Winning the Rookie of the Year award is possibly the greatest achievement in the world for a first-year player on the big stage. After all, it is the eternal goal of every college (or high school in years past) player who comes into the league wanting to make a name for themselves. It is also the most difficult task to accomplish because making a noticeable impact as a rookie is rare because veterans will be out to shut down a young player’s production immediately.
It takes something special to be a Rookie of the Year, and only one rookie out of an entire draft class gets to experience this every single year. What is equally as impressive, on an individual level, is if a rookie becomes a star as soon as he makes it to the league in terms of team impact and all-around statistics. Since 1948, we have seen a Rookie of the Year every season.
Very few players as a whole have managed to achieve this incredible feat, and it is time to list all the Rookie of the Year winners per position. By the end of the article, it will be interesting to realize that there isn’t a particular position that stands out because there has been a wide variety of Rookie of the Year winners in terms of their natural positions.
Point Guards - 18 Rookie Of The Year Awards
Players who won: Bill Tosheff (1952), Oscar Robertson (1961), Dave Bing (1967), Ernie DiGregorio (1974), Phil Ford (1979), Mark Jackson (1988), Jason Kidd (1995), Damon Stoudamire (1996), Allen Iverson (1997), Steve Francis (2000), Chris Paul (2006), Derrick Rose (2009), Kyrie Irving (2012), Damian Lillard (2013), Michael Carter-Williams (2014), Ben Simmons (2018), Ja Morant (2020), LaMelo Ball (2021)
Even if the point guard position has changed so much in recent years, it is still arguably the most important position since these players bring the ball up on the floor on a consistent basis. Throughout NBA history, the best teams have all had strong ball-handlers and floor generals who impact the game by scoring or playmaking. Interestingly, there has been a whopping 18 Rookie of the Year winners who happened to be point guards, starting with Bill Tosheff and ending with LaMelo Ball.
Tosheff stood only 6’1” and weighed 175 lbs, but that was the normal size back in the 1950s. The guard only lasted three seasons in the league, averaging 9.4 PPG and 3.4 APG in his Rookie of the Year campaign. As the league was still changing at the time, the numbers from most of the guards were not extremely impressive, but Tosheff was still the first Rookie of the Year winner as a point guard.
Oscar Robertson was the second point guard to win Rookie of the Year, and what a performance he had during the 1961 season. The future Hall of Famer posted 30.5 PPG, 10.1 RPG, and 9.7 APG for the Cincinnati in his first year, running away with the award. We clearly got an indication of what Oscar was going to be because he also made his first All-Star Team and immediately became one of the most impactful players in NBA history as a rookie. Obviously, he would go on to become the original triple-double king thanks to his athleticism, size, and all-around skills.
Dave Bing was named one of the members of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team because of his elite offensive skills and flashy style of play, and he managed to win Rookie of the Year in 1967 for the Detroit Pistons. Bing averaged 20.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 4.1 APG in 34.5 MPG and would soon accomplish 7 All-Star Teams to go along with 3 All-NBA Team appearances.
A 6’0” point guard, Ernie DiGregorio, surprised NBA fans with his high level of play in his rookie campaign because even if he was taken No. 3 overall, he was not supposed to be as efficient as he was. DiGregorio put up 15.2 PPG and 8.2 APG on a cool 42.1% shooting from the field and 90.2% from the line as a rookie.
Taken No. 2 overall, Phil Ford rewarded the Kansas City Kings for their faith in him by posting 15.9 PPG and 8.6 APG in his rookie campaign. Shooting 46.5% from the field, Ford had a knack for getting good shots and also finding his teammates for good looks. Ford would have two more seasons averaging at least 16 PPG and 7 APG before his production would become impacted considerably.
One of the all-time great playmakers, Mark Jackson, was a speedy yet smooth operator with the ball in his hands. A natural floor general, Jackson averaged 13.6 PPG and 10.6 APG in his rookie season, capturing Rookie of the Year because averaging a double-double as a rookie is not an easy thing to do. Jackson would make his first All-Star Team the following year, clearly proving to be an excellent pick at No. 18 overall.
