Deandre Ayton's Retroactive Rookie of the Year Awards

Deandre Ayton is not going to win the Rookie of the Year award this season. He might not even finish 2nd. But the Suns' big man is having a good enough season that he deserves something, so why not see if he'd win the Rookie of the Year in past seasons?

It's not Deandre Ayton's fault that the Phoenix Suns are bad. Ayton is a 7'1, 250-pound athletic freak who the Suns took #1 overall in last year's NBA draft. He averaged 20 points and 11.6 rebounds during his only year at the University of Arizona and his numbers are only slightly worse now that he's playing against guys much older than him in the NBA.

(Note: While the rest of the NBA is older than him, they don't look older than him. Ayton is the oldest looking rookie since Greg Oden, and you could easily convince me that he's a first-cousin to Patrick Ewing.)

While most NBA fans agree that Ayton is having an impressive rookie season, we as a basketball culture are not talking enough about how good he has actually been.

Luka Doncic is going to (correctly) win the Rookie of the Year award. With an outstanding second-half run for a surprisingly competent team, Trae Young will probably finish ahead of Ayton as well. It's hard to argue against that, since Phoenix has had stretches where they've lost 11 of 12, 13 of 14, and 17 straight games.

However, Deandre Ayton has a case for being better than at least one of them. If you prefer advanced stats, he looks good. Among the 10 rookies who have played 1,500 minutes, Ayton has the highest total Win Shares and highest Win Shares per 48 minutes. This should surprise you, as Luka Doncic seems like he'd be well ahead, but Ayton's higher FG% and lower turnover count tip the scales in his favor. Ayton's effective FG% is in the 75th percentile among bigs, per Cleaning the Glass, and his scoring efficiency is in the 86th percentile in the entire NBA (per Synergy). He's doing things a lot of rookies don't do; he's just doing them on a perennially bad team.

For example, here are three consecutive possessions from a game vs. the Nuggets earlier this season. On the first, Ayton rolls nicely to the rim and finishes. On the second, he gets post position, doesn't receive a pass, then manages to get into offensive rebounding position for a put-back layup. On the third, he sets a stagger-screen, then rolls to the rim and finishes while being triple-teamed.

Of course, with Rookie of the Year, countable stats are often the only thing people care about (as you'll see below). Ayton shines there too: he's averaging over 16 points and 10 rebounds per game. He's also shooting over 58% from the field, making his foul shots, and keeping his turnovers relatively under control. Would you like to see a list of all the rookies to ever average at least 16/10 on at least 55% shooting?

  1. Deandre Ayton.
  2. Shaquille O'Neal.

That's it. That's the whole list.

Realistically, I know that this 2-person list inflates how good Ayton has been, but when you expand the list to include all three-point era rookies who've averaged 16/10 (regardless of shooting percentage), he is in some very cool company. That list includes 15 other players. Eight are currently in the Hall of Fame, two are probably going to make it, and two appeared in Space Jam.

Enough teasing. Let's get to the point.

How many Rookie of the Year awards would Deandre Ayton have won in the last decade?

Thanks to the aforementioned killer season Luka Doncic is having, Deandre Ayton is a victim of bad timing. But what if we could send him back in time and drop his rookie season into previous NBA seasons? Would he win any RotY awards? Would he win five? Would he still look like he's 47-years-old? Let's find out. (But for that last question, yes, he will.)

2017-18 Rookie of the Year winner: Ben Simmons

16 points, 8 assists, 8 rebounds, 1.7 steals.

55/00/56 shooting splits. 33.7 minutes per game. 0.162 win shares per 48 minutes.

Would Ayton have beaten him?

Off to a bad start: Ayton would not have won last year's RotY award. Ben Simmons was a revelation in his "rookie" year, and even if you took Simmons away, Donovan Mitchell's job of being the top option on a playoff team would've been enough to brush away Ayton's double-double on a bottom-dweller. 0/1 so far.

2016-17 Rookie of the Year winner: Malcolm Brogdon

10 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists.

46/40/87 shooting splits. 26.4 minutes per game. 0.100 win shares per 48 minutes.

Would Ayton have beaten him?

Oh my god, yes. Brogdon was almost unquestionably the weakest RotY winner in recent memory, and maybe ever. He averaged the fewest minutes, the fewest points, and the 3rd fewest rebounds of any RotY winner in NBA history. The only reason Brogdon won the award was because Joel Embiid missed 50 games that season and Dario Saric was forgettable in almost every way. Brogdon made his shots, stayed healthy, and the Bucks were pretty good. That was all it took. Ayton is now 1/2.

2015-16 Rookie of the Year winner: Karl-Anthony Towns

18 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.7 blocks.

54/34/81 shooting splits. 32 minutes per game. 0.151 win shares per 48 minutes.

Would Ayton have beaten him?

Nah. Towns is slightly better across the board, with the minor exception of Ayton having a better FG% overall. But Towns could stretch a defense whereas Ayton can't (or at least hasn't yet). The Timberwolves were bad that season, but not as bad as the Suns have been this season. Have I mentioned that Phoenix is bad? Anyway, 1/3.

2014-15 Rookie of the Year winner: Andrew Wiggins

17 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists.

44/31/76 shooting splits. 36.2 minutes per game. 0.034 win shares per 48 minutes.

Would Ayton have beaten him?

