At the end of the regular season, the NBA gives the most promising rookie of the current draft class recognition through the Rookie of the Year Award (ROTY). But, other than bragging rights, what does winning the award actually mean?
What is the NBA Rookie of the Year Award?
The ROTY was first awarded in the 1953 regular season, with Don Meineke coming home with the inaugural trophy. The award recognizes a first-year player’s on-court performance and impact on his team.
It’s not a stat-based accolade given to whichever rookie has the best statistical season. Rather, it recognizes the rookie with the most significant contribution to their respective teams.
How is the NBA Rookie of the Year Selected?
The selection process is relatively simple: A panel of a hundred sportswriters and broadcasters recognized for their coverage of the league gets to cast their votes on who they think should win the award.
Here’s how the process goes:
- Choosing the standouts: Voters mark their top three picks for Rookie of the Year.
- Points for places: Picks are assigned points – 5 for first place, 3 for second, and 1 for third.
- Tallying them all up: The total points from all votes are tallied up.
- Crowning the winner: Regardless of the number of first-place votes, the player with the highest points snags the ROTY trophy.
Due to the diverse panel, the ROTY selection process echoes a broad range of perspectives and insights. For instance, some panel members may consider the ROTY candidate’s team standings in casting their votes. For others, their focus is more on the player’s individual performance.
Criteria and Requirements
- First playing year in the NBA
- Played in at least 65 games*
The only requirement for the ROTY is that a player must be in his first year of playing in the NBA. This means that even if he’s been drafted in the year prior but did not get to play due to injury or other circumstances, he is still eligible for the award.
However, there’s one soft cap that most voters might consider: the minimum game requirement for all major NBA awards. According to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the player’s association and the league, a player must play at least 65 games during the regular season to qualify for any major award.
However, this requirement only applies to Most Valuable Player (MVP), Most Improved Player (MIP), and Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY). But voters may still choose to consider this minimum game requirement, especially in a close race. In 2017, for example, Malcolm Brogdon won the award despite Joel Embiid playing spectacularly in 31 games before getting injured. On the other hand, Brogdon was a valued role player with the Bucks and played 75 games, which helped his NBA Rookie of the Year odds.
Who Votes for the NBA Rookie of the Year?
In the past, 100 American and Canadian sportswriters and broadcasters were the only ones qualified to vote for the NBA’s ROTY. However, the league has since opened its doors to foreign correspondents such as Maxime Audin from French sports news broadcaster L’Equipe, David Villafranca from Spain’s EFE News, Yoav Modai with Israel’s Sports 5, and a couple of others in international media.
It’s also worth noting that votes are published after the awards are handed out. This should make things more transparent for both fans and players alike.
What’s the Impact of Rookie of the Year Award in Basketball?
While other major awards, such as the MVP, MIP, and DPOY, give major contract benefits when it comes to contract extension negotiations, the ROY award does not. However, it is still a prestigious honor that many players want to win. In addition, the winner gets to go home with a trophy and bragging rights over their peers for at least one year.
Gabbing this recognition can help catapult an athlete’s career, as it invariably garners increased attention from team managers, endorsement deals, and heightened media visibility. Consequently, this can lead to greater earning potential both on and off the court.
Notable NBA Rookie of the Year Awardees
Since the NBA started giving the award in 1953, there have been a couple of notable ROTY winners for one reason or another. Some were controversial, while others were just more inspiring than the rest.
Ben Simmons (2017)
While there’s no denying that Ben Simmons really did play an ROTY-worthy season, other rookies like Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum also had excellent seasons. Plus, Simmons’ eligibility was also in question because he was drafted the year prior, which some fans argue gave him an unfair advantage over Mitchell and Tatum.
LeBron James (2004)
LeBron James scored 20.9 points, grabbed 5.5 rebounds, and handed out 5.9 assists per game, which showcased his unequaled versatility. And although Carmelo Anthony gave him tough competition for the award, LeBron was able to squeeze an ROTY out of his rookie season. What’s even more impressive is that he did all this fresh out of high school – a feat only Amare Stoudemire had accomplished just a year prior. In a way, his rookie season gave us a glimpse into the greatness he would achieve throughout his illustrious career.
Grant Hill and Jason Kidd (1995)
Because of the voting mechanics, two players getting a tie is never out of the question. And while it’s already happened before with Dave Cowens and Geoff Petrie in 1971, Jason Kidd and Grant Hill’s co-ROTY awards in 1995 were pretty significant. Their exceptional rookie seasons set the tone for the rest of their successful careers in the NBA. They both developed into perennial All-Stars, with Kidd being a 10-time selection and Hill being a 7-time selection. Their co-ROTY win is quite noteworthy not just for its rarity but also because it highlighted two completely different play styles.
Michael Carter-Williams (2013)
While the ROTY often indicates great things to come, it’s not guaranteed. Sometimes, a player’s rookie season can be the best season he’ll ever have. For Michael Carter-Williams, this is, unfortunately, the case. He earned the ROTY in 2013 for his spectacular season splits that read: 16.7 pts, 6.2 rebs, 6.3 assists, and 1.6 steals. He was a do-it-all player who looked like he didn’t have any weakness in his game. However, instead of improving year on year, Carter-Williams’s game dipped. And with injuries and other more talented players coming into the league, his playing time gradually diminished.
Wilt Chamberlain (1960) and Wes Unseld (1969)
Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld are, without a doubt, two of the best players to ever step on an NBA floor. It was obvious in their respective rookie seasons because they’re the only two players to win the MVP and ROTY in the same season – a 50+-year-old that we might never see broken again.
Ralph Sampson (1984), David Robinson (1990), Blake Griffin (2011), Damian Lillard (2013), and Karl-Anthony Towns (2016)
Speaking of dominance, five players dominated their rookie class so much that they’ve gotten all the first-place votes unanimously from the selected panelists. That is a pretty rare feat, and it shows that these players made such an impact right away that they were the most popular players in their rookie seasons.
Pau Gasol (2002)
Questions about cultural fit and natural athleticism have always hounded European players making their way into the league. And Pau Gasol wasn’t immune to this bias. However, the NBA quickly understood that the former Spanish league MVP didn’t have these issues when he earned his ROTY in 2002. This made him the first foreign-born player ever to win the award. He’s paved the way for young foreign players looking to make a mark on the league as early as their rookie seasons.
Woody Sauldsberry (1958)
With his late-draft odds stacked against him as the 60th overall pick, Woody Sauldsberry still found a way to make an impact on his team and earn the 1958 ROTY. While he didn’t exactly become an All-Star caliber player, he was still a reliable role player for the rest of his career.
Of course, you can look up all of this information through the NBA website and the voting information.
Wrapping Things Up: How is the NBA Rookie of the Year Chosen?
Getting recognized as the top player in the draft class is a major accomplishment and can be the start of an illustrious career. Rookies, therefore, strive to achieve it year after year.
However, the process isn’t as simple as putting up the highest numbers. It’s more about making an impact rather than stat stuffing.
But don’t let the award fool you. It’s not an accurate indicator of a player’s future success. Some ROTY awardees may not pan out to be stars in the league. In fact, there are quite a few of them, such as Michael-Carter Williams, Mike Miller, and Tyreke Evans, who couldn’t sustain an upward career trajectory. Ultimately, the NBA Rookie of the Year Award serves as a steppingstone, a coveted milestone for young athletes to target at the beginning of their careers.