Awards (especially rookie awards) aren’t always a good indicator that success will follow. We often see guys in sports given some type of accolade, then their career fades away and makes fans wonder how they ever received any type of recognition. That hasn’t seemed to happen with the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. Somehow, the NBA has found a way to accurately assess guys early in their career. Sure, a few of the guys on this list may not have had the best careers, but most of these guys have proven to be superstars.
Receiving Rookie of the Year honors in the NBA has seemingly been a stamp of success that means you’re set for a successful career. None of the guys who have received the honor have bottomed out after just a few years. Sure, the NBA doesn’t normally see players tossed aside due to injuries like the NFL does, but that doesn’t make this feat any less special. It takes a crazy amount of skill and luck to remain prevalent in the NBA for multiple years. Somehow, all of these players have managed to do just that. Each of these guys have put together successful careers compared to the aver NBA athlete, and a good chunk of these guys are putting together Hall of Fame worthy numbers.
Not only does this list include the NBA’s best rookies, it also includes a good chunk of today’s top athletes. Of course, some of the league’s superstars didn’t have award-winning appeal during their first season. But each of these guys have been successful straight out of the draft, and here we rank them from worst to best.
Note: There are 18 players ranked on this list because two athletes received Rookie of the Year honors in 2000.
18. MICHAEL CARTER-WILLIAMS, 2014
We begin the list with someone whose career has really struggled since his first season, and the tough part was that there was not much special about his performance that season. Michael Carter-Williams was just better than the rest of the other rookies. During that first season, Carter-Williams proved to be a good all-around player as he posted about 17 points, with six rebounds and six assists. Though rebounds and assists did drop off a bit through the rest of his career to this point, his scoring saw the biggest decline.
This season, he’s scoring about eight points per game and has suited up for just 27 contests. He’s also playing less than 30 minutes per game for the first time in his career. It could be because he just doesn’t fit in with his new team, the Chicago Bulls. It could be lingering issues from an injury that kept him out for more than a month. Or it could be that he’s just failing to keep up with the talent in the NBA. No matter the reason, Carter Williams starts our list as the worst NBA Rookie of the Year since 2000.
17. TYREKE EVANS, 2010
Tyreke Evans burst into the NBA scoring an average of 20 points per game and adding six assists with five rebounds. Evans was a true well-balanced athlete. He was able to attack on all ends of the floor, which is something that rookies tend to struggle with. Unfortunately for Evans, His production declined over the rest of his career.
Evans is barely holding on to his spot in the NBA. He’s missed more than half the season for each of the last three years and has been playing less than 20 minutes a game for the past two seasons. That’s a severe drop off to what Evans used to do. Other than his rookie season, Evans didn’t prove much else in his NBA career so far. Except for recent years, he was a much better contributor though. But even with his recent down years, Evans still has a career average of more than 30 minutes per game, including a 16.2 point per game average with about five rebounds and five assists.
16. EMEKA OKAFOR, 2005
This guy had an amazing collegiate career and followed up with a rookie season that made the Bobcats second overall pick look like a great decision. Unfortunately, Emeka Okafor would eventually prove that his best days were behind him. Okafor crushed it at UCONN. He led the team to a NCAA Championship in his final season, was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player and was the NABC Co-Player of the Year (he was also a two-time NABC Defensive Player of the Year).
Okafor proved to be consistently talented and looked to handle the pressure with ease. That look would fade as he progressed in the NBA. Okafor played average throughout most of his career which lasted through the 2012-13 season, but he saw declining production every year following his first season.
15. KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS, 2016
Part of the reason for this ranking is because we’re anticipating more great things out of Karl-Anthony Towns. But it’s sort of a double-edged sword situation. We can’t rank him any higher because he’s still in just his second season in the NBA. But Towns deserves a lot of credit. The 7-foot center has started every game and averages about 34 minutes per showing for the Timberwolves. But it’s crazy that Minnesota is so bad. The Timberwolves have a lot of talent and have the past two Rookies of the Year.
With Andrew Wiggins, Towns will be part of a powerful backcourt for years to come. And with Towns background, we don’t expect his play to change much. He’s been in the spotlight since he was 16 when he was named to the Dominican Republic’s national basketball team. Then he went on to star in Kentucky before getting selected with the first overall pick in the 2015 draft.
14. BRANDON ROY, 2007
Brandon Roy’s ranking on this list was hurt because of his short duration in the NBA. It’s more than the league average, which is 4.8 years, (he played with the Trail Blazers from 2006 to 2011, then the Timberwolves, 2012-2013), but still not good enough to outrank any of the guys who follow. Roy originally retired following the resolution of the 2011 NBA lockout. He announced that his knees were just not in good enough shape to continue a career in the NBA. But in June 2012, he announced he would return. However, a collision in preseason made it so Roy could just play in five games before calling it quits again.
