Welcome back! It's our final NBA Rookie Ladder of the 2020-21 season!
As a follow-up to my 2020 NBA Draft coverage, I provided an in-depth look at how this year's rookie class performed through the start of their NBA careers by ranking the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year every other week.
If you'd like to compare this final 2020-21 NBA Rookie Ladder to previous ones, here you can find the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh editions here. I also took a break from the Rookie Ladder over the All-Star break to instead dive into pre-draft predictions and decipher where I went right and wrong on this rookie class. You can find that article here.
If you're interested in reading about the rookies in this class that are set to have an impact in the postseason, you can find that article here.
Below you'll find the final rankings for this season. All players in the top five are my selections for First Team All-Rookie this season, with the No. 1 player on the ladder being my 2021 Rookie of the Year.
So without further ado ... who is the Rookie of the Year??
2020-21 NBA Rookie Ladder
5. Jae'Sean Tate, Houston Rockets
Stats: 11.3 PTS, 5.4 REB, 2.5 AST, 1.3 STL, 50.3% FG
Best game: March 22 vs. TOR - 22 points (8-9 FG, 3-4 3PT), 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 0 turnovers
Rookie season in perspective: As a 25-year-old rookie, Tate took a unique path to the league after playing two seasons overseas. In just one season in the NBA, it's clear that the versatile wing is here to stay, looking like a core piece toward the Rockets' future rebuild.
His ability to successfully defend guards and forwards makes him a swiss army knife for defensive game planning. He led the entire rookie class in total steals, he was second in rebounds, third in points, seventh in blocks (the highest rank for a non-big man) and seventh in assists.
It was an All-Rookie calibre season for a player that went undrafted in 2018.
4. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons
Stats: 12.1 PTS, 4.5 REB, 1.3 AST, 40.9% FG, 38.9% 3PT
Best game: Feb. 12 vs. BOS - 30 points (10-12 FG, 7-7 3PT), 12 rebounds
Rookie season in perspective: This is not hyperbole - Bey had one of the best 3-point shooting rookie seasons in NBA history.
He set the Pistons' all-time single-season record for 3-pointers made by a rookie and he became the only first-year player in league history to have five or more games with six made 3s.
In a similar light, his 13 games with five or more 3s made are also the most in NBA history, passing previous record-holders Stephen Curry and Allen Iverson, who had 10 of such games in their rookie seasons.
His 169 3-pointers made are not only the most of his rookie class, it's the third-most 3-pointers by a rookie in league history. Only Damian Lillard (185) and Donovan Mitchell (187) made more 3s as a first-year player, and Bey still has two more games to go.
3. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings
Stats: 13.0 PTS, 5.3 AST, 3.0 REB, 1.3 STL, 47.2% FG, 40.9% 3PT
Best game: April 30 vs. LAL - 23 points (8-14 FG, 4-8 3PT), 10 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block
Rookie season in perspective: Haliburton's rookie season came to an early end as a knee injury will keep him out for the remainder of the year, but it was a remarkable season by the No. 12 overall pick.
Haliburton flashed poise and maturity as a first-year player, making smart winning plays whenever he was on the floor. His shooting efficiency was uncanny for a rookie - an area that usually takes time to develop for most NBA players.
The list of rookies in NBA history to average at least 10 points, five assists and one steal while shooting 45.0 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from 3 (min. 2.0 3PA): Haliburton and Stephen Curry.
When you add to it that Haliburton averaged less than two turnovers per game, he stands alone as the only rookie to ever meet that criteria.
The Kings have landed another cornerstone for the future in Haliburton, that's for certain.
2. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
Stats: 19.1 PTS, 4.7 REB, 2.9 AST, 1.1 STL, 41.6% FG, 32.9% 3PT
Best game: May 5 vs. MEM - 42 points (17-22 FG, 8-9 3PT), 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block
Rookie season in perspective: This was not an easy decision. At all.
Edwards was unbelievable in his rookie season. He was an electrifying, walking highlight reel.
He had 18 games with 25 or more points, which was more than any other teenager in Timberwolves' history combined. He also set the franchise record as the youngest player to score 40 points in a game - a feat he achieved twice - placing him in the most elite company possible.
