The NBA has a multitude of awards that it gives away every year, each pertaining to the best player, or set of players, in their given criteria and demographic. Out of these, the award that garners the most attention, rivaling the buzz for the Most Valuable Player Award, is the Rookie of the Year Award. With a name that is self-explanatory, this award seeks to crown the best player, among all the first-year players in the league.
Throughout the history of American basketball, we have seen tons of amazing battles between players for the coveted award, with many of the all-time greats and Hall of Famers being some of the victors of it in their early careers. Just last year, Luka Doncic and Trae Young duked it out throughout the regular season for the accolade, with the former coming away victorious. A battle between players that were so different yet so similar, it was one that brought joy, unrivaled anticipation and excitement to all fans of the game.
Despite all that’s been said though, what we have before us this year, might just be blowing last year right out of the water. Zion Williamson and Ja Morant were selected as the No.1 and No.2 overall picks respectively in the 2019 NBA Draft. Both of these players came into the league with incredible hype and anticipation, with Williamson even being labeled as the most celebrated prospect since LeBron James, a world-renowned all-time great.
With all this hype though, the common question on everybody’s mind was, would they be able to live up to the hype? Were they truly as amazing as people believed them to be?
They were better.
Playing for the Memphis Grizzlies, Ja Morant hit the ground running from the get-go. Being drafted by a team with a losing record, the 20-year-old is making an instant impact, with the team now having a near-winning record, competing for a spot in the playoffs.
Morant has been an amazing player this season, but that’s not the biggest reason fans tune in to watch him. The player has amazing tenacity, plays with a fire in his belly, and constantly wears a chip on his shoulder, taking every chance he gets to prove himself to the world. Perhaps fueled by not being the No.1 pick, he never holds back on either end, earning the respect of not only those who watch him but even those who play with and against him.
Morant is currently averaging 17.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 7 assists on 30 minutes per game. He’s shooting an efficient 49.2% from the field and 35.2% from 3-point range. Such a stat line is elite for a rookie. If it was any other year in NBA history, there would be absolutely no doubt about Ja Morant winning the award in question.
Enter Zion Williamson.
Unfortunately sidelined for much of the starting of the season due to an injured meniscus, Williamson had to wait for his debut. When the wait was over though, he did not disappoint. While the team was average at best without him, with him it manages to hold its own and even defeat some of the best in the NBA.
Being unusually athletic for his size, it is the 19-year-old’s play style that attracts fans the most. In this ‘pace and space’ era where everyone relies on the 3-point shot in order to be great, Williamson bullies youngsters and veterans alike in the paint to score dozens of points. His footwork and dunks are a joy to watch. This isn’t to say he can’t score from downtown though, shooting a very efficient 41.7% from behind the arc, though it must be noted, that it is on extremely few attempts.
Additionally, Zion’s averaging 23.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.3 assists while playing 28.6 minutes per game. He’s shooting an incredible 58.1% from the field. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it’s a horrible task for any player, no matter how seasoned, to guard the teenager.
In these circumstances, the job of the decision makers can only be defined as a welcome curse.
As both these players push for the prestigious accolade in their young careers, the fans are not only guaranteed amazing basketball today but also spectacular basketball for the future to come. And being a fan of the game myself, I couldn’t ask for anything in the world, that’d be even slightly better than this.
It truly is a slugfest between the youngest titans of the NBA.Published 02 Mar 2020, 12:31 IST