In Roy’s early years, he was a three-time All-Star selection while playing for the Trail Blazers. But in the two seasons following those successful seasons, Roy began getting injured to the point that was hurting his time on the court and therefore significantly hurt his production.
13. ANDREW WIGGINS, 2015
Andrew Wiggins has been great during his nearly three-year stretch in the NBA. Playing in Minnesota has no doubt hurt his credibility in the league (he hasn’t been selected to an All-Star game yet). Wiggins has been an absolute leader in Minnesota and is just about always on the court. He’s averaged more than 35 minutes per game each of his three seasons and has been starting nearly every game. He’s not a huge rebounder and doesn’t toss out a large number assists (he averages about four rebounds and two assists per game).
But Wiggins is turning into an elite scorer. He went from averaging about 17 points per game and is now averaging 23 points per game. At this rate, Wiggins is going to prove to be a tremendous first pick overall for the Timberwolves.
12. MIKE MILLER, 2001
For the last seven seasons, Mike Miller hasn’t really been a major factor in the NBA. Of course, Miller is 36 now and it’s no surprise that he’s begun seeing less playing time. But he went from playing about 30 minutes a game to averaging less than 20 minutes per game during the last seven seasons. That’s a big reason why Miller’s two championship rings (2012 and 2013) don’t factor much into these rankings. It’s because Miller wasn’t the driving force behind those rings.
But Miller has had his breakout moments while playing in the NBA. Not only did Miller receive honors during his rookie season (while he was playing with Orlando, the team that drafted him fifth overall), he also was named the Sixth Man of the Year in 2006 while playing for the Grizzlies.
11. ELTON BRAND, 2000
Two guys were selected as the NBA’s Rookie of the Year back in 2000, and neither of them had the careers that was projected for them during their early years. Elton Brand and Steve Francis busted into the NBA on a hot streak and rode that momentum through the early parts of their career, but it eventually fizzled. Brand maintained more of a presence in the NBA for a longer time, but Francis was just better during his peak in the league.
But Brand managed to play all the way through 2016 (even though his numbers were pretty terrible during those last four years). Brand was a two-time All-Star selection who averaged more than 30 minutes per game, but didn’t play that much in his final five years and didn’t average a double-double since his 2006 All-Star appearance (he averaged a double-double every year before that).
10. STEVE FRANCIS, 2000
Steve Francis entered the league as the second overall pick in the NBA draft. He proved to be all of the things that scouts expected out of him during those early years. Francis was a great ball handler, and was able to slash through the defense for some jaw-dropping dunks. Francis original was drafted by Memphis, but he didn’t want to play there and was part of an 11-man trade to Houston before the season. Although the Rockets didn’t have the best season that year (they finished 34-48), Francis shared Rookie of the Year honors with Elton Brand and finished as the runner-up to Vince Carter in the Dunk Contest.
Francis was great during his initial time in the NBA, but he wasn’t able to build that success in the later years of his career. Before moving to the Magic and the Knicks, Francis was named to three All-Star games (2002-2004).
9. DAMIAN LILLARD, 2013
Damian Lillard and Derrick Rose were competing here. But Rose got the edge because of his more powerful accomplishments thus far in the NBA. Lillard, however, has been playing better each year that he continues in the NBA, and he doesn’t seem to have any major injury problems like Rose. It is very likely that over the next year or two, Lillard will jump Rose’s spot and take a run at the top of the list. But for now, Rose holds the edge.
Lillard deserves credit, though. He followed up his Rookie of the Year performance with two-straight All-Star appearances. Since, he’s been scoring about five points more per game (he averages 26 points per game this season), and the rest of his performance around the court is maintaining steady with its high level it has been at in years past.
8. DERRICK ROSE, 2009
Derrick Rose has just never returned to the star athlete he was before the injury that kept him out of the entire 2012-13 season. During the playoffs in the season before his year away from the court, Rose injured his knee and it was later determined that he would need about a year to recover following surgery. That was a terrible blow to the rising star’s career. Rose had been playing like one of the league’s best athlete’s as he saw three-straight All-Star selections. Since the injury though, Rose has failed to reach the NBA’s big game.
Rose really seemed like a good first overall pick back in those early years. He was the best in the NBA 2011, when he was named the Most Valuable Player. He was the youngest player ever to receive that award at age 22. But after surgeries and a continuing issues with his knee, it doesn’t seem like Rose will ever be the star he once was, at least not consistently.
7. KYRIE IRVING, 2012
Kyrie Irving has been part of some of the worst times in Cleveland history (which includes watching LeBron James win championships in Miami), but Irving has been part of some of the best successes that Cleveland sports has ever seen. No doubt, Irving was a great first overall pick in 2011. Following Irving’s Rookie of the Year season, he followed up with three straight All-Star appearances (he has been part of four All-Star games in his young career), he was the NBA 3-Point Shootout champion in 2013, and he was an integral part of the Cavs championship run last season. Oh, and he was also the USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year in 2014.
