As part of it's forecast series, ESPN released their Rookie of the year predictions today. A panel of 215 voters voted for their top 3 selections, with points assigned to each place selection. Unfortunately, Cleveland Cavaliers #1 overall selection Anthony Bennett was not among the top 5 in total points. In order, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke, Ben McLemore, Cody Zeller, and CJ McCollum were the panels favorites.
However, in a separate piece, ESPN's Chad Ford ranked Bennett second to Oladipo in his selection of ROY candidates. From Ford:
The case for Bennett: Like Oladipo, Bennett is ready for the physical rigors of the NBA right away. He has an NBA body and athleticism and should be able to hold his own. He also is a uniquely skilled big man who can score from anywhere. One-dimensional rookies often suffer when NBA defenses take away the thing they like to do the most; with Bennett, they'll really have to pick their poison. Finally, the Cavs really reached for Bennett with the No. 1 pick, so despite the logjam at power forward, you can expect him to get significant minutes.
The case against Bennett: Like Oladipo, he might not even start this year. He also has gained weight since his shoulder surgery. Will he be in good enough shape to win Mike Brown's trust in training camp? Given Brown's defensive leanings and Bennett's struggles to guard guys while he was at UNLV, will he even play Bennett much?
What does this mean? Not a whole lot really. These are offseason projections, and I would assume many are not an indictment of talent, just the realities of playing time and situation. Oladipo and Zeller are playing for lottery teams that will feature them. McCollum and possibly McLemore are playing for teams that could be around .500, but they will have the green light. however I think McCollum will struggle to find minutes, or a lot of touches in a suddenly crowded back court with Damian Lillard, Mo Williams, and Wes Matthews. Burke figures to have the ball in his hands a lot, but I'm bullish on him. Chris Paul sticks out in my head as a small guard that really exploded as a rookie, but Jameer Nelson and Kemba Walker stick out as examples of great struggle. I'm not saying Burke will be bad, but I think he will have a harder time than a lot of people think adjusting to the size and athleticism of NBA guards.
As for Bennett, Ford sums up my feelings pretty well, and why I think the panel didn't have him in the top 5. If everything goes according to plan, the Cavaliers have 96 minutes in the front court to split among Bennett, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Bynum, Tyler Zeller, and Anderson Varejao. It will be hard for him to garner enough time to really stand out among rookies that are in worse situations. However, much like the rest of the Cavs, projecting him is wide open. With two notoriously injured centers on the roster, playing time for Bennett could open up very quickly.
Finally, remember, the Rookie of the Year award is mostly meaningless. Sprinkled among the great players that have won it, there are names like Emeka Okafor, Tyreke Evans, and Mike Miller. What we need to focus on with Bennett is his production in the time he does get, and how efficient he is with that time. I'm willing to bet he will turn in a season we'll all be proud of.