The Minnesota Timberwolves probably have some regrets. So might the Golden State Warriors.
Those teams passed on LaMelo Ball in last year's draft, and that is looking like a mistake. Ball has been fantastic for the Charlotte Hornets, who took him with the third overall pick. Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman, the first two picks of the draft, have had their moments but they have not been as impactful as Ball.
If you track the betting market to project who is favored to win the major awards, you can have only one takeaway: The NBA Rookie of the Year race is over. Ball is going to win, barring a crazy turn of events.
LaMelo Ball the clear ROY favorite
Ball is an overwhelming -400 to win NBA Rookie of the Year at BetMGM. Things can change. Ball could get injured. Another rookie could put together a scorching couple months. But -400, for practical purposes, means Ball is practically a lock at this point. The implied odds give Ball an 80 percent chance of winning Rookie of the Year.
The other piece of Ball being such an overwhelming favorite is the lack of competition. If not Ball, who else? Only five other rookies have odds of less than 50-to-1:
Tyrese Haliburton +500
Anthony Edwards +1100
James Wiseman +1200
Immanuel Quickley +1300
Cole Anthony +2000
If anyone on that list could surprise, maybe it's Quickley. He plays for the New York Knicks, which helps his profile. Quickley is the only rookie with a better PER (the per-minute rating by ESPN's John Hollinger) than Ball. If Quickley can get more minutes — which will be tough given Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau's distaste for rookies and the recent addition of Thibodeau favorite Derrick Rose — then he could possibly make a run.
But it's Ball's award to lose.
Ball has seen a big jump in production
Ball has made many highlights with his flashy passing, but he has pretty much done it all for the Hornets. And his production has taken a huge jump lately.
Ball is averaging 14.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game. Ball entered the starting lineup only eight games ago. In those eight games, and a 31-minute game that led to his promotion, he is averaging 21.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6.6 assists. He has the potential to be a top-20 player the rest of the season.
Warriors face Charlotte on Saturday. Steph Curry asked about LaMelo Ball in advance: "He's playing amazing. There was a lot of talk about what he could show his rookie year. He's surprising a lot of people."
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 17, 2021
That has made the Rookie of the Year race a runaway, at least in mid-February. Even if something goes sideways and Ball doesn't win the honor, it won't matter too much to Charlotte fans. The Hornets have an exciting new star, and he's only 19 years old.
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