2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year: Can Anyone Catch Luka Doncic?

NBA RoY - Luka Doncic vs Trae Young

The time to throw bets on the 2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year winner is now. Dallas Mavericks first-year sensation Luka Doncic has lived up to his billing of a top flight prospect, pushing Dallas into playoff contention and putting up impressive numbers along the way.

Nobody really thought Doncic was going to be a bust, but he entered a rebuilding Mavs franchise with a lot of work ahead of him. With big man and first overall pick Deandre Ayton ready to shake things up in Phoenix, projecting Doncic as the ROY winner was never an easy call.

This wasn’t a cakewalk field to go up against as a whole, either. Trae Young, Marvin Bagley, and so many others entered the 2018 NBA Draft with both of these heavy-hitters, giving bettors a lot to think about going into the new season.

Still, nobody really rivals Doncic’s sick stat line, which includes 19.6 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, five dimes per game and 1.1 steals per game. Doncic’s stellar rookie campaign includes better than expected defensive ability and a strong 37% clip from long range.

Doncic isn’t just dropping killer stats, either. He’s also taking souls in the process. Paul George was his latest viral victim:

The Mavs are also presently just two games out of the Western Conference playoff picture and he’s delivered some iconic moments in the process.

Dallas still has pretty weak +15000 NBA Finals odds, but the only rookie that has any hopes of catching him (Jaren Jackson) has his Grizzlies at just +10000. Deandre Ayton, who is without a doubt the most realistic threat to Doncic’s reign at this point, has his Suns looking like the worst team in basketball (dead last at +100000).

NBA Rookie of the Year Odds

Anyone betting on who wins Rookie of the Year doesn’t really care about how the players impact their teams in terms of title contention. After all, the very best NBA prospects go to the worst teams, as the top talent tends to get selected by the worst teams in the league.

While true, player impact is still a great indicator of precisely what kind of a mark someone is leaving on their franchise and serves as a solid way to differentiate talent.

Looking back at least season, Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell were the two clear contenders and both drove their teams to the playoffs. That mixture of elite production and actual team success goes a long way to hand someone the Rookie of the Year title and this year is no different.

Simply put, Doncic’s numbers and overall impact don’t ring hollow. He’s making a lasting impression for this Dallas fan base and it feels like he’s only getting better every time he sets foot on the floor.

The only problem with Doncic is he doesn’t really look like an attractive NBA wager anymore.

The last time NBA Rookie of the Year odds popped up at MyBookie.ag, Doncic was the runaway favorite (-700). Here’s how everyone else stacked up:

  • Luka Doncic (-700)
  • Deandre Ayton (+650)
  • Trae Young (+1500)
  • Jaren Jackson Jr. (+2000)
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (+4000)
  • The Field (+700)

The race for Rookie of the Year is one of big numbers, highlight reels, and team success. The better combination of that criterion you have, the greater your chances are of hoisting the hardware at the end of the year.

Doncic came into the league as a versatile scorer who could lift his team. He’s lived up to the talent he was hyped up to be, turning one of the league’s worst teams into a viable playoff threat. You can now bet on the Mavericks to make the playoffs and feel reasonable good about it and that’s all because of Doncic.

Unfortunately, laying any kind of cash on Doncic doesn’t get you much money back.

You’d need to bet $700 just to see $100. So, while it feels pretty concrete that this is your NBA Rookie of the Year, you’d need to throw down money in the thousands to really make it worth your time.

Viable Sleeper Bets

That type of risk for such a weak return isn’t why people bet. Doncic is still the correct play, but bettors may want to aim a bit higher with this wager.

The obvious pivot play here is Ayton. He doesn’t have nearly the positive impact Doncic has and the Suns are nowhere near the playoffs, but the statistics are certainly there.

Ayton is averaging a healthy double-double (17 points and 10 rebounds) per game. He’s also shooting 60% from the field, dishing out 2.2 assists per game and averaging nearly a block per contest. The versatility and team impact isn’t there yet for Ayton (and he’s also been woeful defensively), but the foundation is there for a ROY run before the year is up.

Should Phoenix start to rack up some wins, Ayton improve on the defensive end and/or his numbers get even better, he’s absolutely going to be worth a cursory glance. His sweet +650 price only encourages a flier bet at this point and if Doncic widens the gap in the eyes of the top NBA betting sites, betting on Ayton to win Rookie of the Year gets even more appealing.

