Washington Wizards: Can Bilal Coulibaly actually win Rookie of the Year?

Bilal Coulibaly of the Washington Wizards (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Bilal Coulibaly of the Washington Wizards (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

A few weeks ago, the Washington Wizards rookie Bilal Coulibaly gave a confident interview to Rafael Barlowe of the Locked On NBA Big Board, where he set himself the goal of winning “Rookie of the Year.” Seeing the ambitious mentality of their 19-year-old rookie was certainly exciting for the Wizards fans. But, how realistic is this goal for the Frenchman? Can Coulibaly defy odds and actually win the Rookie of the Year?

The last Wizard to win the award was Wes Unseld in 1969. Even players like John Wall and Bradley Beal, who had excellent rookie seasons failed to win the award. Being the best first-year player in any given season is a difficult task.

The Rookie of the Year race will be even more competitive this season

This season it might be even harder than usual. Victor Wembanyama is one of the highest-profile rookies to ever come into the NBA. No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Chet Holmgren is also going to be a rookie after missing all of last season. Scoot Henderson could have easily been a No. 1 overall pick in any other draft. The overall talent at the top of this year’s draft class makes it a challenging year to compete for the Rookie of the Year.

Moreover, the last six ROY winners were all drafted in the top four of the draft and were starters on their teams on day 1. Almost every winner of the award was a ball-dominant perimeter player who scored a lot. In the last 20 years, only one player has won the award without averaging at least 15 points per game – Malcolm Brogdon in 2017- and that was a famously weak rookie class, especially after Joel Embiid missed more than half of the games that season. It would be a massive surprise if this year’s draft class had that dearth of high-end talent.

This doesn’t bode well for Coulibaly’s prospects of winning the award. There simply haven’t been too many ROY winners of Coulibaly’s mold. Unflashy, defense-first players who don’t average a lot of points don’t get much love from award voters, especially early in their careers.

Coulibaly’s meteoric rise tells us not to count him out

Stylistically, the closest ROY winner in recent years to Coulibaly was Scottie Barnes in 2022. However, even Barnes averaged 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists as a rookie. Given his projected role and playing time, it’s almost impossible to see Coulibaly hitting those averages as a 19-year-old. Chances are, there will be plenty of rookies who are more NBA-ready, start on their teams, and have the ball in their hands more than Coulibaly.

However, nothing is impossible, especially after looking at Coulibaly’s career trajectory. The kid was playing in the youth team of Metropolitans 92 less than a year ago, and now he is a top-10 draft pick in the NBA. He clearly doesn’t shy away from a challenge, so it will be fascinating to see how he fares in this rookie class.

The Washington Wizards fans should be thrilled to have him on an All-Rookie team. Anything above that will be the icing on the cake.