Zion Williamson Rookie of the Year Odds Slashed After Debut
It took 18 minutes for Zion Williamson to move the needle.
The best NBA prospect since LeBron James in 2003 made his NBA debut on Wednesday night and did not disappoint. The 19-year-old Duke product notched 17 straight Pelicans points in the fourth quarter, finishing with 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting (4 of 4 from beyond the arc), 7 rebounds and 3 assists in just 18 electric minutes.
However, top sportsbooks only needed those 18 minutes to consider Williamson a legitimate Rookie of the Year contender. Williamson's odds to win the award were as high as +1800 a few weeks back and even in the last few days at some sportsbooks. PointsBet had already made adjustments as his return neared but did lower its odds to +600 on Thursday.
“I think we were as surprised as some of the guys on the court trying to defend him were," Andrew Mannino, PointsBet's sports content manager, told Bookies.com "We had a booster odd of Zion to hit a 3 at +300, and he just drained one after another there.
“I think people are interested in him. People want him to see him succeed. And I think that's going to help him drive toward a real Rookie of the Year performance on the back end of the year.”
The Pelicans forward was once the prohibitive favorite in NBA futures markets to win the award – his odds were as short as -286 during the offseason – before undergoing knee surgery that fored him to miss three months. In that time his odds dropped significantly behind current frontrunner Ja Morant and the likes of Miami's Kendrick Nunn and the Knicks' R.J. Barrett. In one night, Williamson jumped all but Morant (-625). You can compare constantly updated Rookie of the Year odds here.
Mannino said PointsBet has seen some volume on Williamson.
“He was super-hyped coming into the league, so we have a tremendous liability on him already," Mannino said. "Everybody was interested in him at the beginning of the season. Now him and [Ja] Morant are both so promising that I think it's going to be a great race down the stretch.”
Will Pelicans Take it Slow With Williamson?
It's unclear how the Pelicans will utilize their prized prospect moving forward. New Orleans is four games out of the final playoff spot in the West, and Basketball Reference gives them just a 9.4% chance of making the postseason. Williamson sat the final minutes of Wednesday's close loss to the Spurs - GM David Griffin said Williamson initially will play in quick spurts - and there's always the possibility of shutting him down if and when the Pelicans are out of playoff contention.
New Orleans also has three sets of back-to-backs remaining on its schedule, and it's a safe bet that Williamson will miss at least a couple of those games.
Williamson is an exception to most rules given the hype surrounding him and his otherworldly talent, but he would buck quite a few longstanding NBA betting trends if he wound up winning Rookie of the Year. Since its inception in 1952, no Rookie of the Year has appeared in fewer than 68 games (in a non-lockout season) or averaged fewer than 26 minutes.
Even if he played every remaining regular-season game, Williamson would only appear in 38 games. It's also difficult to see him averaging close to 30 minutes - something all but three winners have done - given how cautious the Pelicans will be with the face of their franchise.
He also has competition. Though this year's rookie class has been a dud, Ja Morant continues to shine. The No. 2 overall pick is averaging 17.5 points and 7.0 assists for a Grizzlies team exceeding expectations in large part because of his play. Morant leads all qualified rookies in both statistical categories and has gotten better each month. His -625 odds are well-deserved given the consistency (and availability) he has shown in his rookie season.