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Zion Williamson says Ja Morant has ‘earned’ being Rookie of the Year frontrunner

Memphis Grizzlies v New Orleans Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 31: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans and Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies stand on the court during a NBA game at Smoothie King Center on January 31, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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When the staff at NBC’s NBA page put together our Rookie of the Year picks, it was unanimous: Ja Morant was the winner.

Zion Williamson may well be the better player three or five years from now — he’s probably the better player now — but the fact Williamson only played in 19 games. In contrast, Morant played in 52 and led his team to a playoff position (when play was suspended), which puts Morant in front for the award.

Williamson gets that — he understands Morant is the frontrunner. Yes, Williamson wants the award, but he gets it. Williamson was on NBA Together with Ernie Johnson of TNT and talked about the ROY race.

“Ja being a brother of mine, I’m happy for Ja. Ja has worked for it, he’s earned it. I give respect when it’s due. I always do. But you know, as a competitor — I’m just a competitor — I want to win at everything, I’m not going to sit here and say I don’t want to win, I want to win at everything. So, my goal was if I could rally my team into the playoffs hopefully I could make a run for [ROY]. It’s just God’s plan at this point.”

It’s difficult to picture god or Adam Silver coming up with a plan where teams will play enough regular season games that the Pelicans (or Trail Blazers, for that matter) can make up the 3.5 games they trail the Grizzlies. If the regular season had played out and the Pelicans suited up for the 18 games they had left, they might have made up the ground. However, the talk around the league is a handful of regular season games at best — going straight to the playoffs is more likely — and that leaves Zion with the 52>19 math problem.

Some scouts think Morant will turn out to be the better long-term prospect — he will get stronger, his shot should improve, and most importantly, he will have the ball in his hands as a shot creator. That’s never going to be the heart of Williamson’s game.

I’d still take Zion long term, but Morant is going to be special. Let’s just hope we get to see both of them on a court again soon.