It’s pretty normal to expect that some players may take some time to adjust their mentality and physique to the NBA and what it demands when they come out of high school, college or overseas, as not all players develop as quickly as predicted.
You can definitely find a lot of inconsistency and frustration as well as growing pains during the first couple of seasons in the NBA, especially when it comes to the rookie campaign, being in the spotlight while you have to play alongside or against the very same guys you used to look up (or despise) as a kid.
A lot of things can go wrong during your first season in the Association. For instance, let’s take a look at Julius Randle, who suffered a season-ending injury during his debut. Besides, some coaches aren’t always very keen to give a lot of playing time to rooks.
And sometimes, there’s simply a guy that played a lot better than you, although not always those guys wind up having better careers. So today, we’ll take a look at the top 10 NBA players that didn’t win the Rookie of the Year award.
10. Isiah Thomas
“The baby-faced assassin” was the 2nd pick of the 1981 draft coming out of Indiana as a very crafty point guard that could score in bunches, spending all 13 seasons with the Detroit Pistons, where he won back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990, as well as winning one Finals MVP award as the ultimate face of the Bad Boys.
Nevertheless, during his rookie season, he was snubbed from the ROY by Buck Williams, a 3-time All-Star and defensive specialist that spent 16 seasons in the Association, averaging 15.5 points and 12.3 boards with 1 steal and 1 block during his rookie season, while Isiah averaged 17 points and over 7 assists, but the Pistons finished with a losing record, which took a toll in his ROY chances.
9. John Stockton
John Stockton barely touched the hardwood during his first 3 seasons in the NBA, playing under 24 minutes in all of them and making a combined 45 starts with below-average numbers, until he managed to average over 8 assists in just 22 minutes per contest and took the starting point guard gig in Utah.
So, it took some time for Stockton to become one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, make 11 All-Star appearances and 5 All-Defensive teams while leading the league in assists in 9 different seasons. Ah, and there was that guy Michael Jordan who won the ROY during that 84-85 season, so there’s that.
8. Julius Erving
Before James Michael McAdoo (if you have even heard of him), there was his father, the great Bob McAdoo, a 2-time NBA champion that averaged 22.1 points and 9.4 boards per game, as well as 18 and 9.1 as a rookie, earning the Rookie of the Year honors.
Of course, nobody debates McAdoo’s greatness or impact, but due to that great rookie season, he actually took the award away from one of the greatest glories and more influential players in basketball history, Dr. J; who was already a proven ABA veteran during McAdoo’s rookie campaign.
7. Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley was one undersized fierce competitor that took the Philadelphia 76ers in his own hands from the very first day he set foot on the court, averaging 14 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 1.9 assists and 1 block per game during the 1984-85 season.
Sadly for him, that was also the very same rookie year of that guy we mentioned before, Michael Jeffrey Jordan, that made sure that Barkley didn’t win anything in his entire career, besides that gold medal he won playing beside him.
6. Karl Malone
Karl Malone is no questions asked one of the most dominant and gifted players on both ends of the court, creating an outstanding dynasty alongside aforementioned Hall of Famer John Stockton, but even with his great rookie numbers of 14 points, 8.9 rebounds and over 3 assists for the Utah Jazz, he just couldn’t overcome the hype surrounding Patrick Ewing.
The Georgetown product was the best young player in the league during that season, with averages of 20 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.1 blocks per game on almost 48% from the floor, winning the 85-86 Rookie of the Year as the 1st overall pick of the draft.
5. Scottie Pippen
Scottie Pippen doesn’t get the credit he deserves for the Bulls success just because Michael Jordan got most of the glory, but before LeBron’s surge, he was probably the best small forward in the history of the game for his offensive versatility and ability to play lockdown defense against pretty much every single guy in the Association.
Nevertheless, playing just over 20 minutes per game with averages of 7.9 points won’t get you much praise during your rookie campaign, so Mark Jackson made the most of it with his averages of 13.6 points and an impressive 10.6 assists per game as the New York Knicks rookie point guard, winning the ROY in that 87-88 season.
4. Hakeem Olajuwon
Last but not least, we have Hakeem the Dream, yet another victim of Michael Jordan’s rookie season. Still, the 2-time NBA champion had an outstanding season coming out of Houston to be the 1st overall pick, averaging over 21 points and 11 boards to go along with almost 3 blocks per game as a rookie.
Still, Michael Jordan was even more impressive, as the 6-time NBA champion and the greatest player in basketball history averaged 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.4 steals per game on over 51% from the field, starting all 82 games coming out of UNC.
3. Bill Russell
If it wasn’t for Michael Jordan, perhaps people would still state that Bill Russell was the greatest player in the history of the game, winning 11 championships as the most dominant player of his era and leading the Boston Celtics to the top in competitive basketball.
And if you notice the fact that this guy actually averaged 14.7 points and 19.4 rebounds as a rookie, it’s pretty hard to imagine somebody taking the ROY away from him. Sadly, his very same teammate Tom Heinsohn managed to pull it off. averaging 16.2 points and 9.8 boards, making 72 appearances during the season while Russell was only able to make 48.
2. Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson is still to date the leader in assists per game average in league history with his 11.2 dimes per contest, dominating every aspect of the game as an almost 7 foot point guard with as much talent on the offensive end as he did on defense, being capable of guarding all 5 positions and putting up a lot of points on a nightly basis.
Nevertheless, he couldn’t overcome historic rival, Larry Bird, for the Rookie of the Year award, as Larry Legend averaged 21.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists while shooting over 40% from both 2 and 3, topping every stat from Magic except for the assist category, and winning the 79-80 ROY award.
1. Kobe Bryant
And we have finally reached the top of our list with the greatest player in Los Angeles Lakers history: Kobe Bean Bryant. Still, the shooting guard had a really tough rookie campaign, making just 1 start and playing less than 16 minutes per game on his way to averages of 7.6 points, 1.9 boards and 1.3 helpers per game.
On the other hand, the standout athlete and 1st overall pick had a feast during his rookie campaign, averaging 23.5 points, 4.1 boards and 7.5 assists per game while making 74 starts for the Philadelphia 76ers, winning the 96-97 Rookie of the Year award, but who could that guy be? Of course, none other than Allen Iverson himself.