In any given NBA season, the Rookie Of The Year will most likely be the most prolific scorer. Last year, Michael Carter-Williams led all rookies with 16.7 points, and won ROY. The year before that, Damian Lillard led all rookies with 19.1 points, and was the ROY. In fact, since the year 2000, there have only been two players to win ROY without leading rookies in scoring. O.J. Mayo lost to Derrick Rose in 2008, despite scoring 18.5 points while Derrick Rose scored 17 ppg. Then in 2000 when Mike Miller won despite being third in scoring. Marc Jackson led rookies in scoring that year with 13.2 ppg. Even when someone won ROY without leading rookies in scoring, they were still in the top 3.
For most of this season, it looked like this trend was going to continue. Andrew Wiggins has been the consensus choice for ROY all season. He leads rookies with 15.7 ppg. The only rookie close to him, is Jabari Parker with 12.3 ppg, and his season was ended early after he tore his ACL. After that, only one other rookie has more than 10 ppg, and that is Langston Galloway, who has 10.9 ppg.
That was until the All Star break, after which Nerlens Noel decided to play better defense than in rookie in recent history. Not only does he lead all rookies in blocks and steals, 1.9 blocks and 1.82 steals, but he is the only player in the NBA that ranks in the top 10 in both categories. He also leads all rookies in rebounds, with 7.8 per game.
It wasn’t until the All Star break though that he really found his game. Since the break, he is averaging 11.5 ppg, 10.5 rebounds per game, and 2.8 blocks and steals per game. He also leads all rookies in double doubles, with 11.
What is most impressive about Noel though, is his highlight reel blocks.
He is, without a doubt, the best defender among rookies. Not only does he have the stats to back it up, but he does the dirty work as well. He has the height and leaping ability to guard the strongest centers, and the quickness to keep up with the guards and stretch forwards.
What may hurt his chances though, is his scoring ability. Averaging 8.8 ppg, he is far behind Wiggins as far as scoring goes. As of now, his offensive game is limited. He lacks the size to post up against bigger centers, and is not a polished shooter. He has the athleticism to slam down an alley-oop pass, and occasionally creates his own dunk opportunities. He doesn’t have great post moves though, and like many rookies has the unfortunate knack for losing the ball.
Offense is not the only aspect of the game though. While Wiggins may be a far superior scorer right now, Noel is the better defender. Wiggins has more ppg, but Noel is superior in blocks, steals, rebounds, and FG%. He is also just barley behind Wiggins in assists, despite the fact Wiggins plays on the ball way more than Noel does. They are similar in turnovers as well.
The difference is, while Wiggins has been good on offense for a rookie, Noel has been as good as anyone in the league defensively. Noel is in the top 4 of Defensive Box Plus/Minus, which is used to calculate “defensive points per 100 possessions.” Meanwhile Wiggins isn’t even in the top 100 in the offensive counterpart. This isn’t to say Wiggins isn’t a good scorer, on the contrary he is very talented, but his offensive game isn’t elite yet. He still does, what many rookies do, and turns the ball over while also taking bad shots. Noels defense is already at an elite level though.
At the end of the day, Wiggins will probably win ROY. Like is shown above, the top scorers usually win. It would be nice though, if just for once, a defender got the credit he deserves. Noel should be Rookie of The Year.