Memphis Grizzlies PG Ja Morant was named the 2019-20 NBA Rookie of the Year on Thursday. Morant was nearly a unanimous winner of the award, receiving 99 of the first place votes. The only other person with a first-place vote? Pelicans PF Zion Williamson, who finished third in voting behind Kendrick Nunn of the Miami Heat. Here’s the full voting breakdown.
Coby White received three third-place votes in Rookie of the Year voting won by Ja Morant. pic.twitter.com/UVT8IA6q7o— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) September 3, 2020
Prior to the season restart, Morant had the Grizzlies positioned well to advance to the postseason. Memphis went to the NBA bubble in Orlando up 3.5 games on three teams for the 8-seed in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, injuries derailed the Grizzlies chances with Jaren Jackson Jr. going down for the season during the seeding round. So the Grizzlies fought and ended up in the play-in tournament, eventually losing to the Portland Trail Blazers and failing to clinch a postseason spot.
As a guard, it’s usually tough to break right into the NBA. Morant made it look easy, averaging 17.8 points and 7.3 assists over 67 regular-season games. He shot 47.7% from the floor and had an effective FG% of 50.9%. What was most impressive was Morant’s poise and playmaking ability. He was often a highlight reel during his rookie campaign, flashes of Derrick Rose for the Bulls when he came out of Memphis.
It was surprising to see Zion not get as many votes, particularly enough to come in second place. It seems voters really knocked Zion was missing so many games, but that’s to be expected. In 24 contests, Williamson averaged 22.5 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 58.4% from the floor. It’s likely that if Williamson had played half a season or even 35-40 games, he could have been more of a consideration for the award. His return to play in late February was certainly emphatic.
Nunn ended up coming in second place mostly because Zion didn’t play enough. Not to discredit Nunn, who had a great regular season for the now surging Heat. Nunn averaged 15.3 points per game over 67 games this season. He shot 35% from outside and was a staple in Miami’s starting 5 before the playoffs and seeding round. Nunn was also very under the radar, going undrafted and signing with the Heat as a free agent.