Teenagers with multiple 40+ point games in NBA history:- Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) May 6, 2021
3 - @KingJames
2 - @theantedwards_
That's the list. pic.twitter.com/40JgPT6pul
In his 42-point effort against the Grizzlies at the beginning of May, he became the only teenager in league history to have at least 40 points and five 3s in a game. The list of achievements goes on and Edwards made very visible progress as a player with each and every game.
After the All-Star break, he averaged 23.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game while shooting a much-improved 45.4 percent from the field and 35.0 percent from 3. And the Timberwolves started winning some games down the stretch, too.
I say this in all honesty: if Edwards and Ball were to be co-Rookie of the Year, it would be fitting and well-deserved on both ends.
But regardless if he takes home the award or not, Edwards is a future multi-time All-Star in this league.
1. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
Stats: 15.8 PTS, 6.2 AST, 6.0 REB, 1.6 STL, 44.3% FG, 36.1% 3PT
Best game: Jan. 30 vs. MIL - 27 points (8-10 FG, 2-3 3PT, 9-9 FT), 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 turnover
Rookie season in perspective: And that brings us to my 2021 Rookie of the Year - LaMelo Ball.
Ball surpassed all expectations in his rookie season, putting any and all doubters to bed.
At 19-years-old, the phenom guard became the only teenager in NBA history to average at least 15 points, six rebounds and six assists in a season. While players like Luka Doncic, Oscar Robertson, Ben Simmons and Michael Carter-Williams did so as rookies, none of them were in their teens when they achieved the feat.
Even when you don't compare him to rookies, he still shines. The only players in the NBA this season that are averaging 15 points, six rebounds and six assists while shooting at least 35 percent from 3 are Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, James Harden, LeBron James and Ball.
He became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double. When he was moved into the starting lineup, the Hornets surged into the playoff picture and have since clinched a spot in the Play-In Tournament.
Even with a 21-game absence due to a wrist injury, Ball still appeared in nearly 70 percent of his team's games to this point, and his production when he was on the floor has made a large enough impact to lead a team to the postseason.
He has presented himself as a superstar in this league, perhaps even a future All-NBA calibre player.
Again, if there were to be a 1995 flashback - when Jason Kidd and Grant Hill were co-Rookies of the Year - with Ball and Edwards, I think it would be as reasonable a time as ever.
But if there has to be just one Rookie of the Year, I'm giving the nod to Ball.
Isaiah Stewart, Detroit Pistons: Stewart was a monster down the home stretch of the season, excelling when he received an uptick in minutes. Since the start of April, the 19-year-old posted five double-doubles, averaging 10.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game while shooting 53.1 percent from the field. His efforts put him atop of the rookie leaderboard in rebounds (6.7) and blocks (1.3) per game for the season.
Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies: Bane was a steady contributor all season for a Grizzlies team that is set to try and make a push into the playoffs by way of the Play-In Tournament. He has knocked down 115 3-pointers at an impressive 43.6 percent clip to this point.
Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic: If not for a rib injury that sidelined Anthony for nearly half of his rookie season, the 20-year-old likely would have seen All-Rookie First Team consideration. He was impressive after returning from that injury, averaging 14.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists over 19 games. His two game-winning buzzer-beaters led the rookie class.
Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks: Quickley's playing time was a rollercoaster in his rookie season but when the Knicks needed a jolt of offence, he was there for his team. He had 21 games with 15 or more points with 10 of those being 20-plus-point outings and one career-high 31-point game.
Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls: Williams had a strong season in a drastic role change compared to his lone season at Florida State. After coming off of the bench in every game he played in college, Williams started in every game appeared in during his rookie season. Averaging 9.0 points while shooting a solid 47.8 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from 3 was a bright flash on the offensive end, but his defensive versatility is what has Bulls fans excited about the 19-year-old's future.
2020-21 NBA Rookie Leaderboard
|Points per game leader||Anthony Edwards||Timberwolves||19.1 PPG|
|Rebounds per game leader||Isaiah Stewart||Pistons||6.7 RPG|
|Assists per game leader||LaMelo Ball||Hornets||6.2 APG|
|Steals per game leader||LaMelo Ball||Hornets||1.6 SPG|
|Blocks per game leader||Isaiah Stewart||Pistons||1.3 BPG|
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