Lonzo Ball is the favorite to win NBA Rookie of the Year next season. (Frank Franklin II/AP)
Despite competition including two No. 1 overall picks, former UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball has the best odds to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award next season.
The No. 2 overall pick of the Lakers at Thursday’s NBA draft was given 5/2 odds to win the award by oddsmaker Bovada. Ben Simmons, the 2016 No. 1 overall pick who missed all of last season due to injury, has 3/1 odds and is followed by 76ers teammate Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick at 5/1 odds.
2017-2018 NBA Rookie of the Year – Odds to Win
Lonzo Ball, Lakers (UCLA) – 5/2
Ben Simmons, 76ers (LSU) – 3/1
Markelle Fultz, 76ers (Washington) – 5/1
De’Aaron Fox, Kings (Kentucky) – 7/1
Josh Jackson, Suns (Kansas) – 9/1
Jayson Tatum, Celtics (Duke) – 9/1
Jonathan Isaac, Magic (Florida State) – 16/1
Malik Monk, Hornets (Kentucky) – 16/1
Dennis Smith, Mavericks (NC State) – 16/1
TJ Leaf was lauded for his interview skills as much as anything during the NBA Draft Combine last week. The former UCLA power forward interviewed with 14 teams at the combine and has since worked out with three teams individually.
TJ Leaf was the most dynamic offensive weapon for the highest-scoring team in college basketball
Strengths: TJ Leaf was the best one-on-one player on the highest-scoring team in the country. Coupled with the freshman forward’s ability to run (and stretch) the floor, he was UCLA’s most dynamic offensive weapon. Surrounded by shooters and the best facilitator in college basketball, Leaf was in an ideal situation to succeed. But when he needed to create his own shot, he had abundant success scoring on anyone from anywhere. His 61.7 field goal percentage ranked fourth among all power five conference players and the 6-foot-10 freshman shot 47 percent from 3-point range, making him the best stretch four in college basketball aside from Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen.
Weaknesses: Leaf was plenty athletic and surprisingly physical on the defensive end, but he was very slow to adapt as a help defender. Most of Leaf’s defensive shortcomings were mental. He was slow to rotate, was consistently beaten on back-door cuts and generally had a difficult time keeping his head on a swivel. UCLA’s lack of perimeter defense put an unhealthy amount of pressure on UCLA’s big men, but it also exposed Leaf’s lack of continuity with his teammates on the defensive end.
UCLA’s victory at then-No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 3 was the Bruins’ signature win most of this season. The only one that may have surpassed it was a road win at Arizona nearly three months later.
Before Tuesday’s practice, Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf promptly dismissed its December triumph in Lexington, KY – at least as it pertained to Friday’s matchup with second-seeded Kentucky in the Sweet 16.
“We’re both different teams right now,” Leaf said. “And the stakes are a lot higher. So it’s going to be a completely different game than the first one.”
Thirty-five games into its season, UCLA is better than it was nine games in. Naturally, a Kentucky team even more freshman-driven than UCLA is also considerably better, according to Ball.
One thing Ball and Leaf agree will be the same is the fast pace. UCLA outran Kentucky in the 97-92 win that snapped the Wildcats’ 42-game home winning streak. The Bruins’ 90.2 points per game make them the highest scoring team in the country. Kentucky isn’t far behind in ninth with 85.2 points per game. It figures to be another track meet on Friday at FedExForum in Memphis.