It’s another loaded NBA rookie class, which means handicapping the most likely winner for Rookie of the Year isn’t easy.
Just looking at the Top-5 picks alone, you can justify (I already have actually) why Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith, Keegan Murray, and Jaden Ivey each could come away with the trophy at the end of the season.
Being a high lottery pick doesn’t guarantee a great rookie season though, and as we’ve seen in the past, sometimes the name that comes away with the award can come out of nowhere.
That’s where we try to find a deep sleeper pick, +3000 or longer, that can surprise us all.
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A Little History
First off, we could argue that Scottie Barnes was a surprise just last year. No, he wouldn’t have fallen into the whole deep sleeper category (this 30-1 number was again imposed on me just like MVP by the way) but he still opened +1100 last season.
The biggest surprise we’ve had in recent history was Malcolm Brogdon, who went 36th overall in 2016 and ended up coming away with the 2016-2017 Rookie of the Year, but the lowest pick to ever win the award was actually good ‘ol Woody Sauldsberry back in 1958, after being taken 60th overall out of Texas Southern by the then Philadephia Warriors.
Since the league has changed, you know, just a bit since the late 50s though, we probably won’t see someone like 58th overall pick Hugo Besson win it in 2023, so we don’t have to worry about that.
In fact, other than Brogdon and Sauldsberry, only Michael Carter-Williams (11th overall, 13-14 season), Mark Jackson (18th, 87-88 season), Jamaal Wilkes (11th, 74-75 season), and the first-ever winner, Don Meineke, who went No. 12 to the Fort Wayne Pistons back in 1952-53, have been named the best rookie while being picked outside the Top-10.
That being said, we’re gonna give this a shot anyway, so here goes.
The Potential Shockers
Names that come in at +3000 or more right now at BetMGM are guys like Ochai Agbaji (+3000), Ousmane Dieng (+3000), Jalen Duren (+3000), Jaden Hardy (+3500), Mark Williams (+4000), AJ Griffin (+4000), and Jeremy Sochan (+4000).
Sure, there’s plenty with even longer odds, but at some point, I need a cut-off.
Again, it’ll be easy to poke holes in why they all won’t win, but finding just one that might have the stars align is what we’re trying to do here.
You don’t need to factor into team performance with this award, so what really matters will be role and opportunity. Agbaji will be playing with a ton of young talent already at the Cleveland Cavaliers, so he’s more likely to have a more limited role as opposed to someone like Sochan, who has what’s starting to look like a G-League team in San Antonio to work in with.
Duren is still a bit raw, and word out of the Detroit Pistons camp is he might see limited minutes early. Williams fills a needed role for the Charlotte Hornets, but he’s more of a traditional center so it’ll be hard to put up the numbers needed for this wild upset we’re trying to find.
Hardy is interesting for the Dallas Mavericks, as a second-round pick he was a five-star recruit that went the G-League route instead, but it’s worrisome that he fell that much, and likely he’ll need time to develop.
AJ Griffin will fit well with the Atlanta Hawks and his shooting will be accentuated with that roster, but there won’t be enough shots to go around.
In the end, the best deep sleeper in this group has to be Sochan, who could thrive under Gregg Popovich and see a big role with a very talent-starved roster.
Is it likely? Well, no, but we at least have someone that, if our crazy alternate reality comes true, would bring a nice return on even a sprinkle of a bet.
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