Each year, one of the questions NBA Draft observers ponder is which prospect will be the preseason favorite for Rookie of the Year honors. This doesn't always match up with the presumptive (or eventual) No. 1 pick in the draft; most understood that while Dwight Howard was made the No. 1 pick in 2004, Emeka Okafor, a college junior, was the more likely Rookie of the Year. Okafor did win R.O.Y., while Howard's had the better career (by far).
That's a second point to keep in mind: the R.O.Y. doesn't define the best player in a rookie class. It's more of a one-year progress report with an insanely solid predictive power. Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, LeBron James -- all R.O.Y.s. Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Hakeem Olajuwon and Howard weren't, but few R.O.Y.s end up with less-than-stellar careers.
So where do R.O.Y.s come from? Do you need the top pick to have a good shot to pull the R.O.Y., or will a top-five get you a good chance?
Here, we take a look at the number of Rookie of the Year winners since 1985 selected at each position in their respective drafts. (Note that in the two instances of a tie -- 1995 and 2000 -- we included both instead of splitting the vote.)
The number of No. 1 picks who became R.O.Y. stands out: 12 of the 29 winners were the top choice overall in the draft. Players picked No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 have won a combined 11 R.O.Y. awards in that span. Only four of the last 29 players to claim a R.O.Y. were picked outside of the top five. (Those four are Brandon Roy, Damon Stoudamire, Amar'e Stoudemire and Mark Jackson.)
That speaks to strong NBA scouting on one level; it's impossible to get every slot just right, but on the whole, the NBA doesn't miss on R.O.Y. candidates. In the 2011 race, John Wall (No. 1 in 2010) and DeMarcus Cousins (No. 5) finished second and third behind 2009 No. 1 Griffin; the 2010 winner that may have been Griffin if not for injury was No. 4 pick Tyreke Evans. Only when there are overwhelming concerns -- Roy's knees, off-the-court issues for Stoudamire and Stoudemire -- do true top-flight, ready-to-play prospects fall.
Of course, there are a number of All-Stars and even All-NBA players who landed outside the top five, top 10 and even the first round. These usually end up being undervalued collegiates (Carlos Boozer) or undersung internationals (Manu Ginobili). But these players -- at least not in the past few decades -- haven't burst into the league at R.O.Y. level.
The lesson here is that if you want a rookie making an immediate and great positive impact, you'd better be picking in the top five. The NBA Draft Lottery -- its May 17 this year -- will, in large part, decide which team has the next Blake Griffin, so start hoarding those lucky stars.