A triple-double threat from the point guard position and one of the best floor generals in NBA history, Jason Kidd was an easy choice for the Dallas Mavericks with the No. 2 overall pick. Kidd averaged 11.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 7.7 APG, 1.9 SPG, and 0.3 BPG while playing some of the best on-ball defense as a guard. Dallas knew Kidd would become a star one day, and the player captured Rookie of the Year honors as his first achievement.
Standing only 5’10”, Damon Stoudamire had a lot of things going against him as he came into the league as the No. 7 overall pick. But he put that aside, posting solid averages of 19.0 PPG and 9.3 APG while nailing 39.5% of his threes. A solid marksman and playmaker, Damon surprised some people by how comfortable he was handling the ball for the Toronto Raptors.
Sure, many claim Allen Iverson was a shooting guard for most of his career. But he was the starting point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers in his rookie season, posting 23.5 PPG and 7.5 APG on 41.6% shooting from the field. An elite ball-handler and speedster, Iverson put a ton of pressure on the defense, which is why he was given free rein as a point guard at only 21 years of age.
Steve “Franchise” Francis was an elite athlete as a 6’3” point guard because he could explode off his feet with ease and had the physicality to finish with a bucket on most occasions. A volume scorer, Francis would make his mark in his rookie season by posting 18.0 PPG and 6.6 APG on 44.5% shooting from the field for the Houston Rockets. The point guard would eventually become a three-time All-Star for the franchise that took him No. 2 overall in the 1999 NBA Draft.
One of the best floor generals in NBA history, Chris Paul, was sensational in his rookie season because he already possessed natural leadership skills and all-around offensive prowess at the early age of 20 years old for the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. The miniature point guard only stood 6’0”, but he posted 16.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 7.8 APG, and 2.2 SPG as a first-year player with clear superstar potential.
Derrick Rose looked like something special in his rookie season because he was inhumanly athletic as a 6’3” point guard with unlimited explosiveness and hops. Rose was taken No. 1 overall in the 2008 Draft, and he rewarded the Chicago Bulls with excellent production. The 20-year-old phenom averaged 16.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, and 6.3 APG in 81 games played, an indication of what was to come from the future MVP.
Almost all pundits and fans knew the Cleveland Cavaliers were going to select Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft because he had elite offensive skills and some of the best handles ever from a young guard. Kyrie averaged 18.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG, and 5.4 APG for the Cavaliers despite only appearing in 51 games due to injury.
For the second-straight year, a point guard won Rookie of the Year after Kyrie Irving did it in 2012. Dame was selected No. 6 overall in the 2012 Draft, a travesty considering how elite he looked in college. Nonetheless, Lillard proved to be a spectacular signing by the Trail Blazers as he put up 19.0 PPG and 6.5 APG on 36.8% shooting from three.
For the third straight year, a point guard captured Rookie of the Year. Michael Carter-Williams was an interesting selection by the Philadelphia 76ers with the No. 11 overall pick, because he had great size at 6’5” and looked like a triple-double threat at times. The point guard won Rookie of the Year by posting 16.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, and 6.3 APG and many thought he would become a multiple-time All-Star, although that never happened.
All jokes aside, Ben Simmons deserved Rookie of the Year in the 2018 season. The Australian was drafted in 2016 but missed the entire 2017 season with a foot injury. A lot of criticism came in Ben’s way for winning Rookie of the Year because many thought he was actually a second-year player, but he played his first 81 games with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2018 and averaged 15.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, and 8.2 APG regardless.
Ja Morant was going to be a great player, but nobody expected him to be as good as he was in his Rookie of the Year campaign. The Memphis Grizzlies found their point guard of the future when they selected Ja No. 2 overall, and the explosive guard surely put forth a consistent effort by averaging 17.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, and 7.3 APG while nailing 47.7% of his shots from the field. Two years later, Morant is a superstar player with an All-Star Team selection under his belt.
