Zion vs. Field: Is There Value in Betting the Favorite to Win NBA Rookie of the Year?

Zion vs. Field: Is There Value in Betting the Favorite to Win NBA Rookie of the Year? article feature image
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  • Zion Williamson is a massive favorite (-450) to win the 2019-20 NBA Rookie of the Year award.
  • Evan Abrams looks at whether there is historically value in betting the favorite to win.

The NBA Rookie of the Year award is usually heavily debated, starting at the draft and continuing into the season.

In 2019, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Zion Williamson has been at the front of every NBA mock draft since the beginning of the college basketball season; over eight months later, absolutely nothing has changed.

Zion is listed as a massive -450 favorite to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award, with Ja Morant and RJ Barrett tied with the second-best odds at +450.

The biggest question entering Year 1 of Big Z in the Big Easy is how he will perform as the face of the Pelicans. Let’s take a look at how the NBA Rookie of the Year betting favorite has done in the past…

The Big Favorite

Not only is Zion listed as the odds-on favorite to win the award, but a bettor would have to lay $450 to win $100 on him before he has played even one game in the league!

Since 2006, no rookie has been listed as a larger favorite to win the award than Zion Williamson this year.

The last player to be listed as an odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year? None other than Kevin Durant in 2007, who was listed at -200.

Similar to 2019, two players were listed below Durant at 5-1 odds: Al Horford and Al Thornton, with Horford finishing a distant second to Durant in voting that year.

What the Data Says…

In 2018, Luka Doncic will be the NBA Rookie of the Year. Doncic entered last year as the betting favorite to win the award at +250, with the No. 1 overall pick, DeAndre Ayton, listed right behind “Cool Hand Luka” at +300.

Looking back at how the betting favorite has done in respect to winning the award, a bit of a surprise jumps off the page.

Only 3 of the last 13 Rookie of the Year awards have been won by the betting favorite, with Luka Doncic breaking a streak of 10 consecutive years the favorite has lost.

Going back to 2009, it has actually been the second-largest favorite who has won the most NBA Rookie of the Year awards, capturing the prize a total of five times, including Ben Simmons in 2017.

Zion is such a big favorite in this year’s rookie class that only two players other than Zion are listed under 10-1 to win the award (Morant and Barrett).

Since 2006, this is just the third time that only three players have odds less than 10-1 to win the award.

  • 2017: Ben Simmons won a year after missing the entire season with a broken foot.
  • 2014: Andrew Wiggins won as the third-largest favorite behind Jabari Parker and Nerlens Noel.

The Longshot

When betting the NBA Rookie of the Year award, should you focus on longshots?

Of the 13 years used in this analysis, only twice has a player listed at 10-1 odds or longer won the award.

2013-14: Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers

In 2013, Anthony Bennett was selected first overall by the Cavaliers and averaged just 4.2 points per game in 12.8 minutes his rookie year. How bad was Bennett’s rookie year performance? His 12.8 minutes per game are the fewest for any No. 1 overall pick since 1950!

Michael-Carter-Williams-Sixers
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Michael Carter-Williams was 12-1 to win the Rookie of the Year award, which ranked eighth among players listed, including talented players like second pick Victor Oladipo and 10th pick CJ McCollum.

Carter-Williams was the clear runaway winner, as he led all rookies in points, rebounds and assists per game in 2013.

2016-17: Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks

In 2016, Ben Simmons was selected first overall by the Sixers but missed the entire season due to a broken foot.

This opened the door for a potential longshot to take advantage, and that is exactly what the 36th pick of the draft, Malcolm Brogdon, did for the Bucks.

Malcolm-Brogdon-Bucks
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Brogdon averaged 10.2 points per game in 2016 as a rookie, the fewest points ever by a Rookie of the Year award winner.

In the preseason, Brogdon wasn’t even listed among the players in the betting odds; he would have been available only under the “field” option.

Note: All odds data via Sports Odds History

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