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Why LaMelo Ball still can win NBA Rookie of the Year

There is no such thing as a sure thing but being a -715 favorite to win NBA Rookie of the Year is as close as one can get to being one. That is where LaMelo Ball sat on the odds board at DraftKings sports books before taking a fall on his wrist in a loss to the Clippers that would ultimately end his season. The implied probability of a favorite like that is 87.7 percent, but as of today, the odds at BetMGM on the former overwhelming favorite are 5/2, giving Ball an implied chance of just 28.6 percent.

The new odds-on favorite to win the award is Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves. BetMGM is the highest on Edwards chances, listing him as a -175 (63.6 percent) favorite. Edwards is having a very solid season, but should his odds to win rookie of the year be this high when just 10 days ago one global shop put his odds at 18/1 (5.3 percent) to win?

In my opinion, absolutely not.

On the surface, Edwards (16.7 ppg) should be in contention, but a deeper dive into his resume show some real flaws. Through the first 32 games, Edwards averaged just 14.1 ppg on 37.1 percent shooting. He averaged just 3.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists and shot just 31.6 percent on 5.8 3-point attempts per game. Over his last 10 games, he’s averaging 24.9 ppg on 41.4 percent shooting and 6.2 rebounds per game. He scored 42 points versus Phoenix on March 18.

There is no question that Edwards has improved, but I question the leap in his odds, especially when there are quality candidates who have been much more consistent throughout the entire season. In a recent appearance on ESPN NBA analyst Zach Lowe’s podcast The Lowe Post, fellow ESPN analyst Kevin Pelton had this to say about Edwards’ potential place on the NBA’s All-Rookie first team:

LaMelo Ball
LaMelo Ball
Getty Images

“I think Edwards is more debatable. To me, [Tyrese] Haliburton, [Immanuel] Quickley and [LaMelo] Ball you can kind of rubber stamp. Edwards we at least need to look closely at.”

That is the opinion of one NBA analyst, but a respected one. If Edwards is not even a cinch to make the All-Rookie first team, how in the world is he a two-dollar favorite to win Rookie of the Year? Those other names, outside of Ball, all have fantastic cases in their own right as well.

The price on Tyrese Haliburton is 7/2 at BetMGM and 9/2 at FanDuel. The Kings rookie averages just 12.4 ppg, but has been much more efficient in his time on the floor than Edwards. Among rookies who have played in at least 30 games, he has taken the fifth-most 3-point attempts (188) and is tied for third in shooting percentage.

Immanuel Quickley, 12/1 at BetMGM and 24/1 at FanDuel, has taken the third-most shot attempts of all rookies (384) and ranks higher than Edwards in both overall field-goal percentage (39.3) and 3-point percentage (37.1). Quickley is also an important piece on the Knicks’ playoff-contending team. I argue this should count toward a player’s résumé, and it puts Quickley and Ball in a place neither of these other rookies are.

Which brings us back to Ball. In the past five years we have had two rookie of the year races that were similar to this situation. In 2016-17, Malcolm Brogdon won the award over Joel Embiid, who appeared in just 31 of Philadelphia’s 82 games. Last year, Ja Morant won as Zion Williamson appeared in just 19 games before the league went into a hiatus due to the pandemic.

Ball will have appeared in 41 of 72 games, or about 57 percent of his team’s contests, which is much more than Embiid and Williamson did. Both Patrick Ewing and Vince Carter won rookie of the year while playing in just 50 of 82 games, which equates to about 60 percent of the schedule, so there is precedent for Ball to still take this award. I believe Ball has done enough to win it, which gives us a betting opportunity.

Ball’s odds to win the award can only go up, which means there is no point in betting him now. Bettors might be able to get something closer to 5/1 before the odds are taken off the board, so the strategy is to wait until the last moment to pounce on an inflated number. It is no sure thing, but I like my chances.


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