Throughout the year, talking heads across the league insist on denigrating Anthony Edwards’ case for Rookie of the Year. Nate Duncan insisted that LaMelo Ball is still his pick immediately after he broke his hand. Bill Simmons declared Tyrese Haliburton Rookie of the Year because he plays winning basketball for the 22-29 Sacramento Kings. And ESPN shortchanged Ant in their 25 under 25 list.
Guess what? I don’t care about any of this. Neither should you. Here’s why:
Anthony Edwards has been the king of the fourth quarter amongst all rookies, not to mention most of the league, lately. Since the All-Star Break, he is first in Fourth Quarter Player Impact Estimate (PIE) per NBA.com at 15.0 despite having a losing record and posting easily the highest fourth-quarter usage rate of 34.4%.
This is without counting last night’s game, where he had 17 points on 10 field goals attempted, three rebounds and an assist to contribute to the rally. As minutes get more important, Edwards gets better. This is the most critical trait in a winning basketball player, and this potential is why the Wolves took him first overall.
If Ant doesn’t win RoY
Simmons mentioned that Edwards would be one of the worst Rookie of the Year recipients, but the Rookie of the Year Award in the NBA isn’t so consistent to begin with. Timberwolves fans have had the fortune and misfortune of having courtside seats watching the two different paths a rookie of the year can take — the Karl-Anthony Towns path and the Andrew Wiggins one.
Of the last 20 Rookies of the Year, only eight of them went on to collect the most Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) per Basketball-Reference throughout their career. Those eight are Luka Doncic, Ben Simmons, Towns, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, LeBron James and Pau Gasol. A 40% shot at the best career of the draft is solid but by no means set in stone. Some Rookies of the Year, such as Emeka Okafor and Michael Carter-Williams, peaked in their rookie year.
Conversely, several fantastic, even Hall of Fame players had disastrous rookie campaigns. Steve Nash averaged 10 minutes in 62 games, and his PIE was 6.9. Ant’s PIE this year is 8.3, and he’s been given a lot more on his plate too. Given that Edwards is 19 — three years younger than Nash in his rookie year — and began playing basketball five years ago, his ceiling is virtually nonexistent. He’s already shown unprecedented improvement in the last month:
Even if Haliburton wins Rookie of the Year, he has the lowest percentage, between Ant, LaMelo and himself of being the best player when their careers are done. Ant and LaMelo are just different categories of players.
I would compare Haliburton’s case to that of Malcolm Brogdon in 2017. Due to the injuries of Joel Embiid for a good chunk of the year and Simmons for the whole year, Brogdon made his case as a role man on the Milwaukee Bucks. He doesn’t have the upside of Simmons, Embiid or even Domantas Sabonis and Pascal Siakam, who were in his draft class as well. Still, he played his role with extreme efficiency, similar to Haliburton. The main difference is that Brogdon was 38-37 in games played for a sixth seed Milwaukee, while Haliburton is currently 20-25 on the 12th seed Kings. If any player in this class is the most uninspiring pick for Rookie of the Year, it’s Haliburton, not Edwards.
Ant Probably Will Win
In all likelihood, unless Ball comes back (he will be re-evaluated in two weeks), Edwards will be Rookie of the Year. Currently, he is the odds on favorite to win, at plus-100 on most gambling sites. Haliburton is hot on his tails at around plus-150. On Wednesday, Ant also reclaimed the top of the rookie ladder after briefly conceding it to Haliburton the week before.
This is because the most significant statistical indicator of the Rookie of the Year Award winner isn’t efficiency, shooting, or winning. It’s points scored and highlight reels.
Over the last 20 years, only four Rookies of the Year had winning records when they played. Durant lost 61 games in his rookie campaign, but you didn’t hear Simmons complaining back then. Similarly, over the same period, 10 Rookies of the Year led their class in PIE. On the other hand, 13 of the last 20 Rookies of the Year led their class in points scored. Edwards is not only leading the rookies in points scored, but he’s provided some unforgettable highlights too — both on the court and during media availability.
For this year’s Rookie of the Year, the media shouldn’t overthink it. Edwards has more than proven his worth, and he has the personality to become a fantastic next face of the league, so why not push the narrative? It’s honestly what’s best for the sport.
That being said, don’t be discouraged if he doesn’t win, Wolves fans. It’s just Rookie of the Year. There are far more important, consequential steps ahead for Edwards, so let’s keep the focus on his bright future.