Michael Carter-Williams is the 2014 NBA Rookie of the Year. Except, everyone's pretty sure that this was a very bad year for rookies. So we thought we'd put into perspective just how bad this season's rookies were, if that's actually the case.
To be clear, we aren't trying to project how well these guys are going to play going forward—rookie stats are no great indicator of career success. Chris Paul being birthed into the NBA as a ready-made offensive wizard isn't a mistake in accounting, but there's a reason teams will be patient with a raw, young player, like Russell Westbrook, who doesn't produce right away. Here, we're just looking at how well the rookies did perform.
That in mind, here are the top 25 and top 5 rookies of each of the past 14 years, and their combined win shares:
We're using Basketball Reference's win shares, which, to oversimplify, award approximately one *total* win share to players, dispersed based on statistical performance, for every game the team wins. So the stat is obviously pretty heavily dependent on team wins, which does Kevin Durant's '07-'08 season no favors, and the same certainly goes for MCW this year. But, insofar as any catch-all stat is illustrative of overall play, win shares performs pretty well. (It also checks out via PER, in which Durant's 15.8 and MCW's 15.5 are the two lowest figures for a ROY winner since Mike Miller's 13.2 in '00-'01.)
As you can see, this year was the worst since 2000 in both overall rookie contribution (cumulative total for the top 25 in win shares) and standout first-year players (cum. total for the top 5). And while overall, rookie stats can be messy, these year-by-year measurements tend to be a pretty good indicator of whether that year's rookie's are going to be very good. The spike in '08-'09 came in a year when Marc Gasol and Greg Oden—both lottery picks the previous year who sat out '07-'08—crashed the party, and which also had Brook Lopez, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, and Roy Hibbert contributing as rookies. The low point before this year, '06-'07, had KD, Mike Conley, Joakim Noah, and Al Horford, but the top of the list was filled with names like Luis Scola, Jamario Moon, Thad Young, Carl Landry, and Jared Dudley. These are solid NBA rotation players, but the difference between the two classes is self-evident—which isn't a great sign for this year's crop.
This is obvious, but the value of the award really depends on the quality of the rookie class. So in 2006, when Chris Paul's 10.4 win shares were pushing right up against MVP Steve Nash's 12.4, it felt like naming an heir to the throne; and in 2004, when LeBron beat out Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony, despite both of them finishing north of 6 WS's (very good for a rookie), it immediately felt like an influx of talent. This year's race didn't feel anything like that.
Here are the past 14 NBA rookies of the year, and their win shares, compared to that of that season's MVP:
That looks bad, but it actually gets worse. MCW's 1.3 win shares is the worst of the group we looked at, and his distance from the MVP's total (presuming Kevin Durant takes it this year) will be the biggest difference of the group (17.9). Further, he was in the bottom 20th percentile of the league in points per possession (0.797). (For a little perspective, Brandon Jennings was good for 0.787 points per possession... on pull-up jump shots.) Relative to the league, he was even worse in transition—in the bottom 12th percentile, actually—and of any perimeter ROY, he was by far the worst in pick-and-roll ball-handling situations. He was half-decent in isolation, but that's faint praise for a young (but at 22, not all that young) guard getting a ton of possessions. Especially when his shot chart still looks like this:
Again, none of this is to say that MCW won't be a fine pro. But as Rookie of the Year resumes go, woof.
Charts by Reuben-Fischer Baum