But Ayton isn’t really a sleeper.
He was the consensus top pick for ROY before the season started and the Suns made him the first overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. He’s supposed to be as good as he is, if not quite a bit better. If he pulls into a close second, it won’t be too shocking.

The same goes for Trae Young (+1500). The price says sleeper, but this is another top-five rookie talent that was at least in the conversation to go first overall and still has the foundation of a guy who could soar up the rookie rankings before the year dries up.

Young’s Atlanta Hawks aren’t much better than Ayton’s Suns, but they’ve been really competitive for much of the year. While he hasn’t blown the door off the hinges just yet, Young is quietly averaging a very healthy 15.6 points and 7.4 assists per game.

The positive impact as a distributor and offensive leader is obvious. Young has arguably been a huge upgrade over the departed Dennis Schroder from that perspective and when he’s clicking, he’s obviously a useful scorer and outside shooter as well.

Those Stephen Curry comparisons were exaggerated, but Young still has immense upside as a lethal outside threat. He just doesn’t do this enough:

That might actually be by design, but if Young can start hoisting with regularity (and converting), the mini Curry could shoot up the rankings.

The problem so far for Young is a lack of efficiency. Young isn’t even clearing 40% shooting from the field and the three ball (27%), which is supposed to be his specialty, has been a problematic area for him in year one.

Still, the Hawks could continue to improve under Young’s direction and there is room for improvement for all of his numbers. At this insane price, a second-half rise could put him directly in contention for an award that most won’t even consider him for right now.

Ayton and Young are your two most logical alternative options if you’re betting on who will win NBA Rookie of the Year, but if you’re holding out hope they improve enough to be worth your time, why stop there?

The Field wager is particularly interesting to me, simply because there are so many rookies that have flashed high-level ability and could still improve down the stretch.

These are all guys you’ll want to monitor and could be reasons to eat up that +700 price tag right away:

  • Marvin Bagley (Sacramento Kings)
  • Wendell Carter (Chicago Bulls)
  • Collin Sexton (Cleveland Cavaliers)
  • Kevin Knox (New York Knicks)
  • Mikal Bridges (Phoenix Suns)
  • Rodions Kurucs (Brooklyn Nets)

There might even be a few more first-year players to keep tabs on, but we’re already into 2019 and I feel like this list is about as far as I’d like to extend my ROY window.

Time is already running out for players to leave a big enough mark to really contend for the top award. Still, the aforementioned talents could be in position in terms of statistics, role, and upside to make a run at the top spot if everything breaks their way.

It’s just not realistic.

Of the lot, Kevin Knox is easily my favorite play. He’s shaken off an early start to his rookie season and really picked up the pace:

This is largely thanks to the coaching staff expressing confidence in their prized rookie, making sure he sees the floor even in blowouts. He’s also been far more aggressive in attacking the rim and it’s translated to steady success.

At +700, he takes the weight of The Field bet and is your main reason to consider this wager. The value is solid and Knox is getting serious run as one of New York’s main offensive focal points.

Given the recent news that the Knicks have no plans on rushing star big man Kristaps Porzingis back from a torn ACL, Knox should only get better as the season wears on.

Players get hurt, teams endure slides and rookies can hit walls. It is not crazy to think Doncic could regress, the Mavs could slide out of the playoff picture or some of the top contenders get banged up.

Should that happen, Ayton, Young, and The Field look like very viable pivot plays bettors will want to consider.

Who Will Win?

It’s still going to be Doncic.

Yes, he could get hurt, hit the rookie wall and/or the Mavs could just fall out of playoff contention and create a mild dent in his overall ROY case.

But you can’t predict these types of things and the gap is already so wide. Doncic is completely surpassing all expectations so early in his career and largely because of him, it doesn’t feel like Dallas is going away anytime soon.

In fact, the stellar play of Doncic has chatter heating up that guys like Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes could be on the move. Should the Mavs swing the right trade, Doncic’s impact could be felt at an even higher level, whether it be with more explosive numbers or more wins.

Either way, Doncic has made a greater overall impact than any other rookie and it’s not particularly close. Ayton, Young, and The Field are more profitable wagers that offer a serious return on your investment in the event that they skyrocket past Doncic. That happening simply isn’t very likely.

I don’t know if I’d really go hard at Doncic, though. Instead, I think the best play might be to wait and see if some mild struggles pop up and close the betting gap slightly. If Doncic can work his way back to something like -200 or -300, he might be worth a heavy wager.

Regardless, Luka Doncic already looks like the 2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year. Bet accordingly.

My Pick