2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year Model: Is the Market Underrating Deandre Ayton?

2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year Model: Is the Market Underrating Deandre Ayton? article feature image

Photos from USAToday Sports. Pictured: Luka Doncic, Deandre Ayton, and Trae Young.

  • Mavs forward Luka Doncic and Suns center Deandre Ayton are the clear betting favorites to win the 2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year award.
  • Ayton has the lead in my model, but Doncic's chances might be slightly underrated.
  • Is there any value in betting a longshot like the Grizzlies' Jaren Jackson Jr.?

At the beginning of the season, I built a Rookie of the Year model to predict this year’s race. Take a look at that first post for the metrics behind it, but in general ROY is not difficult to nail down: Voters largely don’t care about team success — it’s all about raw stats.

In fact, if you sum up a player’s points per game, rebounds per game and assists per game, the leader of that list has won the ROY award in 15 of the past 18 races. It’s incredibly predictive, and thus we can use that knowledge to our advantage and see if there’s any betting value in the futures market.

In the first several iterations, Mavs forward Luka Doncic and Suns center Deandre Ayton led the field in ROY Rating (rated 0 to 10), and that remains the case again:

2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year Odds, Ratings


The current public sentiment — and the betting market now, too — is that Mavs rookie Luka Doncic (-400) has essentially already won the award. My colleagues agree that he’s clearly the pick, with only Memphis big man Jaren Jackson Jr. within striking distance.

While I agree that I think Doncic will take home the trophy when all is said and done, it’s possible we’re currently underrating Deandre Ayton’s chances. As mentioned above, this award is really all about raw stats — and Ayton is playing a ton of minutes for a Suns team that is running things through him with Devin Booker on the shelf.

Ayton is currently ahead in my model, although that’s mostly because he’s played four more games than Doncic and almost 100 more minutes. If Doncic was at the same number of minutes, they’d be essentially tied in my model. He currently leads the Suns big man in combined points, rebounds and assists per game by a hair — again, the most predictive indicator for the award.

And it’s likely Doncic will get some sort of narrative boost, although I think that’s generally an overrated factor in all awards. Team win rate has historically not been predictive for this award — the best draft picks go to the worst teams because of how the draft works — but perhaps it will work as a tie-breaker of sorts this season if they’re close in raw numbers.

Luka is the driving force behind the Mavs’ 14-11 record, whereas Ayton is playing for a 4-24 Suns team. That will probably matter in a tight race.

In terms of odds, I wouldn’t bet anyone below those two guys, and I say that as a card-carrying member of the Jaren Jackson Jr. fan club. He very well could be the best player long-term from this draft, but the raw stats just aren’t close to the numbers for Luka and Ayton.

Luka’s odds put him at 80% implied probability to win. That’s a high price to pay at this point (hopefully you bet him earlier in the year!), but I wouldn’t advise taking any longshots other than potentially Ayton at +600. History says voters like raw stats, and those two are clearly ahead of the pack in that regard.

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