The latest rookie to win Rookie of the Year, LaMelo Ball had a great season with the Charlotte Hornets when he posted 15.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 6.1 APG while nailing 35.2% of his threes. A 6’7” point guard with natural playmaking and floor leadership, Ball proved to be a fantastic signing with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. One year later, Ball has an All-Star selection to his name.
Shooting Guards - 13 Rookie Of The Year Awards
Players who won: Paul Hoffman (1948), Howie Shannon (1949), Earl Monroe (1968), Geoff Petrie (1971), Darrell Griffith (1981), Michael Jordan (1985), Mitch Richmond (1989), LeBron James (2004), Brandon Rookie of the Year (2007), Kevin Durant (2008), Tyreke Evans (2010), Malcolm Brogdon (2017), Luka Doncic (2019)
Most NBA fans might not know who Paul Hoffman was, but he was a 6’2” shooting guard who won the first Rookie of the Year award when he posted 10.5 PPG on 34.8% shooting for the Baltimore Bullets. His numbers do not stand out when compared to modern players, but he still has the case for being the first rookie to impress as a shooting guard above anyone else.
A 6’2” shooting guard who was taken No. 1 overall in the 1949 BAA Draft, Shannon dropped 13.4 PPG in the BAA and 8.8 PPG in the NBA over his first two seasons. The guard only played two seasons professionally, and he has the second-ever Rookie of the Year award by a shooting guard to show for it.
Earl “The Pearl” Monroe made the game of basketball look so beautiful, a major reason why he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. The guard was taken No. 2 overall in the 1967 NBA Draft and rewarded the Baltimore Bullets for their faith by posting 24.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 4.3 APG while shooting 45.3% from the field. Of course, Monroe would build on that by becoming a 4-time All-Star and Hall of Famer.
Geoff Petrie only played 6 seasons in the NBA, but he did enough to win Rookie of the Year in his first season and also make two All-Star Teams. The 6’4” shooting guard made his first All-Star Team in his rookie year, posting 24.8 PPG and 4.8 APG for the Portland Trail Blazers as the No. 8 overall pick. Unfortunately, Petrie would suffer knee injuries that would derail his career after his 6th season because he looked like a great player.
Darrell Griffith was taken No. 2 overall in the 1980 NBA Draft and had a great season by posting 20.6 PPG on 46.4% shooting from the field in 35.4 MPG. The Utah Jazz knew Griffith would be a go-to scorer for the franchise, and he would go on to average at least 20 PPG four times in his career despite never making an All-Star Team.
Michael Jordan was taken No. 3 overall in 1984 because the Houston Rockets took Hakeem Olajuwon with the No. 1 pick, and the Portland Trail Blazers selected Sam Bowie with the No. 2 pick. Jordan had one of the all-time great rookie campaigns, posting 28.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, and 5.9 APG while shooting 51.5% from the field. To the eyes of many, we were already witnessing one of the all-time greats by the time his rookie campaign was over.
A go-to scorer and one of the most underrated players of the 1990s, Mitch Richmond would have a very solid rookie campaign when he averaged 22.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 4.2 APG for the Golden State Warriors. A solid jump shooter with solid athleticism, Richmond was taken No. 5 overall in the 1988 Draft and certainly made his mark felt as an offensive talent.
LeBron James is the greatest small forward of all time, but he was listed as a shooting guard during his rookie campaign. Standing 6’9” and weighing over 240 lbs, James was clearly NBA-ready because he was a physical specimen to behold. Unsurprisingly, James won Rookie of the Year in a loaded draft class that also featured Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh. By averaging 20.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 5.9 APG, James let the NBA know he was coming.
