There's a battle brewing in the NBA's Rookie of the Year race between Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis.
Lee Jenkins: Karl-Anthony Towns, Wolves
Big guys don’t win this award, at least not often. The last four winners were guards or wings. The last center to finish first was Emeka Okafor more than a decade ago. But the race has been supersized this season, with Karl-Anthony Towns the clear choice, and Kristaps Porzingis running a respectable second. The Timberwolves are a mess, but Towns appears immune, demonstrating an array of scoring, rebounding, shot-blocking and ball-handling talents more dynamic than what he showed at Kentucky. Porzingis is almost as versatile, able to play inside and out at 7’3”, but Towns has a slight head start on him.
Ben Golliver: Karl-Anthony Towns, Wolves
After running neck-and-neck through the first quarter of the season with Kristaps Porzingis, Towns has opened up a noticeable statistical edge over his top competition for this award. The No. 1 overall pick has made the transition from college to the pros look relatively easy, and he ranks second in scoring, first in rebounding, first in Player Efficiency Rating and first in Win Shares among 2015 draft class members. Although Porzingis has the benefit of playing on a bigger stage, Towns has proven himself to be a polished and intelligent centerpiece who is capable of even more offensively than he’s shown so far in Minnesota’s archaic system. So far, his best statistical comp as a 20-year-old rookie is Chris Webber, who won the 1994 Rookie of the Year award before going on to have a Hall-of-Fame-caliber career. No one should be surprised if Towns’s career ends in Springfield, too.
Rob Mahoney: Karl-Anthony Towns, Wolves
While I’m sure there will be an understandable clamor for Kristaps Porzingis to win ROY, I honestly don’t know of a single area of the game in which he bests Towns at this stage. When in doubt, I go with the do-it-all scorer, top-10 rebounder, and positional anomaly who’s well ahead of the learning curve on defense.
Matt Dollinger: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks
Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor have put up better numbers, but no rookie has impressed more than the long Latvian. Kristaps Porzingis has assimilated to New York quicker than Prince Akeem. The NBA has never seen a big man quite like him: poster dunks, highlight blocks, three-point range and a deft touch. Not to mention a thick skin. He’s helped do the impossible (restore hope in the Knicks) and has made the biggest impact of any rookie in his class. Unlike Okafor and Towns, who are performing at a high level on a small stage, Porzingis is shining under the harsh Broadway limelight. New York looked like a franchise without a plan entering this season, but thanks to Porzingis’s arrival, Phil Jackson is looking like a genius once again.
DeAntae Prince: Karl-Anthony Towns, Wolves
There were two factions at the start of the season: Team Okafor and Team Towns. Well, it didn’t take long to figure out which group was on the wrong side of that debate. Sixers big man Jahlil Okafor has produced nice surface numbers, but on a team that is the laughing stock (again) of the NBA. In fact, Kristaps Porzingis’s season, which has made the Knicks playoff contenders, might have pushed him into second place. Towns remains the most complete player of the bunch, however. There are still improvements to be made, but he outpaces Okafor and Porzingis in rebounding, shooting percentage, and PER.
Jeremy Woo: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks
Karl-Anthony Towns is number one in the stats, but Porzingis has played his way to number one in our hearts (sorry). And while his output (14 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.0 blocks) has been outstanding, particularly relative to expectations, more importantly, his performance has played a huge part in reshaping the outlook for the much-improved Knicks. A motivated Carmelo and some shrewd off-season moves also matter, but Porzingis being a legitimate starter and versatile two-way player has jolted his team into the playoff conversation. He’s the surprise of the season.