Expectations for the 18-year-old will be high, to say the least, as evidenced by the oddsmakers at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, who list Williamson as a 2-9 favorite — equivalent to minus-450 on the money line, meaning you would have to wager $450 to win $100 — to win the 2019 NBA rookie of the year award. Those odds also imply Williamson has an 82 percent chance of winning the award.
Tabbing the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft as the favorite for the rookie of the year award isn’t new, but we haven’t seen this big a favorite since Kevin Durant made his debut in 2007-08. In October of that year, he was minus-350 on the money line despite being the No. 2 pick, eventually paying off for those that backed him before the season. Brandon Roy was the preseason favorite the year before but to a much lesser degree (plus-200, meaning bet $100 to win $200).
In addition, just 13 of the 34 No. 1 overall picks in the lottery era have earned rookie of the year honors in the same year they were selected at the top of the draft. However, since Roy and Durant, none of the preseason favorites have gone on to win rookie of the year honors that same year. The No. 1 pick in 2018, Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns), is a finalist for this year’s rookie of the year award, but Luka Dončić (Dallas Mavericks) seems likely to dominate the voting. The Slovenian star joined Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Tyreke Evans as the only NBA rookies to average more than 20 points, five rebounds and five assists for a season.
Williamson, as good as he is, isn’t without flaws. His performance as a spot-up shooter for Duke was mediocre (0.9 points per possession, 47th percentile), and he wasn’t reliable when he was left unguarded (8 for 22, 27 percent from the field). His jump shot off the dribble needs work, too, and Eric Fawcett of NBA.com notes his mechanics include a “clunky release that comes from the side of his face” causing his trajectory to become “noticeably flat.”
His discipline on defense needs to improve, too. His scouting report at NBAdraft.net notes that “he does not always get in a low stance, even though he can sometimes make up for it with his unique athleticism,” and that he “loses focus defensively at times [and] gambles for blocks and steals.”
This isn’t to say Williamson won’t be a force in the NBA — ESPN gives him a 72 percent chance to reach “an all-star level of play in his first four seasons” — but that doesn’t mean the preseason favorite is always a good bet to be named the best rookie at the end of the year.