Brandon Roy is a massive “what-if” story because he had the talent and mentality to be an all-time great shooting guard. Blessed with athleticism and a shooter’s touch, Roy averaged 16.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG, and 4.0 APG after being taken No. 6 overall in the 2006 NBA Draft. Roy won the Rookie of the Year Award, and he'd soon become an All-Star for the team, but injuries derailed the start of superstardom by the 6’6” scorer.
Another all-time great small forward, Kevin Durant, was listed as a shooting guard in his rookie season because he was a slender 6’10” and did not even look like he was 200 lbs at the time. A natural scorer with clear superstar capabilities, Durant was taken No. 2 overall behind Greg Oden, and he averaged 20.3 PPG and 4.4 RPG on 43.0% from the field, 28.8% from three, and 87.3% from the foul line. Soon, Durant would develop into one of the game’s most feared offensive players.
Tyreke Evans has had a strange NBA career because he had an excellent rookie campaign with the Sacramento Kings when he averaged 20.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 5.8 APG after getting drafted No. 4 overall in the 2009 NBA Draft. But Evans never built on that rookie campaign, instead getting traded a few times and getting a long suspension from the NBA due to his violation of the Anti-Drug Program.
Malcolm Brogdon had a surprisingly good year for the Milwaukee Bucks, winning Rookie of the Year after he posted 10.2 PPG and 4.2 APG on 45.7% shooting from the field and 40.4% shooting from three. Standing 6’5” and weighing over 220 lbs, Brogdon was a very solid contributor on both ends of the floor and beat out Dario Saric and Joel Embiid for individual achievement.
The last shooting guard to win Rookie of the Year, Luka Doncic made a huge statement in his rookie campaign when the Dallas Mavericks selected him in a deal that would give the Atlanta Hawks Trae Young. Doncic averaged 21.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 6.0 APG while showcasing his ability to dominate the offensive end with natural scoring and playmaking ability. As great of a player as Trae Young is, the Mavericks won the deal because Luka is already a superstar player at age 23.
Small Forwards - 12 Rookie Of The Year Awards
Players who won: Paul Arizin (1951), Elgin Baylor (1959), Terry Dischinger (1963), Rick Barry (1966), Jamaal Wilkes (1975), Adrian Dantley (1977), Walter Davis (1978), Chuck Person (1987), Grant Hill (1995), Vince Carter (1999), Mike Miller (2001), Andrew Wiggins (2015)
Small forwards have proven to be the most effective players in the game these days, mainly because of their size and varied skill sets. A superstar small forward is large enough to have a physical impact on the game while remaining mobile enough to handle the ball, score, and play defense. That is why multiple small forwards have led teams to NBA championships over the past decade.
A Hall of Famer, Paul Arizin averaged 17.2 PPG and 9.8 RPG for the Philadelphia Warriors as he won Rookie of the Year. Taken No. 3 overall in the 1950 Draft, Arizin would make his mark felt on the floor as a scorer and leader. The following year, Arizin won his first of two scoring titles and would eventually become one of the all-time great players in the 1950s.
Easily one of the thirty greatest players of all time, Elgin Baylor made it known he was going to be one of the top players in the game by his rookie season. The superstar forward averaged 24.9 PPG on 40.8% shooting, excellent numbers for a score-first player in his first year. Of course, Baylor would retire as an 11-time All-Star.
Terry Dischinger had the best season of his career in his rookie campaign, posting 25.5 PPG and 8.0 RPG on 51.2% shooting for the Chicago Zephyrs. Making the first of his three straight All-Star Teams, Dischinger had one of the best rookie campaigns of the 1960s although his career would take a massive dip after he took up a two-year hiatus for military service in 1966.
A Hall of Famer and one of the greatest small forwards of all time, Rick Barry accomplished everything in the NBA from an NBA championship to 12 All-Star Team appearances. Rick was known for his unorthodox free-throw shooting, but he was an unstoppable player with the ball in his hands. Of course, he won Rookie of the Year by posting 25.7 PPG and 10.6 RPG on 43.9% shooting from the field and 86.2% from the foul line.
