Ja Morant vs. Zion Williamson: Another rookie class debate for the history books?

Zion Williamson and the Pelicans were officially eliminated from the playoff hunt on Monday (Aug. 10). Although this is not how he would have liked the season to close, he certainly had some highlights.

Zion came out guns blazing back in January when he scored 17 straight points in his NBA debut.

On the other hand, No. 2 pick Ja Morant's season is still alive and the Grizzlies are making a push for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. His high-flying acrobatics and durability have been integral for Memphis this season -- this alone may be why the former Murray State standout wins Rookie of the Year.

That said, Williamson has averaged more points, rebounds, and is shooting better from both the 3-point line and the field as a whole. Morant is the better passer, shoots better from the line, and the most important stat - has more win shares. Morant may have the edge because voters have seen him play at the NBA-level for a longer time, a total of 67 games in comparison to Zion's 24 but there is certainly a case that for the third time in NBA history, we should have co-Rookies of the Year.

It was a quarter-century ago when the NBA honored Jason Kidd and Grant Hill as co-Rookies of the Year. Sharing an award of this stature was unprecedented. Aside from splitting the All-Star game MVP a couple of times, big awards were typically only given to one player. This was, and still is, mostly true among all major sports. The 1994 Rookie Class changed that.

Kidd offered a more balanced stat sheet that year with 11.7 points, 7.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds while Hill dominated more on the offensive end with 19.9 points, 5.0 assists, and 6.4 rebounds. Interestingly, both players were able to overshadow no. 1 overall pick Glenn "Big Dog" Robison who had a respectable debut season as well.

Kidd's Mavericks won eight more games than Hill's Pistons that year - but neither made the playoffs. Both went on to have remarkable careers, Kidd, of course, appearing in three NBA Finals and winning a title with Dallas in 2011, spoiling LeBron James' debut season with the Miami Heat.

Voters were undecided again five years later when they split the honor between Houston Rockets guard Steve Francis and Chicago Bulls big man Elton Brand.

Similarly, both of these guys had impressive careers with Brand being a key contributor to multiple playoff teams.

Basketball purists will agree that the best NBA Rookie class was either 1984 (Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton) or 1996 (Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, etc.) -- somehow it's always Michael vs. Kobe.

After that, it gets interesting.

You have the rookie classes of 1987, 2003, and 2009 as legitimate contenders for the next great collection of young basketball talent. Others may stand out, but between the championships, MVPs, Finals MVPs, and just pure stats, you'd be hard-pressed to find better groups.


This brings us back to Ja and Zion. Are they part of an exceptional rookie class? There are already 13 guys from the 2019 draft class who average 10+ PPG. That's just one metric, but points are one of the easiest ways for a new guy to contribute to a team and earn his stripes.

We won't know this year or next year, or probably for at least five years, how many true All-Stars were drafted last summer.

Right now, there are more questions than answers - Will RJ Barrett re-energize the Knicks? Is Rui Hachimura the NBA's next international star? Will Bol Bol lead a new style of "Tall Ball" in Denver? 2019 certainly has the storylines to compete but does it have the talent?

The NBA Draft class normally provides some pleasant surprises and as the games go on, we can only wait for player development to happen. Whether Ja Morant wins Rookie of the Year or splits the award with Zion, the debate surrounding the two is likely a career-long discussion.

NBA rivals are rarely drafted in the same year, Bill Russell was 1956 while Wilt Chamberlain was 1959; Larry Bird was 1978, Magic Johnson 1979; Hakeem Olajuwon was taken 1984 and Patrick Ewing selected 1985. For that reason, we shouldn't expect to see Williamson and Morant challenge each other at the highest level but we should anticipate that their careers will forever be linked. Such was the case with Kidd and Hill.

As we watch and wait, we can only speculate. This season has given us a lot of time to think about the debate and if the on-the-court performance is a preview of what's in store for Zion and Ja, it should be a fun ride.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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