When the NBA finally held its postponed 2020 draft Nov. 18, the group of prospects wasn’t looked at fondly. It was described as weaker than most of the recent draft classes with a lack of top-tier talent behind LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman.
Like most years claiming to have a weak draft class, it was proven to be false. Ball and Edwards flashed potential stardom on the floor, and later draft picks such as Sacramento’s Tyrese Haliburton (No. 12 overall), Cole Anthony (No. 15; Orlando) and Saddiq Bey (No. 19; Detroit) all played significant roles on their respective teams.
When all was said and done, the NBA named three finalists to take home the 2020-21 NBA Rookie of the Year award: Ball, Edwards and Haliburton.
Which player is most deserving of the award? Here are cases for each.
Anthony Edwards, No. 1 overall, Minnesota Timberwolves
Season stats: 72 G, 19.3 PTS, 4.7 REB, 2.9 AST, 1.1 STL, 41.7 FG%, 32.9 3P%
Why he’ll win: Edwards was, hands down, the most explosive rookie of the three. Heading into the 2020 draft, Edwards was looked at as a natural scorer and finisher at the rim, but his 29.4% 3-point clip during his lone season at Georgia was a concern. Although he didn’t begin the season shooting at an accurate clip (37.2% from the field over his first 35 games), Edwards improved greatly over the season. He posted a 45.1% field-goal percentage after the calendar flipped to March and a 37.2% 3-point clip over his final 17 contests. We watched the guard throw down countless rim-rattling dunks (like this one and this one) and rack up not one, but two games of 42 points. Only two teenagers in NBA history have posted two games of 40+ points: Edwards and LeBron James. With 19 efforts of 25+ points, Edwards is the best scorer of the three finalists, has arguably the most superstar potential and -- scary thought, for opponents at least -- his shot is only going to get better.
LaMelo Ball, No. 3 overall, Charlotte Hornets
Season stats: 51 G, 15.7 PTS, 5.9 REB, 6.1 AST, 1.6 STL, 43.6 FG%, 35.2 3P%
Why he’ll win: One word to describe Ball? Playmaker. Charlotte, which reached the play-in tournament as a No. 10 seed in the Eastern Conference but lost, ran its offense through Ball when he was healthy. The product of Chino Hills High School led all rookies in assists, steals and PIE (12.1), and he was constantly going viral with ridiculous passes (see here). One knock on Ball’s case is he missed 21 games due to a wrist injury, but it’s worth noting guard Kyrie Irving was named the Rookie of the Year in 2011-12 after playing exactly 51 contests. Ball helped the Hornets register an offensive rating of 110.9, the third-best mark in franchise history. Ball clearly made his teammates better, which typically isn’t the case for a young rookie.
Tyrese Haliburton, No. 12 overall, Sacramento Kings
Season stats: 58 G, 13.0 PTS, 3.0 REB, 5.3 AST, 1.3 STL, 47.2 FG%, 40.9 3P%
Why he’ll win: A disclaimer before reading on -- Haliburton had a fantastic rookie campaign, but Ball and Edwards have a much better chance at taking home the award than the No. 12 pick. Regardless, you can’t disregard Haliburton’s 2020-21 season. The Iowa State product was arguably the most consistent first-year player. He topped 24 points just once with a career-best 28 vs. Cleveland on March 22, but Haliburton scored in double figures in 42 of 58 games. When Haliburton played 33+ minutes, Sacramento went 10-6. In games he didn’t, the Kings went 21-35. It seems simple enough: Play the kid.