A 3-time All-Star and 4-time NBA champion, Jamaal Wilkes made his presence felt for the Golden State Warriors when he dropped 14.2 PPG on 44.2% from the field and 73.4% from the free-throw line. A 6’6” small forward, “Silk” had a knack for scoring the ball smoothly and also impacting the game on the boards. No wonder he captured Rookie of the Year honors as a No. 11 overall pick.
A 6’5” small forward who would become a 2-time scoring champion with the Utah Jazz, Adrian Dantley averaged an impressive 20.3 PPG and 7.6 RPG for the Buffalo Braves on 52.0% shooting from the field. A smooth scorer with an inside and outside game, the best would yet to come for the future Hall of Famer and 6-time All-Star.
“Greyhound” Walter Davis never made it to the Hall of Fame, but he was a talented wing player who could score the ball with ease thanks to his velvet touch. Standing 6’6” and weighing 193 lbs, Davis did not have to struggle to score in his rookie season as he dropped 24.2 PPG, which would end up being his career-high mark.
A 6’8” forward who was taken No. 4 overall in the 1986 NBA Draft, Chuck Person averaged 18.8 PPG and 8.3 RPG in his first year for the Indiana Pacers. He would spend a total of 6 seasons in Indiana, with his career-high coming in year three when he posted 21.6 PPG. Overall, Person would win the Rookie of the Year over guard Ron Harper, who also had a great season by posting 22.9 PPG and 4.8 APG.
Make no mistake, Grant Hill was supposed to be the next Michael Jordan after the GOAT began to age. An all-around superstar with unstoppable dribble moves, Grant Hill averaged 19.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG, and 5.0 APG for the Detroit Pistons and immediately made an All-Star Team. We hardly got to see enough of Hill because he would become a superstar before injuries derailed his career for good. No question, Hill might headline the ultimate list of “what-if” stories.
The game’s greatest dunker and one of the most popular athletes of all time, Vince Carter had an excellent rookie season with the Toronto Raptors. The small forward showed a willingness to create his offense, a major reason he put up 18.3 PPG as a rookie. The following season, Carter would average 25.7 PPG and make his first All-Star team.
A sharpshooter as soon as he entered the league, Mike Miller averaged 11.9 PPG on 40.7% shooting from three in his rookie season. The forward was extremely raw in other areas, but he got the job done as a knockdown shooter who showed excellence in moving without the ball. Orlando made a solid decision with the No.5 overall pick as a result.
The most recent Rookie of the Year winner as a small forward, Andrew Wiggins certainly had a great rookie season after getting taken No.1 overall in the 2014 Draft. Wiggins averaged 16.9 PPG for the Minnesota Timberwolves after he was traded for All-Star Kevin Love in a blockbuster deal headlined by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Power Forwards - 19 Rookie Of The Year Awards
Players who won: Monk Meineke (1953), Bob Pettit (1955), Tom Heinsohn (1957), Woody Sauldsberry (1958), Jerry Lucas (1964), Sidney Wicks (1972), Bob McAdoo (1973), Larry Bird (1980), Buck Williams (1982), Terry Cummings (1983), Derrick Coleman (1991), Larry Johnson (1992), Chris Webber (1994), Tim Duncan (1998), Elton Brand (2000), Pau Gasol (2002), Amar’e Stoudemire (2003), Blake Griffin (2011), Scottie Barnes (2022)
The power forward position is often underappreciated, but some of the best players ever have occupied this position. The first power forward to ever win Rookie of the Year was Monk Meineke for the Fort Wayne Pistons who averaged 10.7 PPG and 6.9 RPG in 1953 after getting drafted in the second round of the 1952 NBA Draft.
Bob Pettit, one of the game’s greatest 75 players, averaged 20.4 PPG and 11.7 RPG for the Milwaukee Hawks, using his spectacular physical strength and soft touch around the rim to dominate the paint. His rookie campaign kick started the first of eleven straight All-Star Team selections with the Hawks.
