Timberwolves

A Tale of Two Seasons for Anthony Edwards

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson (USA TODAY Sports)

Anthony Edwards is awesome, and it still doesn’t matter to me whether he wins Rookie of the Year. A month ago, I published that piece about the Rookie of the Year race.

Since then, so many things have happened.

This week, we learned that Edwards won his second Rookie of the Month Award. Thus far, LaMelo Ball has won three and Tyrese Haliburton has also won two. This week, we also learned that LaMelo has returned from his broken left wrist to help the Charlotte Hornets with their playoff push.

Odds Update

Amongst the media and fans who follow the Minnesota Timberwolves, people seem to be in two camps. Some think that Edwards has already proven his case as Rookie of the Year with his prolific scoring and individual defense. And there are the pragmatists who think that it’s neck and neck.

Both are likely wrong.

Even after all 42 of those mind-bending points on Wednesday night, this race has been double knotted into a bow by Adam Silver himself. The media attention is glued to Ball. The Hornets have been hovering around .500 and the eighth seed in the East all season, and Ball has been a top-four player for them. He’s fourth on their team in win shares (WS) and second in value over replacement player (VORP). Most importantly, though, playing in 50-plus games is a big game-changer from 41.

At the time of my article last month, Ant was plus-100 to win Rookie of the Year. Now he’s plus-350, and LaMelo has moved back up to the heavy favorite at minus-600. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of their seasons, courtesy of Basketball-Reference:

The best argument for Edwards isn’t season-long, though. It’s peak. His improvement since the All-Star break has been a mid-season possibly unprecedented in a Wolves uniform. That includes a couple of late-season Karl-Anthony Towns surges early in his career. Unfortunately for the Timberwolves and Ant, his stretch at the beginning of this season counts toward the year, and the awards voters will be looking at this season as a whole. But they should be looking at this season is as two wholes.

MASSIVE GAINz

We all know by now that Edwards didn’t focus on basketball until he was 15 years old. Meanwhile, LaMelo signed a contract to play professional basketball in Lithuania in December 2017 at age 16. LaVar Ball had LaMelo playing basketball from the time he could walk. Whichever way you measure it, LaMelo has been playing basketball three times longer than Edwards.

Arguably because of this, Ball has failed to show nearly as much growth as Ant this season. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of their seasons since the All-Star Break:

Edwards is having a better second half of the season over these last 30 games than Ball has had all season, according to game score (similar to PER or Box Plus/Minus). The best 30 game stretch LaMelo has had, according to game score, was from Jan. 6 to March 13 (14.9). So if we’re talking peak, Edwards has both the best game (a Game Score of 37.2 for Ant last night to 32.6 for LaMelo on January 30th) and the best stretch. Not only does he have the highest peak, but he’s peaking right now before our very eyes.

Sharing is Caring

This is why I posit that the NBA should anoint co-Rookie of the Year honors for the first time since 2000. This is not unusual. It has happened three times in NBA history. Due to the uncertain, unprecedented nature of the season and the clear delineation of two different RotY — there are two types of people: RotY people and ROY people; choose wisely — races, it makes more sense than ever to award two players.

Remember, Edwards was essentially handed a basketball on draft night and asked to lead an injury-riddled Timberwolves team from Day 1. These circumstances are hardly fair to the player who clearly needed a normal offseason to acclimate to professional basketball.

Rookie of the Year, Historically

But Wolves fans shouldn’t determine the worth of this season or even Ant’s year based on whether he wins Rookie of the Year. As I said last month, Andrew Wiggins taught us that Rookie of the Year does not determine the best rookie in the draft class. And this week, I’m digging deeper into the history of the award and resulting careers.

Of the 34 players in the NBA history who have won the MVP Award, only 17 of them won Rookie of the Year. If you count this year’s favorite, Nikola Jokic, that’s 17 of 35 players. Less than 50% of NBA MVPs have won Rookie of the Year, and none of the last seven NBA MVPs won Rookie of the Year. Five of the last eleven Rookies of the Year have failed to make any of the All-NBA Teams (Ja Morant still has a chance, of course). What is this trend?

Rookies these days more and more fit the mold of Edwards. This is the 1-and Done Era, where the most likely “best” players have a ton of room to grow, so evaluating them after one season tends to be less correlated to future success. Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett were all less experienced players at the time of their draft who led their rookie classes in WS and VORP. But since they were significantly less experienced in playing professional basketball than the rest of their respective draft classes, none of them won Rookie of the Year.

Rookie of the Year determines the “best” player of the draft class less often than you’d think. Only 33 of the 71 RotYs ended up having the most Win Shares in their draft class at the end of their career. Since Value Over Replacement Player began recording in 1973, 16 of the last 49 RotYs ended up leading their draft class in VORP. On average, this means that RotY determines the “best” player of a draft class about a third of the time.

This obviously isn’t to say that it’s more advantageous not to win Rookie of the Year. Winning the award “gives” you that 1/3 chance yourself, while not winning the award gives you a 1/59 share of the other 66.7%, in terms of the crude math. However, this is to say that Rookie of the Year is by no means the end of the road, especially for such a (blue and) green talent as Edwards.

The Winner Is: The Timberwolves

What we’ve learned is that Edwards is not likely to win Rookie of the year, but at this point, he has clearly shown the biggest upside. Thankfully this notion has finally transcended past the eye-test to more tangible numbers for the filthy media casuals.

The Timberwolves and us as fans should take solace in the fact that Ant has blossomed as the season has progressed, while Ball has maintained his output or even slightly waned. There are several reasons why the right thing to do is award both of these young superstar prospects co-Rookies of the Year for their stellar play this season. But even if the powers-that-be elect not to, it still does not matter if Edwards wins Rookie of the Year. We’ll be fine.

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