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Ja Morant tops Zion Williamson to win NBA Rookie of the Year

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The narrative of his rookie class might have been dominated by Zion Williamson, but Ja Morant now stands on top as the 2019-20 NBA Rookie of the Year.

The Memphis Grizzlies guard took home the award almost unanimously after a stellar season in which he led his rebuilding team to the brink of the playoffs. Morant received 99 out of 100 first place votes for the award.

Coming in second was Miami Heat guard Kendrick Nunn, while Williamson finished in third place despite playing only 24 games this season. Morant’s Grizzlies teammate Brandon Clarke also finished fourth.

Ja Morant already looks like a star

Memphis Grizzlies' Ja Morant reacts after a dunk against the Portland Trail Blazers during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)
Ja Morant was more than deserving of Rookie of the Year. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)

While Williamson was the clear top pick heading into the 2019 NBA draft, Morant was almost as obvious a choice for the second pick coming out of Murray State. The Grizzlies obliged, and were rewarded with a player that immediately took full control of their offense.

In 67 games this season, Morant averaged 17.8 points, 7.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 47.7 percent from the field with .556 true shooting.

With Morant running the show, the Grizzlies surprised the NBA and surged to playoff contention. The team held the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference entering the bubble, when awards voting went final. A sputtering performance in the seeding games and a play-in game lost to the Portland Trail Blazers ended their season, but it’s the future is clearly bright in Memphis.

In Morant, the team has a dynamic guard who can both score and facilitate. Second-year forward Jaren Jackson Jr. and Clarke look like more strong building blocks in the frontcourt, with plenty more young players like Dillon Brooks and Justise Winslow along for the ride.

Zion Williamson simply didn’t play enough games

Williamson was the overwhelming favorite to take Rookie of the Year heading into the season, but injury simply took too big a bite out of his season to contend for the award.

The top overall pick missed the first three months of the season with a meniscus tear and had his minutes limited by a cautious New Orleans Pelicans team. When he was on the court, Williamson lived up to the hype with 22.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

With a few more games and/or a less deserving frontrunner than Morant, Williamson might have had a shot at the award. There’s still plenty of reason to be excited about him.

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