Making his first of six All-Star Team selections, Tom Heinsohn won Rookie of the Year in his first season by posting 16.2 PPG and 9.8 RPG for the Boston Celtics. Boston had a knack for drafting big men, and Heinsohn was certainly a great selection as he helped the franchise win eight NBA championships.
Taken in the 8th round of the 1957 Draft, Woody Sauldsberry averaged 12.8 PPG and 10.3 RPG for the Philadelphia Warriors. The 6’7” power forward was a solid presence in the paint, and even if his only All-Star selection would come in his second season, he had a great rookie campaign.
A 6’8” power forward who would make the Hall of Fame, Jerry Lucas should have started his rookie season in the 1963 season, but contractual issues delayed it one year. In 1964, Lucas averaged 17.7 PPG and 17.4 PPG for the Cincinnati Royals, very solid numbers for a player who made the first of six straight All-Star Teams.
Drafted No. 2 overall in the 1971 NBA Draft, Sidney Wicks made the first of four straight All-Star Teams with the Portland Trail Blazers and posted 24.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG, and 4.3 APG. Clearly a talented all-around big man, Wicks was a great selection by the Trail Blazers franchise because his impact was felt almost immediately.
Taken No. 2 overall, Bob McAdoo had an excellent rookie campaign by posting 18.0 PPG and 9.1 RPG for the Buffalo Braves. His elite scoring skill would immediately impress fans and commentators, and McAdoo would win three straight scoring titles after his rookie campaign. One of the elite power forwards, McAdoo would go on to make the Hall of Fame.
Larry Bird is a top-two small forward of all time, but he occupied the power forward spot in his rookie campaign. The sharpshooting forward averaged 21.3 PPG, 10.4 RPG, and 4.5 APG for the Boston Celtics and he made the first of nine straight All-Star Team selections. The legendary Celtics star clearly gave fans a sign for things to come.
A 6’8” power forward, Buck Williams made his first All-Star Team in his rookie campaign by posting 15.5 PPG, 12.3 RPG, and 1.0 BPG for the New Jersey Nets. Competing in all 82 games, Williams was a consistent paint presence and would prove to be a solid selection by the Nets when they selected him with the No. 3 overall pick.
A 6’9” forward with excellent scoring skills and defensive ability, Terry Cummings would prove to be an excellent selection as the No. 2 overall pick in the 1982 NBA Draft. Cummings averaged 23.7 PPG, 10.6 RPG, and 1.8 SPG for the San Diego Clippers. The forward would go on to become a multiple-time All-Star in his career.
A unique big man at the time due to his paint presence, defense, and scoring, Derrick Coleman was a capable big man for the New Jersey Nets. He averaged 18.4 PPG, 10.3 RPG, and 1.3 BPG while occupying the paint while also nailing 34.2% of his threes. Derrick would go on to make one All-Star Team in his career.
An athletic power forward with strength and explosiveness, Larry Johnson had an excellent rookie campaign for the Charlotte Hornets as he posted 19.2 PPG and 11.0 RPG while showcasing a mix of paint scoring and perimeter shooting. Johnson would also go on to form a solid pairing with All-Star center Alonzo Mourning.
A talented power forward with excellent ball-handling, passing, and scoring ability, Chris Webber had an excellent rookie year when he posted 17.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, and 3.6 APG for the Golden State Warriors. After getting traded to the Washington Bullets, Webber would blossom into a Hall of Famer.
The greatest power forward of all time, Tim Duncan made his rookie debut with the Spurs in the 1998 season and posted excellent all-around numbers with 21.1 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 2.7 APG, 0.7 SPG, and 2.5 BPG. Nailing 54.9% from the field, The Big Fundamental would show the makings of a player who would be the cornerstone for a dynasty that would win five championships.
