lock up the eighth and final playoff spot in a tough Western Conference. Even if the regular season was played out, the Grizzlies own a 3.5-game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, and the Sacramento Kings.
The prime reason for the surprising success of the Memphis Grizzlies has been the strong play of rookie guard Ja Morant. Morant is averaging 17.6 points and 6.9 assists and has played in 59 of the Grizzlies’ 65 games. The 6-foot-3 point guard was the second overall pick in last year’s NBA draft after playing college ball at Murray State.
The Grizzlies, who have failed to reach the postseason the last two years, were expected to be in rebuilding mode this season. Memphis traded veteran point guard Mike Conley in the offseason, opting to take Morant as his replacement and go with a young group.
Zion Williamson dominant in limited play for Pelicans
When the New Orleans Pelicans selected Zion Williamson out of Duke University with the top pick in the 2019 NBA draft, they knew what they were getting as a player. Williamson is a 6-foot-6 versatile power forward who has put up some big numbers in his first NBA season.A knee injury, however, has sidelined him for the better part of the season.
Since returning to the Pelicans’ lineup after dealing with a torn meniscus, no rookie has been more dominant than Williamson. Williamson has averaged 23.6 points ad 6.8 rebounds per game. Williamson’s biggest problem is that he’s only played in 19 of the Pelicans’ 64 games. In those 19 games, however, the Pelicans have gone 11-8.
Williamson showed what he is capable of doing against some of the league’s best competition. Against LeBron James and the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers, Williamson put up 35 points and brought down seven rebounds in a 122-114 loss. Williamson shot 75 percent from the floor in that game, making 12 of 16 shots.
ESPN’s ROY straw poll results: Morant 70, Williamson 0
In an unofficial ESPN poll taken during the last few days featuring 70 eligible voters, the results for NBA Rookie of the Year weren’t even close.
Despite averaging nearly 24 points per game on 58.9 percent shooting, the lack of time on the court caught up with Zion Williamson. Williamson’s numbers on the court were outstanding, but his time off the court seemingly proved to be the deciding factor in this poll. Williamson finished a distant second.
Ja Morant captured every first-place vote and the Grizzlies rookie was the lone player named on every ballot.
ESPN polled a mixture of local beat writers from across the league as well as national and international reporters and also used the same point system the NBA uses. Finishing third in the poll was Miami Heat’s Kendrick Nunn.