The NBA Rookie of the Year Award In a Box

My favorite contemporary writer, the incomparable Bill James, has used the “In a Box” concept in several of his books. Basically what James does is choose a topic (e.g., a baseball manager) and then makes an idiosyncratic list of the topic’s defining features. I think the format works well for a blog post, so today I would like to put the NBA Rookie of the Year award winners “In a Box”.


Ralph Sampson, 7’4″ (1983-84)

In all, 7 of the 64 ROYs (10.94 percent) have been 7’0″ or taller.

Damon Stoudamire, 5’10” (1995-96)

Just four players 6’0″ or shorter have won the Rookie of the Year award: Stoudamire, Ernie DiGregorio, Allen Iverson, and Chris Paul.

Median Height

Shaquille O’Neal, 325 lbs. (1992-93)

Allen Iverson, 165 lbs. (1996-97)

Of the 64 ROYs, 46 (71.88 percent) have had a listed weight of 200 pounds or more.

Median Weight
218 lbs.

Most Points
Wilt Chamberlain, 2,707 (1959-60)

Chamberlain’s point total in 1959-60 ranks 14th on the NBA’s all-time list.

Fewest Points
Monk Meineke, 725 (1952-53)

This was before the adoption of the 24-second shot clock. The lowest point total in the shot clock era was 912 by Woody Sauldsberry in 1957-58.

Most Rebounds
Wilt Chamberlain, 1,941 (1959-60)

Chamberlain’s rebound total in 1959-60 ranks 7th on the NBA’s all-time list.

Fewest Rebounds
Phil Ford, 182 (1978-79)

Only two players have won a Rookie of the Year award with fewer than 200 rebounds: Ford and Kyrie Irving (191 rebounds in 2011-12).

Most Assists
Mark Jackson, 868 (1987-88)

The runner-up, Oscar Robertson (1960-61), had 178 fewer assists than Jackson did.

Fewest Assists
Woody Sauldsberry, 58 (1957-58)

Sauldsberry had the fewest assists and second-fewest points among Rookie of the Year winners. He did average 10.3 rebounds per game, though.

Most Win Shares
Wilt Chamberlain, 17.0 (1959-60)

Chamberlain’s average of .245 win shares per 48 minutes that season is also the highest by a Rookie of the Year.

Fewest Win Shares
Woody Sauldsberry, 0.3 (1957-58)

This is beginning to sound like a broken record.

Best Team Winning Percentage
Larry Bird, .744 (1979-80 Boston Celtics)

The Celtics went 61-21 after finishing 23-59 the season before, a stunning 38-win improvement.

Worst Team Winning Percentage
Elton Brand, .207 (1999-00 Chicago Bulls)

Brand shared the award with Steve Francis of the Houston Rockets, whose team finished 34-48 (.415).

Team Made Playoffs
25 out of 64 (39.06 percent)

It’s not hard to figure out why this percentage is so low: Rookie of the Year winners tend to be high draft picks, and high draft picks tend to go to the worst teams.

Team Won Championship
2 out of 64 (0.03 percent)

The only rookies to play for an NBA champion were Tom Heinsohn with the 1956-57 Boston Celtics and Jamaal Wilkes with the 1974-75 Golden State Warriors.

Unanimous Selections
4 out of 64 (6.25 percent)

The four unanimous selections were Ralph Sampson (1983-84), David Robinson (1989-90), Blake Griffin (2010-11), and the most recent winner, Damian Lillard (2012-13).

All-ROY Team

PG Oscar Robertson 1960-61
SG Michael Jordan 1984-85
SF Larry Bird 1979-80
PF Tim Duncan 1997-98
C Wilt Chamberlain 1959-60

A few notes:

  • Robertson gets the nod at the point with Chris Paul’s 2005-06 season the runner-up.
  • Jordan is the easy choice at shooting guard, with Walter Davis in 1977-78 a distant second.
  • Bird and Duncan are my forwards, with apologies to Jerry Lucas, Bob Pettit, Rick Barry, and Elgin Baylor.
  • Center is loaded. I went with Chamberlain’s rookie campaign because he led the league in minutes, points, rebounds, win shares, and win shares per 48 minutes — and won the MVP award — while helping his team to a 15.5 game improvement.

LeBron James, 19 (2003-04)

Kevin Durant (2007-08) and Kyrie Irving (2011-12) also won the Rookie of the Year award when they were 19, but James was the youngest by the calendar.

David Robinson, 24 (1989-90)

Robinson — the first overall pick in the 1987 NBA Draft — saw the start of his career delayed due to a two-year Naval commitment. Elgin Baylor also won the Rookie of the Year award at the age of 24, but Robinson was about a month and a half older.

Worst Selection
Darrell Griffith (1980-81)

Gotcha! You thought it was going to be Woody Sauldsberry, didn’t you? Sauldsberry wasn’t a great selection, but to be honest there weren’t really any good candidates that year.

So why Griffith, who averaged 20.6 points per game in his debut season? Although Griffith scored a lot, he was extremely inefficient. In fact, the only player to average 20 or more points per game and post a lower offensive rating (points produced per 100 possessions) in the three-point era was Antoine Walker in 2002-03.

I would have voted for Larry Smith. Even though Smith averaged just under 10 points per game he was an efficient offensive player, and more importantly he was a beast on the boards. He finished second in the NBA with 433 offensive rebounds and his offensive rebound percentage of 18.3 percent was the best in the league — and is still the highest ever put up by a rookie.* Smith was also a prolific rebounder on the defensive end, finishing with the NBA’s fifth-best defensive rebound percentage at 24.5 percent.

* Offensive rebounds have been recorded since the 1973-74 season.

Best Rookie Who Didn’t Win
Magic Johnson (1979-80)

Johnson certainly wasn’t overlooked, he just didn’t win because Larry Bird happened to have one of the best rookie seasons of all time. Johnson was magnificent, though, piloting the Lakers to a 13-game improvement and an NBA title.

Most Winners, Franchise
Golden State Warriors, 6 (1957-58, 1959-60, 1965-66, 1974-75, 1988-89, 1993-94)

The Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento Kings are the runner-ups in this category with five winners each.

It’s worth noting that in the 38 seasons since the ABA-NBA merger, these franchises have combined for just 28 playoff appearances and no NBA titles.

7 thoughts on “The NBA Rookie of the Year Award In a Box

    1. Oops, you’re right. I wrote down Vancouver’s name and Houston’s won-lost record. I’ve made the correction.

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