Elton Brand won Rookie of the Year in the same season as Steve Francis, an interesting situation where both stars deserved it. Brand posted 20.1 PPG, 10.0 RPG, and 1.6 BPG from the power forward spot for the Chicago Bulls after getting drafted No. 1 overall in the 1999 NBA Draft.
Before Pau Gasol would win two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, he was an excellent player for the Memphis Grizzlies who made an All-Star Team and averaged 17.6 PPG and 8.9 RPG in his rookie season. Winning Rookie of the Year, Pau was clearly a great selection with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft.
An explosive athlete with consistent scoring ability, Amar’e Stoudemire made his impact felt for the Phoenix Suns in his rookie campaign when he averaged 13.5 PPG and 8.8 RPG at 20 years old. A raw forward, Stoudemire would go on to make multiple All-Star Teams with the Suns as he formed a dominant duo with Hall of Famer Steve Nash.
An explosive dunker who would shock people with his play in his rookie season, Blake Griffin was supposed to make his debut in 2010, but a knee injury kept him out of action. In 2011, Griffin would make the first of five straight All-Star selections with the Clippers and posted 22.5 PPG and 12.1 RPG.
For the first time since Blake Griffin accomplished it in 2011, Scottie Barnes had an amazing rookie campaign. The young starlet posted 15.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 3.5 APG while showcasing an array of basketball skills including versatility in defense and capable playmaking. For the Toronto Raptors, Barnes might be a future All-Star considering his excellent play as a rookie.
Centers - 17 Rookie Of The Year Awards
Players who won: Alex Groza (1950), Mel Hutchins (1952), Ray Felix (1954), Maurice Stokes (1956), Wilt Chamberlain (1960), Walt Bellamy (1962), Willis Reed (1965), Wes Unseld (1969), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1970), Dave Cowens (1971), Alvan Adams (1976), Ralph Sampson (1984), Patrick Ewing (1986), David Robinson (1990), Shaquille O’Neal (1993), Emeka Okafor (2005), Karl-Anthony Towns (2016)
Centers, especially in the older days, are regarded as the most dominant players in the NBA. Their sheer size and ability around the rim are the main reasons big men have dominated the NBA for the majority of the league’s history, although the game has greatly changed over the past decade. Interestingly, the last time a center won Rookie of the Year was in 2016 when Karl-Anthony Towns captured the award.
Alex Groza, at age 23, captured the first Rookie of the Year award as a center. The 6’7” big man averaged 23.4 PPG on 47.8% shooting and does not have rebounding statistics as it was not tracked in 1950. Still, Groza was the first true big man to accomplish the award and there would be 16 more centers that followed suit.
One of the few times two players captured Rookie of the Year, Mel Hutchins averaged 9.2 PPG and 13.3 RPG in 39.7 MPG. The big man was clearly not an offensive threat, but he was a capable rebounder and rim-protector who managed to put up great enough defensive numbers to win the award alongside Bill Tosheff.
Making his first and only All-Star season in his rookie campaign, Ray Felix made a great start to his career by putting up 17.6 PPG and 13.3 RPG. Felix stood 6’11” and weighed 220 lbs, making him a solid physical specimen who impacted the game as soon as he stepped foot on an NBA court.
Taken No. 2 overall in the 1956 NBA Draft, Maurice Stokes had a fantastic start to his NBA career, although it only spanned three seasons due to a post-traumatic encephalopathy illness before his fourth season. The big man made 3 straight All-Star Teams, winning Rookie of the Year in his first season by posting 16.8 PPG and 16.3 RPG.
Arguably the most dominant player of all time, Wilt Chamberlain started off his career with a massive bang. The superstar center averaged 37.6 PPG (which led the NBA) and 27.0 RPG (also led the NBA) while competing at 46.4 MPG. Making his first of thirteen All-Star selections, Chamberlain was supremely dominant on the floor as there was no answer for him on both ends of the court. Somehow, Wilt fell to No. 3 overall in the 1959 Draft because he should’ve gone No. 1 overall considering how well he impacted the game during his time.
