Eight of the last nine NBA Rookie of the Year winners have fit the same mold: A player on a bad team where the coach puts the ball in his hands and asks him to make plays and put up numbers. Michael Carter-Williams did it last year, Damian Lillard the season before that, Kyrie Irving the season before that and so on (Blake Griffin being the exception).
This season we may see another exception — the guys in the best position to win are a lot of big men who play inside.
Here are the five most likely players to win the Rookie of the Year Award.
1. Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers. Consider the Blake Griffin effect — an entire season to work out, add muscle, improve your game, and an entire year to watch the NBA game up close and learn. Griffin admitted it was an advantage for him, Noel has that advantage now. Add to that the fact Noel was the most impressive player I saw in limited minutes at Summer League in Las Vegas and you have a real candidate. Noel is on a bad team and going to get plenty of shots, plus the runs the floor well on a team that will play at one of the fastest paces in the league. Noel could put up both impressive numbers and a lot of highlights. That said he’s not been great in the preseason and has battled through some minor physical issues.
2. Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks. This is the guy 75 percent of general managers picked to win the award (and more than a third think he will be the best player in five years from this class). Parker entered the draft with the most mature offensive game of anyone in the lottery (he can score in a variety of ways and has a nice first step), now he goes to a young Bucks team that is going to give him the rock a lot. In the preseason that has meant some impressive nights (21 and 11 against the Timberwolves, for example). I don’t know about five years from now, but I think he will have an impressive rookie season on a Bucks team that will be very entertaining.
3. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves. Wiggins is the No. 1 overall pick, a heralded pick, a freak athlete, a guy who has shown a nice midrange game, and he seems to learn quickly. There’s a lot to like, and he’s going to put up some decent numbers as well as some real highlight dunks. The question in Minnesota is how much run does Flip Saunders give Wiggins, that team has solid veterans on the wing like Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer. Ricky Rubio is going to throw Wiggins some sweet lobs but Rubio is going to have the ball in his hands most of the time. Wiggins’ personality is to fit in with teammates, not just take charge all the time. Combine all of that and I wonder if he’s really going to get enough touches to win the award.
4. Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers. He’s going to come off the bench behind Carlos Boozer in Los Angeles, but the Lakers bench is going to be more fun to watch than the starters most of the time anyway. Randle should get a lot of touches on what will not be a good team, but will veteran-friendly coach Byron Scott really let the kid loose. Randle has been up and down in the preseason. Kobe Bryant says Randle could win it if he would just %$(*#% listen to him and not blow it.
5. Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets. The guy can shoot the rock and Lionel Hollins likes guys that can shoot the rock, he may well start and certainly will get plenty of burn in Brooklyn. That said, with his years of international experience, I’m not sure voters will want to vote for him as a rookie, plus with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez on that team there just are not a lot of touches left.
• Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics. I put him here because one GM gave him one vote in the GM survey, and him winning is about as likely as any of the other dark horses. Smart can defend but his offensive game is a work in progress, and he’d going to spend most of the season behind Rajon Rondo anyway (unless Rondo is traded).
• Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls. A lot of fans like him, and I like his game and fit with the Bulls, but he’s just not going to get enough run — if you think Thibodeau is going to lean heavy on a rookie I’m not sure what Thibs you’ve been watching.
• T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns. If you’re looking for a rookie who can score, Warren is your man. He showed it in Summer League and preseason, he’s strong in transition and the Suns like to run.