2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year Race: Ayton, Doncic Running Away from the Pack

2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year Race: Ayton, Doncic Running Away from the Pack article feature image

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

  • I built an NBA Rookie of the Year model to predict the upcoming race, and I'll be updating its results throughout the year.
  • As of today, Mavs forward Luka Doncic and Suns center Deandre Ayton are completely running away with the race.

A couple weeks ago, 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 two 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 ROY Ratings


Yes, it is absolutely a two-man race, and I wouldn’t expect that to change throughout the rest of the year unless an unexpected injury occurs.

Unfortunately, however, it seems that the betting market has finally caught up to Doncic and Ayton running away with things.

When I first posted the model — Doncic and Ayton were in a tier of their own then, too, by the way — those guys were +180 and +225, respectively. Now, Doncic is down to even money to win; the Suns’ big man is holding firm at his mark.

I’ll note that Doncic has played one fewer game than Ayton so far, so he’ll get a little bit closer to the lead in the model, although I do think Ayton should be the current betting favorite.

He leads the group in combined points, rebounds and assists per game, which, again, is incredibly predictive for the award. He has better advanced metrics, too.

The No. 3 guy in the betting market, Trae Young (+700), is actually fifth in my model currently, mostly because he’s significantly behind the other guys in the advanced metrics, which could act as a tie-breaker if they’re all close in the raw statistics. As such, I wouldn’t suggest betting him.

The final interesting player is Memphis big man Jaren Jackson Jr. (+1600), who actually leads the rookie class in advanced metrics. He is a tantalizing prospect, but unfortunately he’s just not getting the same on-court opportunities as some of these other rookies. He’s played about 150 fewer minutes than Doncic, for example, despite suiting up in one more game.

At this juncture, Ayton’s +225 odds offer the most value, as he should be much closer to Doncic. It would take both players going down with season-ending injuries at this point for another player to emerge, so I wouldn’t advise betting on players lower in the model.

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