Before the NBA season began, Rookie of the Year was presumed to be a wide open race. Since then, that highly touted draft class that was discussed all summer, has been struck down with injuries. Some injuries have been worse than others, but Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart and Julius Randle have all missed time — Embiid wont play at all this season, while we didn’t even get a real look at Randle either.
Personally, if the entire class were healthy, I would have picked Parker as my favorite to win ROY. But Wiggins and Nerlens Noel — who was the sixth pick in 2013 but missed the entire season with a torn ACL — have been the only two healthy rookies that have separated themselves from the pack.
One of the reasons that both have been able to gain that separation, aside from their skill, is that they’re both playing significant minutes. That’s likely a product of playing on awful teams, but the ROY award doesn’t quite take wins and losses into consideration like the MVP award does.
The uniqueness of the Wiggins vs. Noel race has been how different the two players are. Both are freak athletes, but Wiggins has developed into an outstanding wing scorer for the Wolves, while Noel is more of a rim protector that focuses on doing a little bit of everything for the 76ers.
Here’s a look at the case for each as the ROY:
Wiggins: 16.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.0 SPG, 13.68 PER
It took Wiggins a bit to find his stride, but boy has he found it. The former Jayhawk has produced at a high level in the NBA while being thrown right into the fire. Wiggins is playing about 36 minutes per game on the season, but that number is only rising. He’s been playing nearly 42 minutes over his last 11 games, thanks to his outstanding development.
Wiggins’ progression has been obvious. Just check out how he has developed monthly scoring the ball (for the most part) since averaging just 7.0 points in his two games in October: Nov. – 12.3, Dec. – 14.6, Jan. – 19.8, Feb. – 16.8, Mar. – 17.9, and now through four games in April? Wiggins is dominating, averaging 25.5 points while also having his best month rebounding (5.0) and assisting (3.0).
The key to Wiggins’ success has been attacking the rim. Over those last 11 games, merely nine of his 183 field goal attempts have been from downtown. Another clear indicator has been Wiggins’ ability to get fouled while attacking. He’s attempted double digit free throws in six of his last 11, including setting a career-high twice, and then matching that career-high again with 15 attempts.
Noel: 9.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.9 BPG, 1.8 SPG, 15.08 PER
As you can see from the stat line above, Noel isn’t great at anything, but seems to be very good at everything. You could make the argument that Noel is an elite shot blocker, but his consistency would be his achilles heel. The Boston product has had a game with 30 points (something Wiggins has done four times), a game with 17 boards, a game with nine blocks and a game with six steals (numbers Wiggins can’t even think about touching). Those numbers were all achieved in separate games, however, and Noel has constantly had trouble producing the same types of stat lines over a string of games. But the important part is that, one way or another, he usually finds a way to be effective in at least a couple of those categories on a nightly basis.
Noel’s averaging just a shade under 31 minutes over the course of the season, but unlike Wiggins, hasn’t been as strong of late. It would take too long to go through Noel’s monthly numbers since he’s productive in so many areas, but trust me when I tell you, he’s gotten better each month. In March, he averaged 14.3 points, 11.2 boards, 1.8 assists, 2.1 blocks, and 2.4 steals. Perhaps Noel’s most balanced game came on March 25, in Denver. In 33 minutes of action, he scored 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting, while corralling 15 boards, four steals, swatting four shots, and chipping in a pair of assists.
Games like that show what Noel is capable of when he puts everything together on the same night. But through four games in April (while Wiggins has been at his hottest), Noel has regressed to averages of just 8.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.0 helpers, and 1.3 blocks and steals.
In the end, if you were to argue Noel as the ROY, I would totally understand why. He’s a unique talent, not to mention, it’s impressive that he has been able to stay healthy all season long. But the award is going to belong to Wiggins, and rightfully so. He simply seems to have found his zone and become a truly lethal scorer significantly earlier than anyone expected. The future is bright for both, but Wiggins has a scary ceiling that the rest of the league is just beginning to get a glimpse of.
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