In a rough year for NBA rookies, how does Giannis Antetokounmpo stack up?

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

He only got one vote, but we all know Giannis is really the greatest.

It wasn't exactly a banner year for rookies in the NBA. The NBA's official announcement of this season's Rookie of the Year confirmed what was largely seen as a foregone conclusion: the top rookie this year was Philadelphia's Michael Carter-Williams. MCW took 104 of the 124 possible first-place votes and finished with 569 total voting points, more than 200 points more than the 2nd place finisher, Orlando's Victor Oladipo (364). Utah guard Trey Burke placed 3rd (96).

Carter-Williams put up some eye-catching numbers for the awful 76ers, becoming just the third rookie in NBA history to average at least 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists per game, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The other two were Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson. Good company.

Nobody would call MCW's debut disappointing--indeed, his domination of the class despite being picked 11th overall was big news--but those counting stats paint a slightly prettier picture than more advanced metrics. MCW rates third among qualified rookies with a 15.6 PER, but just 12th in WS/48 (.026). ESPN's Real Plus-Minus is similarly deflating, tagging Carter-Williams with a -3.08 overall rating (marginally ahead of Brandon Knight, FWIW).

Oladipo and Burke follow the same pattern. Both rate slightly below-average according to PER (6th and 11th among rookies, respectively) and quite bad according to WS/48 (13th and 14th). They grade out a bit better in RPM: Oladipo at -0.62, buoyed by his defense, and Burke with a -1.20 net rating (thanks to a +2.05 mark on offense).

The question Bucks fans want answered is where Giannis Antetokounmpo fits into this whole breakdown. While his per-game numbers tell the tale of a marginal player at best, one with little hope of ever making a real impact on the court, anyone who watched him play this season knows there is plenty of potential below the surface, the sort that doesn't translate to the box score. Normally I'm loathe to focus on this "little stuff", since it's generally used as a stand-in for real detailed exploration, but Giannis personified the stat-less rookie superstar, if such a thing exists. At least one member of the national media was paying attention, though! Giannis' sole third-place vote for ROY came from Brian Davis of Fox Sports Oklahoma, who does play-by-play for the Thunder. Jim Paschke's ballot was Oladipo-MCW-Burke, while Charles Gardner went MCW-Burke-Oladipo.

So where does Giannis stand in relation to the season's top rookies? We can turn back to those advanced metrics to get a decent idea. He's 15th in PER at 10.8 and ranks just ahead of MCW in WS/48 (.031). He's even with Burke in RPM at -1.20, though his good offense/bad defense split is less extreme. There are a few spots where he stands out:

  • His 19.3 assist ratio is the highest among all the non-guard rookies (or is he a guard?) and 10th overall. Assist ratio is an estimate of the percentage of possessions a player uses that end in an assist.
  • On the other hand, his 19.4 turnover ratio is 4th-worst, which looks pretty bad in the context of his 10th-ranked usage rate.
  • While he didn't attempt a ton, Giannis made a higher percentage of his three-point shots than any of the top-3 rookies (34.7%). For comparison, Trey Burke made about a third of his triples, but he took almost three times as many. Giannis also topped all three podium guys in TS%.
  • As for raw excitement? Carter-Williams might give Giannis a run for his money, but I think this makes a compelling case in favor of the Greek Freak.
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