The 2018-19 NBA season is still weeks away but, on Tuesday, an annual landmark of the off-season arrived in the form of the league’s “rookie survey.” For more than a decade, John Schuhmann of NBA.com has been sitting down with the NBA’s incoming rookie class and this year’s crop of 36 players answered various questions about the group, headlined by a choice from each on the favorite for Rookie of the Year.
Even before the first-year prospects arrived for the league’s annual photo shoot, it is quite clear that no definitive “favorite” actually exists this time around. There are certainly years in which a player (usually the No. 1 pick) enters with lofty expectations when compared to the field but, for the 2018-19 campaign, the draft provided real intrigue and a deep class of realistic candidates.
With that as the backdrop, the NBA.com survey yielded its most balanced results ever in the ROY category, with no rookie garnering even 20 percent of the overall vote in the most prominent category. Suns center Deandre Ayton and Cavs guard Collin Sexton led the way in a tie with 18 percent each and it was the first year in which the “favorite” received less than 24 percent of the voting.
After Ayton and Sexton, the field was predictably wide open. Mavs wing Luka Doncic and Knicks forward Kevin Knox tied for third place with nine percent of the vote, and a quartet of Magic center Mo Bamba, Hawks guard Trae Young, Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. and (stunningly) Hornets guard Devonte Graham finished in a tie for fifth place with six percent of the vote.
It has to be noted that the track record of the rookies picking the actual Rookie of the Year is ugly, with only one correct vote in the history of the survey. Still, it is informative to see what the first-year players think of their counterparts across the league and it is an intriguing mix of top draft picks and players with favorable situations.
Elsewhere, Young made history as the first player to top the voting in both the “best playmaker” and “best shooter” categories, edging Doncic and Jalen Brunson in the playmaking category and his own teammate, Hawks guard Kevin Huerter, for the shooting honor. Interestingly enough, though, Young did not fare well in the “best career” voting, joining No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III outside of the top seven overall vote-getters.
Rounding out the category winners were Sixers swingman Zhaire Smith (most athletic), Bulls big man Wendell Carter Jr. (best career), Wolves forward Keita Bates-Diop (biggest draft-day steal) and Grizzlies guard Jevon Carter (best defender). As always, there are some eye-popping votes and perhaps the wildest this time around was the complete exclusion of Doncic from the “best career” category. The voting does provide fodder for analysis and fun, though, and it serves its purpose beautifully as a result.