NBA Rookie of the Year Observer: Which candidates could beat Ja Morant after an injury?


Ja Morant's explosive skill set in the NBA led him to the Rookie of the Year conversation during the first two months of the season, but a recent outbreak of injuries will keep him out for at least a week or two.

Morant fell into a chamber on the court on November 25 after attempting an acrobatic placement. While returning to action later that game and played against the Jazz on Friday, back spasms persisted the Grizzlies enough to close it.

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Here is the play that seemed to suffer the injury:

And here is a statement from Memphis on Saturday that lists Morant as "week by week,quot; in the future. He did not travel with the team on his trip to Minnesota.

Morant, who has an average of 18.6 points and 6.4 assists per game, tweeted in frustration over the circumstances of his setback after the Grizzlies announced they would have to wait.

Even if Morant only misses half of December, the NBA Rookie of the Year conversation could change. Already, several candidates have approached him in the pursuit of honor, and will have the opportunity to polish their cases in the coming weeks.

Here are the five rookies who, as of December 1, seem more likely to win the Rookie of the Year, if Morant doesn't claim it.

(NOTE: Zion Williamson was not included because he has not yet recovered from his preseason knee injury. He will be considered a candidate upon his return).

NBA Rookie of the Year Candidates

1. Kendrick Nunn, Heat (16.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 3.2 APG, 55.4 eFG%)

Yes, a non-recruited player could jump to first place in the Rookie of the Year this month. Nunn has been a gift from Heaven for the Heat after signing during the summer after a season in the G-League last season. Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow (often an offensive facilitator) have lost significant time with injuries, but the Heat (13-5) has remained dominant thanks to its new rough diamond guard.

Nunn, with a size slightly less than 6-2, has compensated for his deficiencies with the speed inside the ball and an excellent outside shot (39.8 percent from deep). Being a vital piece of a team that really wins games, uncommon among ROY candidates, puts it in a good place to compete for hardware. He has certainly earned a place in the Miami rotation and should continue to get minutes, including semi-regular starts. If you keep hitting your long-range bridges in a high clip, it will soon become a conventional name.

2. RJ Barrett, Knicks (15.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.5 APG, 45.5 eFG%)

Barrett, elected No. 3 in general by New York, is in many ways the opposite of Nunn. He played college ball during a season at Duke, not a four-year combination of Illinois and Oakland. He has been in the national spotlight since he was a teenager, not so off the map that 29 teams passed him. With the choice of the best Zion Williamson pelicans still out, it is supposed to be the Rookie of the Year material.

Barrett will be able to play every minute he can handle in a pitiful Knicks team, which should eventually increase his average score beyond Nunn. You can also do a show when your team goes out in transition. The problem for him is efficiency: taking more than 15 shots per game to average around 15 points is not very valuable for the Knicks. You need to reduce your reputation as a volume launcher to be a serious ROY contender, something that still has plenty of time to resolve.

3. Eric Paschall, Warriors (17 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, 52.7 eFG%)

Like Nunn, Paschall has come out of the dark to get full numbers earlier this season (it was a second-round pick by Golden State). Like Barrett, Paschall is playing for an abysmal team. While the Warriors are exhausted by an injury, Paschall should have enough time on the court to develop further, and that will only make him a dark horse candidate to take Rookie of the Year honors.

It may be helpful to have your teammate Draymond Green, a second-round teammate, in your ear throughout the campaign. Paschall looks like a genuinely good NBA player, passing the eye test in large part due to the solid decision-making he possesses. He might have difficulty obtaining national recognition considering his lack of exaggeration in the draft and his squad that lives in the background.

MORE: How long is Zion Williamson out?

4. Brandon Clarke, Grizzlies (12.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.3 APG, 67.8 eFG%)

If Clarke were playing more than the 21.8 minutes per game he is currently averaging, he could lead this list. The Gonzaga product has been efficient in almost every facet of the game, from absurd number of shots to a solid defense.

The Grizzlies have taken it slow with him while trying to engage the core of his reconstruction. Perhaps Clarke will see his responsibilities with Morant expanded, but until we really see that happen, it is difficult to see Clarke as more than a marginal aspirant to the Rookie of the Year.

5. From & # 39; Andre Hunter, Hawks (11.9 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.8 APG, 47.2 eFG%)

Hunter has not been consistent enough to lead the Rookie of the Year debates, but flashes of greatness this season have suggested he could be a candidate for the second half. In addition, his rookie teammate Cam Reddish has struggled to overcome injuries, giving Hunter extra time on the wing to improve.

Hunter has played at least 35 minutes in five of the last six competitions, and in one of those games, he shot 10 of 17 to score 26 points. Hunter must be more than an offensive threat once a week to be considered, of course, but in a high-octane Atlanta lineup in which Trae Young regularly traps opponents, the striker must have openings to grow his game.