Yes. The scoring is similar, the effective shooting and rebounding are much better for Ayton, and both teams sucked. Furthermore, Ayton is doing his damage in five fewer minutes per game. Wiggins looked promising from a statistical standpoint and he showed occasional bursts of excitement, but most of the concerns from his rookie year are still hanging over him. To be honest, I'd rather have Ayton than Wiggins this season. This makes Ayton 2/4. That's pretty good.

2013-14 Rookie of the Year winner: Michael Carter-Williams

17 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, 1.7 steals.

41/26/70 shooting splits. 34.5 minutes per game. 0.026 win shares per 48 minutes.

Would Ayton have beaten him?

This is a tough one. Revisionist history says yes because MCW is a non-entity in the league. 2014 was not that long ago and the former RotY is signing 10-day contracts and unable to stick on a roster due to his abysmal shooting numbers. Carter-Williams has a career three-point percentage that's somehow worse than his rookie season's 26%. And yet, he was the clear choice to win the award that season, despite the 76ers finishing with 19 wins. The best player from that draft is unquestionably Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he was a non-factor as a rookie.

In any case, Ayton vs. MCW would have been a tight race. The efficiency stats favor Ayton, but Carter-Williams had the advantage of handling the ball a lot more. Both teams were nightmarish, so nobody gets the edge there. The tiebreaker goes to MCW because his best teammates were Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young, neither of whom is as good as Devin Booker. 2/5 for Ayton.

2012-13 Rookie of the Year winner: Damian Lillard

19 points, 3 rebounds, 6.5 assists.

43/37/84 shooting splits. 38.6 minutes per game. 0.088 win shares per 48 minutes.

Would Ayton have beaten him?

Oof. This is another tough one. It's hard to pit guys against each other who play wholly different positions, but that's what we're gonna do. Lillard obviously had the better team, with LaMarcus Aldridge, young Nic Batum (he used to be known for being a good basketball player instead of just being an insane contract), and young Wes Matthews, but they only won 33 games. Also, Lillard could shoot from day 1. However, when you stretch out to per-100 possessions, the numbers seem closer for Dame and Deandre. Ayton averages about 25 points, Lillard about 27, and where Lillard's 9 assists seem impressive, Ayton averages 16 rebounds per 100, which seems more impressive to me.

I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I think Ayton actually takes this one - and not just because it would feel wrong for him to lose each of these last two. 3/6!

2011-2012 Rookie of the Year winner: Kyrie Irving

18.5 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists

47/40/87 shooting splits. 30.5 minutes per game. 0.125 win shares per 48 minutes.

Would Ayton have beaten him?

Yikes. Three straight brutal calls. You almost have to compare Kyrie to Lillard in the year above. Full disclosure, I'm from Cleveland so I watched the Kyrie rookie season a lot closer than I did the Lillard rookie season. I can't vouch for Lillard in this way, but Kyrie was a human highlight-reel and an unbelievable finisher from day 1 in the NBA. His lower minutes combined with versatility (inside/outside scoring) and jaw-dropping handles would give him enough star power to stay ahead of Ayton, in my (probably slightly biased) opinion. 3/7 is still pretty good.

2010-2011 Rookie of the Year winner: Blake Griffin

22.5 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists.

51/29/64 shooting splits. 38 minutes per game. 0.152 win shares per 48 minutes.

Would Ayton have beaten him?

Nooooooo. Blake Griffin is really good again this season, but do you remember how insane Young Blake Griffin was? He was the most impressive combination of athletic and reckless that the league had seen in decades. He was like 2016 Russ Westbrook but seven inches taller and 50 pounds heavier. Blake Griffin dunked 214 times that season. 214 times! To remind you how wild he was, here are all 214 dunks. Several of them are good enough that you'll want to find the slow-mo, multi-angle replays.

Very few players will have a better rookie season than Blake Griffin did. 3/8.

2009-2010 Rookie of the Year winner: Tyreke Evans

20 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 1.5 steals.

46/26/75 shooting splits. 37.2 minutes per game. 0.097 win shares per 48 minutes.

Would Ayton have beaten him?

Probably not, no. We have the benefit of hindsight now, where we can see that this may have been Tyreke Evans's best season in the NBA, but this was a killer rookie year. The jury was out on him the entire time, as the Kings were bad and seemed to hate each other, but those rookie stats are crazy. The only rookies to ever average at least 20/5/5 are Evans, Luka, and three other guys you've probably never heard of: LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Oscar Robertson. Evans wins. 3/9.

2008-2009 Rookie of the Year winner: Derrick Rose

17 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists.

47/22/79 shooting splits. 37 minutes per game. 0.078 win shares per 48 minutes.

Would Ayton have beaten him?

When I started this article I did not think this would be nearly as difficult as it has been. Looking at the stats, 22% from deep seems to undermine everything about Rose in the Rose v. Ayton matchup, but you have to remember that Rose was the starting point guard and one of the unquestionable leaders on a 41-41 playoff team. Stat nerds would point to his uninspiring Win Shares, but the playoff push would almost definitely vault Rose ahead of the very bad Suns. So no, this one still goes to Derrick Rose. 3/10

So there you go. Deandre Ayton, who will almost certainly finish 3rd in this year's Rookie of the Year race, would have won at least two, probably three, and as many as four or five of the awards over the past ten years. What a phenomenal rookie class. Maybe next year the Suns can actually get out of the lottery.

But probably not.

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