This Thursday just gone, the NBA continued its end of season recognition with the announcement of the All-Rookie teams. For the Magic, a team whose second half was largely defined by the rookies on the roster, there wasn’t a player among the ten named to claim as their own. Was this to be expected, or a case of disrespect?
Orlando’s best hope when it came to rookie recognition undoubtedly rested with Cole Anthony. Having already proven himself without shyness when it comes to big moments and bold expectations, the young point guard was predictably ticked off by the perceived snubbing after failing to crack the nationally-selected ballot.
But was he right to feel that way?
Figuring out the field
If we begin our comparisons at the top, it would be difficult to earnestly argue the case for Anthony over any of the five selected to first team honors. LaMelo Ball quickly established himself as a potentially game-changing talent, coasting to Rookie of the Year despite missing a sizable chunk of time with injury. The number one overall pick, Anthony Edwards, wasn’t all that far behind him in the race, improving noticeably as the season unfurled and racking up the volume numbers that came with the opportunity of playing in Minnesota. The other name in the mix was Tyrese Haliburton, who immediately pushed to be the value pick of the draft with his smart and steady play.
Joining this triumvirate in the first five was Saddiq Bey of the Pistons and Jae’Sean Tate of the Rockets, a pair of unexpected risers who put together solid campaigns in relatively significant roles. Bey proved himself to be a sharpshooter despite playing on a routinely outgunned side, while Tate emerged down the stretch as a bit of a swiss army knife with an all-round game. Both were worthy of the recognition, with a body of work clearly superior to what Anthony was ultimately able to put together. Zero arguments here.
Digging into the second five is where things get more interesting. Immanuel Quickley, the sixth-placed vote getter, almost certainly has the most air-tight case, with per-game averages similar to Anthony’s but compiled in a more efficient manner. The New York point guard enjoyed superior true shooting (.557%) and effective field goal (.497%) percentages, utilizing a more accurate three-point stroke (38.9%) to push him ahead in that particular race. He was also more careful with the ball, with a turnover rate of just 8.1%, likely influenced by the fact that he wasn’t called on to playmake as frequently as Anthony. Win share and box plus/minus metrics predictably also favored Quickley over Cole, but that’s to be expected considering the higher quality of his team. All things considered, it’s clear his spot was warranted.
Desmond Bane might be the least sexy name among the field, but he also turned in a campaign that made for a pretty unimpeachable case. Toiling away in Memphis the first year two-guard put up 9.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists each night, with a combined 0.8 stocks for good measure. His greatest strength, however, was felt in his shooting efficiency: 46.9% from the floor, including a rookie-best 43.2% from deep on four attempts each night. He didn’t get to the line all that much, but his general accuracy amounted to a true shooting mark of .600% and an effective field goal percentage of .586%, some of the best marks among the rookie crop. Although his role was reduced in the playoffs, he ultimately impressed in a team that played meaningful games all season long. Again, there should be no complaints with his selection ahead of Anthony.
In Detroit and Chicago, respectively, Isaiah Stewart and Patrick Williams also put together rookie resumes that were worthy of recognition. A variety of advanced metrics appreciated Stewart’s disruptive contributions, with 1.3 blocks and 2.3 offensive rebounds each night propelling him to a PER of 16.4 and one of the higher rookie rates of win shares per-48 minutes with .132. The catch-all metrics didn’t love Williams as much, but he elevated his case over Anthony’s with more efficient scoring numbers — 48.3% from the field, 39.1% from deep and a true shooting percentage of .562% — combined with the reliability of 71 starts in 71 total games.
An imperfect ten
That leaves us with nine spots accounted for and agreed upon, and just one more opportunity for Anthony to claim disrespect against the voting block. Luckily for him, the final selection appears to be a particularly egregious one. Cleveland’s Isaac Okoro, the fifth overall pick last summer, is the other player to have claimed one of the final spots on the All-Rookie second team, a recognition that genuinely seems to be somewhat baffling.
The 6-5 wing finished the season with averages of 9.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game in 67 contests (all starts). These are all inferior counting stats when compared to Anthony (12.9, 4.7, 4.1), despite Okoro being afforded more than five extra minutes of court time each night. He was ostensibly a 3 and D wing, albeit one who made just 29.0% of his 4.9 long range attempts per-100 possessions; again, these are both numbers that Anthony — 33.7% on 6.6 attempts — easily eclipsed. Okoro also finished in the negative when measured by the defensive box/plus minus figure. It’s hardly a compelling entwining of narrative and numbers.
There are also other metrics by which Anthony clearly had Okoro’s measure. He shouldered a significantly greater usage rate when on the floor, accounting for almost one quarter of all Magic possessions (24.3%). By comparison, Okoro was at best a complementary fourth option, soaking up just 14.3% of offensive opportunities for the Cavaliers. Considering the vastly different roles and responsibilities, the fact that Anthony’s turnover rate was only marginally worse than his Cleveland counterpart’s — 14.8% against 12.0% — should also be recorded as a win for the Magic’s rookie point guard. Anthony was a central figure for his team, whereas Okoro was a minor role player.
The arguments for Anthony don’t end there. He was a significantly more effective rebounder — a defensive rebounding rate of 15.4% compared to just 7.3% — despite giving up three inches of height. Catch-all metrics like PER (12.1 compared to 7.9) and VORP (-0.4 against -1.6) both favor Anthony, as does the box plus/minus rating (-3.3 over -5.0) that aims to capture the team’s rate of performance when they were on the court. In fact, outside of general shooting efficiency numbers, it’s difficult to make any sort of case for Okoro as a more impactful player than Anthony.
The difference, then, may have laid in the games played count, which Okoro claimed by suiting up in 67 contests compared to Anthony’s 47. However, despite playing 20 more games and exactly 900 more minutes on the season, Anthony still managed to accumulate more total rebounds (221 to 206) and assists (192 to 128), while also nearly matching his fellow rookie in points (605 to 646), three pointers made (58 to 62) and free throws drained (109 to 114). Put simply, Anthony achieved way more in his time on the hardwood.
The final verdict
So, with all of that out of the way, have we arrived at an answer? Was Cole Anthony snubbed in the All Rookie team race?
Yeah, he was.
Two players on relatively rudderless teams put up somewhat noteworthy but often inefficient stats in games where, most nights, winning didn’t matter all that much. Both picked up steam as the season moved towards its end, although one managed to emerge as the singular most important — and impactful — cog remaining in his team’s respective rotation.
That player was Anthony, who was frequently the best player on a bad team down the season’s stretch.
In a race like this — for the tenth and final spot in a roll call of rookie recognition that will almost certainly be forgotten in the not-too-distant future — the debate probably doesn’t matter all that much. Still, it feels like Anthony did enough this season to rightfully deserve that honor. He should have made the All-Rookie Second Team.
Let him now use that disrespect, however slight, to fuel a continued ascent in this league.