Neither has a shot at the playoffs, and both have leading candidates for Rookie of the Year. No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins has put together a nice rookie season for the Timberwolves and from many accounts, is the likely winner of the ROY award. Magic point guard Elfrid Payton, the No. 10 pick in the draft, is however the most deserving, and it isn't really close.
Wiggins and Payton play different positions, so direct comparisons are not fair, but we can take a look at each player's performance, put it in context and then assess which player had the more outstanding rookie season. Wiggins came into the league as a player who would be able to score and play solid defense. In terms of statistics, we can look at scoring in terms of volume (points scored per 36 minutes) and efficiency (true shooting percentage), and we can look at defensive activity in terms of defensive rebounds (defensive rebound percentage) and steals (steals per 36 minutes).
Wiggins is scoring 16.1 points per 36 minutes and has a true shooting percentage of 51 percent. On his own team, both Shabazz Muhammad (21.3 points/36 min, 56 percent TS) and Kevin Martin (22 points/36 min, 57 percent TS), who like Wiggins play on the wing, are scoring more and more efficiently than Wiggins.
Defensively, Wiggins is no more impressive in the context of his own team. Of all the Timberwolves players currently with the team, Wiggins is dead last in defensive rebound percentage at 9.2 -- behind point guard Ricky Rubio (17.6 percent), fellow rookie Zach LaVine (11 percent) and 31-year-old shooting specialist Kevin Martin (11.8 percent).
Additionally, Wiggins' 1.1 steals per 36 minutes put him again behind rookie LaVine (1.2 steals/36 min) and seventh out of the players with more than 500 minutes played this season. In terms of overall team impact, the Timberwolves do score one more point per 100 possessions when Wiggins is on the court, but they also allow one more point per 100 possessions when Wiggins is on the court.
The award, of course, is for an outstanding rookie, not an outstanding player on the Timberwolves. We can, though, put Wiggins' performance in these areas in context of all other rookies -- ever. Looking for rookies who scored at least 16 points/36 min with a TS percent of 51 percent or better, had at least 1.1 steals/36 minutes and a defensive rebound percentage of at least 9 (who, of course, played at least 1,500 minutes their rookie season), we get a list of 59 players, and for every Larry Bird and Vince Carter on that list, there is a Christian Laettner (I hate that guy) and an Eddie Jones.
Wiggins' candidacy suffers further by comparison to the two most recent wings to win the award, Kevin Durant and Brandon Roy. Both Durant and Roy scored more per 36, scored more efficiently and rebounded better than Wiggins. Roy had more steals than Wiggins per 36 with Durant just 0.1 behind. Basically, despite leading all rookies in minutes played, what Wiggins has done this season is just not that outstanding.
The same cannot be said for Payton.
As the No. 10 pick in the draft, Payton came into the season with the reputation of a strong passer who could defend and rebound as a point guard. Payton leads his team in assist percentage (31.7) with backup point guard Luke Ridnour in second place with 21.7 percent. Defensively, Payton's 1.9 steals per 36 minutes also leads the Magic. He has the highest total rebound percentage of all wings and guards with over 500 minutes on the Magic at 7.8. Additionally, when Payton is on the court, the Magic score four more points per 100 possessions and allow one and a half fewer points per 100 possessions.
So, despite his poor but developing shooting, Payton has clearly had a major impact on his team, and that impact only looks more impressive when put in the context of other rookies.
The list of rookies with an assist percentage greater than 31 percent, steals per 36 minutes greater than 1.8 and total rebound percentage greater than 7.7 percent has four names on it -- including Payton. The three other players to hit those totals as rookies are Chris Paul, Jason Kidd and Nate McMillan. Paul and Kidd both won ROY honors. So not only has Payton's performance been impactful on his team, it is historically rare. Add in that Payton is the youngest player in that group and Payton-over-Wiggins for ROY is a clear choice.
• Despite being behind the Clippers in the BPI standings, the Spurs have a 40 percent chance of making it to the Western Conference finals due to their playoff experience.
• The Hawks lead the league with 2.8 more wins than their BPI expectations, and the Warriors are second with 1.3.
• The Celtics' odds of making the playoffs are up to 34 percent, but the C's have the hardest remaining schedule of the four teams vying for the last two spots in the Eastern Conference.
• The Rockets now have a 57 percent chance of hosting their first-round playoff series.
• Over the past two weeks, the Celtics have improved their BPI by 0.7 points and two spots in the rankings -- the largest gain in that time frame.
Note: The NBA Basketball Power Index (BPI) is a measure of team strength developed by the ESPN Analytics team. BPI is meant to be the best predictor of a team's performance going forward for the rest of the season. BPI represents how many points above or below average a team is. BPI accounts for game-by-game efficiencies, strength of schedule, pace, number of days' rest, game location and preseason expectations. Ratings will be updated in this space weekly.