Taken No. 1 overall in the 1961 NBA Draft, Hall of Famer Walt Bellamy had an excellent rookie campaign when he posted 31.6 PPG and 19.0 RPG. The center was obviously one of the best players in the league at age 22, which is why he made the first of four straight All-Star Teams. His production would taper off in his fourth season, but he was still a superstar talent.
A two-time NBA champion, Willis Reed was taken in the second round of the 1964 NBA Draft and immediately repaid the New York Knicks with excellent efforts. Reed dropped 19.5 PPG and 14.7 RPG, showcasing his desire and aggression to be a force on the inside. Of course, Reed would go on to be one of the most accomplished players in franchise history.
A defensive specialist without the raw scoring skills of other superstar bigs in his era, Wes Unseld was a fantastic paint protector and cog in the paint. He captured Rookie of the Year in 1969, posting 13.8 PPG and 18.2 RPG in 36.2 MPG. Taken No. 2 overall, Unseld was already one of the best bigs in the game by his rookie campaign.
Considered a top-5 player of all time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar kicked off the first season of his incredible 20-year career by capturing Rookie of the Year. The superstar center was already one of the top players in the game in his rookie season, posting 28.8 PPG, 14.5 RPG, and 4.1 APG for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Dave Cowens won Rookie of the Year in 1971, posting 17.0 PPG and 15.0 RPG for the Boston Celtics in 81 games played. Continuing the impressive selection of the Celtics, Cowens would win the Rookie of the Year before making seven straight All-Star Teams. A paint scorer and solid athlete, Cowens would become a Hall of Famer.
Alvan Adams only made one All-Star selection in his career, and it came in his rookie campaign when he also won Rookie of the Year. Adams posted 19.0 PPG, 9.1 RPG, and 5.6 APG for the Phoenix Suns after getting drafted No. 4 overall in the 1975 NBA Draft. This first season would also be the best in Adams’ career.
The Houston Rockets did not hesitate to take 7’4” Ralph Sampson with the No. 1 overall in the 1983 NBA Draft. The superstar center would make the first of four straight All-Star Teams, posting 21.0 PPG, 11.1 RPG, and 2.4 BPG. An elite paint protector and leader, Sampson was a superstar as soon as he stepped foot on an NBA court.
One of the greatest players to ever play for the storied New York Knicks franchise, Patrick Ewing, started off his resume with a Rookie of the Year campaign when he posted 20.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, and 2.1 BPG. A paint scorer and defender, Ewing would give the Knicks a sign for things to come.
The Admiral, David Robinson, was taken No. 1 overall in the 1987 Draft, but he would spend the first two years during military service with the U.S. Navy. He made his NBA debut in 1990, and what a debut it was. Robinson posted 24.3 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 1.7 SPG, and 3.9 BPG for the Spurs, dominating both ends of the floor at a superstar level.
It took three years after David Robinson before another center would win Rookie of the Year, and Shaquille O’Neal was certainly the right player to do it. The superstar was the most dominant player in the league during his rookie campaign, posting 23.4 PPG, 13.9 RPG, and 3.5 BPG for the Orlando Magic.
Emeka Okafor struggled with injuries throughout his career, but he was a very solid defensive big when he was healthy. The big man averaged 15.1 PPG, 10.9 RPG, and 1.7 BPG for the Charlotte Bobcats in his first season after getting drafted No. 2 overall in the 2004 Draft. Okafor won Rookie of the Year because he was an excellent defensive presence.
Karl-Anthony Towns was the last center to win Rookie of the Year, and he certainly impressed with his all-around ability and athleticism. The center posted 18.3 PPG, 10.5 RPG, and 1.7 BPG while shooting 54.2% from the field, 34.1% from three, and 81.1% from the foul line. Since then, Towns has made three All-Star teams.