The NBA offseason is coming to an end with media days and the opening of training camps just around the corner. With the start of the season fast approaching, it’s time to take an early look at the top candidates for Rookie of the Year, where the field may be a bit deeper than we initially assumed despite Chet Holmgren’s unfortunate Lisfranc injury. Let’s break down the favorites, sleeper picks and long shots for the 2022–23 Rookie of the Year Award.
Paolo Banchero, Magic
You won’t necessarily get great value betting on Banchero to win Rookie of the Year, though he is the rightful favorite at the start of the season. The No. 1 pick should be a three-level scorer from his first weeks as a professional, and while he isn’t the most athletic of the top prospects we’ve seen in recent years, there’s a craftiness to Banchero’s game that should quickly translate. He excels at rising up and getting off good looks in tight spaces, and he’s a far more advanced ballhandler than his fellow top picks in Holmgren and Jabari Smith Jr. Banchero’s offensive polish should make for a relatively smooth adjustment to the pro game.
Orlando’s roster should lead to plenty of opportunities for Banchero to fill up the scoreboard. The Magic backcourt is still a work in progress, and while there are a smattering of interesting young pieces, there isn’t a bona fide building block à la Jalen Green. You could argue Banchero may face a bit of a minutes crunch given the wealth of bigs and wings around him, but it’s hard to see anyone else truly dominating from a volume perspective. Franz Wagner thrives as a cutter, spacer and transition presence. Wendell Carter Jr. is a relatively low-maintenance big. This is a roster primed to slot in Banchero as an offensive fulcrum sooner than later.
Keegan Murray, Kings
A late riser in the predraft process, Murray joins a Kings team sporting not-so-implausible playoff goals in 2022–23. If Sacramento returns to the playoffs for the first time since ’06, Murray will be a major reason why. He has an advanced offensive feel for a player of his age, able to score in bunches without domineering a string of possessions. The Iowa product is a strong cutter and offensive rebounder, and he has a deft touch as a jump shooter. With De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis drawing significant defensive attention each night, Murray could feast with open opportunities both behind the arc and at the rim.
Murray flashed his impressive offensive skill set throughout his four-game stint in Summer League. The Iowa product averaged 23.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, doing so on 50% from the field and 40% from three. Murray may not sport the two-way upside of Holmgren and Smith, and he’s still an underdog for Rookie of the Year compared to Banchero. But considering the team context, there’s certainly a pathway to snagging the award. A leap from the Kings may ultimately lead to the No. 4 pick taking home some hardware in the spring.
Jabari Smith Jr., Rockets
Smith feels like the most solid bet in his class to be an impact player over the next decade-plus. He has All-Defense potential with a 6’10” frame and light feet, and the Evan Mobley comparisons don’t seem totally unfair when you watch Smith skate with guards and wings on the perimeter. Smith pairs his defensive excellence with a smooth jumper—he shot 42% from three at Auburn last season—and it’s likely we see him emerge as a legitimate three-level scorer sooner than later. As the Rockets form a new young core in the post–James Harden era, Smith feels like a bankable building block.
I’m more bullish on Smith’s long-term outlook than his odds of snagging Rookie of the Year. He will likely spend most of his rookie season as a spacer and roll man than any sort of offensive initiator, and he’s unlikely to sniff the rookie scoring title as he plays alongside high-volume players in Green, Kevin Porter Jr. and Alperen Şengün. We’ll likely salivate over Smith’s defensive prowess this year, and he has a good chance of becoming the first rookie to record 100 threes and 100 blocks in the same season. Yet given the context surrounding his rookie year, this may be a bet best left on the board.
Jaden Ivey, Pistons
Detroit could have a draft-day steal on its hands if Ivey outperforms Keegan Murray this year, and there’s reason to be bullish long term on the Ivey–Cade Cunningham backcourt. Ivey is one of the more explosive guards to come out of the draft in recent years, and his athleticism and quick-twitch speed should serve as a welcome complement to Cunningham’s prodding, cerebral nature. Yet while I like this pair long term, a Rookie of the Year bet on Ivey doesn’t seem too prudent. He’s unlikely to be the offensive initiator for significant stretches, and this isn’t a roster totally devoid of talent. Look for Ivey to make the most of his opportunities rather than soak up a large share of possessions during his rookie season.
BEST VALUE ON THE BOARD
Bennedict Mathurin, Pacers
I like Mathurin as an All-Rookie pick this season, and there’s a scenario in which he soaks up enough offensive volume to vault himself into the Rookie of the Year conversation. The Arizona product could slot himself into Indiana’s starting lineup on opening night, and he’s a bit more advanced offensively than many of the long wings we see selected in the lottery each season. Mathurin shot 36.9% from three last season on significant volume. He’s a force in transition and at the rim, and he’ll play alongside one of the league’s more promising point guards in Tyrese Haliburton.
Mathurin may need Buddy Hield to get traded to warrant the requisite minutes and offensive volume for Rookie of the Year, and he could lose opportunities if Chris Duarte continues to emerge as an offensive option. This is still a bit of a long-shot bet, though there is some good value in a legitimate, if unlikely, contender.
ONE (SEMI)PLAUSIBLE LONG SHOT
Shaedon Sharpe, Blazers
We need a few things to go right for the No. 7 pick to have any chance at winning Rookie of the Year:
1. The Blazers reach the playoffs, ideally as a non-play-in team
2. Sharpe logs near a full season (65-plus games)
3. Sharpe finishes near the top of the rookie scoring leaderboard.
My confidence in any of these might actually go in reverse order. Sharpe sports the offensive profile of a potential impact scorer, pairing a sweet shooting stroke with athletic gifts perhaps unmatched by his fellow lottery rookies. There’s a chance Sharpe makes a quick impact as a scorer, joining Anfernee Simons as another intriguing piece alongside Damian Lillard.
The other two items are relative long shots. Sharpe didn’t log a single minute for Kentucky in his lone season in Lexington, and his most significant recent experience stems from a pair of 12-game stints for the Canadian EYBL team and the Dream City Christian School in Glendale, Ariz. Transitioning to an NBA schedule is difficult for even the most seasoned of college players. Sharpe faces an uphill challenge if he looks to play a full season.
Then there’s the uncertainty in Portland. Lillard reaffirmed his commitment to the franchise this summer, but what exactly is he committing to at this point? There are solid supporting pieces in Simons, Jerami Grant, Jusuf Nurkić and Gary Payton II, though it’s hard to envision any of them sniffing All-Star consideration. The West could have a dozen teams in competition for a playoff spot, and at least half of that group feels like postseason locks barring catastrophic injury. Not to rain on Portland’s parade, but there does seem to be a bit of outsized expectations in the Pacific Northwest. Sharpe shining early would go a long way to validating Portland’s playoff hopes.
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