The only downside to Irving’s game is that he’s played less than 60 games in three seasons so far. But you can’t deny it, without Irving, the Cavs probably wouldn’t have seen a championship run last year.
6. AMAR’E STOUDEMIRE, 2003
This may surprise you, but Amar’e Stoudemire recently was part of the team that won the Israeli League Cup championship (he started playing with Hapoel Jerusalem after his last season, 2015-16, with the Miami Heat). But you still can’t knock the fact that Stoudemire had a very good career in the NBA, and he played well despite dealing with knee injuries for a good chunk of time.
Stoudemire was named the league’s Rookie of the Year after the 2002-03 season. He was selected Pheonix with the ninth overall pick in the draft. Although Stoudemire did have a few seasons where he missed a good chunk of team, he had a stretch of five-straight All-Star appearances (2007-2011) and was named to the All-Star game six times.
5. PAU GASOL, 2002
Although Pau Gasol isn’t having the season we’ve expected to see out of him this year, he’s put together a spectacular campaign in the NBA and was everything teams could have hoped for following that explosive rookie season. Sure, this year in San Antonio, Gasol is scoring less and playing less than he has to this point in his career.
But the six-time All-Star selection has proved to be one of the NBA’s best big men since he was drafted third overall in 2001. Gasol has been a dominant force on any roster he’s played and has been an NBA champion twice. In his career, he averages 18 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. Those numbers are a bit higher than his first season, but that rookie season gave us all a pretty good assessment in terms of what Gasol did for the rest of his career.
4. BLAKE GRIFFIN, 2011
This big man doesn’t have the championships like Pau Gasol. This guy doesn’t have as many All-Star selections as Gasol either. But Blake Griffin is still better than Gasol. And he can prove to be much, much better by the end of his career. But that will be dependent on whether or not Griffin can overcome this injury streak that has affected him over the past couple of seasons.
Griffin went from All-Star appearances throughout his first five seasons in the league, to a player that’s fighting for time on the court. But it’s not because he lacks the skill. Griffin is still posting numbers and performances that are just as good as the league’s best. These performances just aren’t coming as often as we’re used to because he keeps sitting the bench because of injury. He played just 35 games last season and currently has 40 starts this season. But he’s averaging 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists each time he’s on the court, which is right on track with the rest of his career.
3. CHRIS PAUL, 2006
This point guard is one of the best passers and offensive guards that the NBA has today, but his true talent, which often goes unnoticed, is his defense. Chris Paul provides an elusive defensive attack that frustrates big men and locks down the opposition’s guards. What’s crazy is that Paul combines that skillset with an offensive attack that’s been hard to match up against. In Paul’s career, he’s averaged about 18 points, 10 assists and four rebounds per game (he’s started each one of the 811 games he’s played in and averages 35.6 minutes per game).
Paul has just been so good and the league has recognized. Paul was selected to nine-consecutive All-Star games (2008-2016), he’s been named to the All-Defensive First Team six times and the Second Team twice. And he’s led the league in steals six times, and led with assists once.
2. KEVIN DURANT, 2008
If only someone besides LeBron would have been the league’s best rookie in 2004. Most players in the league don’t even come close to comparing to Kevin Durant’s level of talent. But on this list, he’s going against the best player in the league. So, it should be no surprise that Durant falls to the second spot on these rankings.
But this No. 2 ranking shouldn’t stump Durant’s accomplishments. Durant is one of the league’s best scoring and has been the NBA scoring champion four times. What’s even crazier? Durant has averaged more than 25 points per game for every season except his rookie year, when he still pointed an average of 20 points per game. Except for his first two seasons, Durant has been an All-Star selection every year and that doesn’t look to be changing any time soon. Oh, and he was also named the Most Valuable Player in 2014.
1. LEBRON JAMES, 2004
Of course the King tops this list. There aren’t many lists that LeBron James doesn’t lead. He has a chance to go down as the best player in NBA history and already has proved to be one of the league’s greatest players ever. Anytime LeBron is on the court, the game completely changes. Whether it’s on offense or defense, everybody’s attention is glued to James’ every move.
And the pressure has never seemed to affect him. James has been selected to every All-Star game except for the one during his rookie season (and he had stats good enough for a rookie-season selection, but it didn’t work out that way). But James has been the NBA’s Most Valuable Player four times, and truly led the way to three NBA championships (he was the Finals MVP during each of those championship runs). The coolest part is that James is better than the rest when he seemingly shouldn’t care. How do we know this? The superstar athlete has been the All-Star game MVP twice. C’mon, nobody should be trying in the All-Star game, but James is a true competitor.
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