Last year’s tank-fest in the NBA is already paying dividends for several NBA teams as this has been one of the deepest and most productive rookie classes in a long time. Several years down the road we may look back at this draft the same way we do the 2003 draft that gave us several players that changed the competitive landscape in the NBA for year in LeBron, Melo, Bosh, and D-Wade. It should be a competitive race for Rookie of the Year, but there are already a few candidates that stand out above the rest.
10. Mo Bamba, Orlando Magic, #6 Pick
Bamba has a limited role with the Magic and had only been able to record one double-double so far this year. Despite his limited 17 minutes per game he was able to put together a 5 block game at home against the Kings. I don’t think there is anything to be concerned about with the sixth overall pick, he has pretty good production for a rookie, he just happened to be drafted to a team that is overrun with veteran bigs.
9. Allonzo Trier, New York Knicks, Undrafted
No doubt this is the guy who has most outplayed his draft position. The Knicks had the #9 pick in the draft and took Kentucky forward Kevin Knox who looked to be poised to compete for Rookie of the Year, but it has been the undrafted Trier that has Madison Sqaure Garden on its feet. Trier was considered on of the top prospects coming out of high school and was supposed to compete for a National Championship with #1 overall pick Deandre Ayton at Arizona last year but it never seemed click for the pair or the team. Flash forward 1 year and they are both productive rookies in the NBA. It looks like the Knicks have themselves a steal in signing Trier.
8. Shai Gilgious-Alexander, LA Clippers, #11 Pick
His name is a nightmare to type out but he is one of the few rookies that has an important role in a winning team. Gilgious-Alexander has started 13 games for the Clippers this year, a team that before they played the Mavericks a few days ago were the #1 team in the Western Conference. Playing meaningful minutes he is able to shoot, defend, and run the offense all at a young age.
The Clippers drafted #12 and #13 this year, they have real potential with Gilgious-Alexander but we have yet to see what #13 pick Jerome Robinson has to offer. When you see SGA on the court it is immediately notice that he is longer and taller than most all other guards on the floor. The 7 foot wingspan is real and if the Clippers can keep themselves among the West’s elite you could find him among ROY candidates.
7. Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers, #8 Pick
He goes by the nickname of the Young Bull, and for good reason. Sexton already has an NBA ready body and his shot is a little more advanced than some scouts thought. It is hard to get a good evaluation on Sexton because the Cavs are so bad, but nothing here has an aroma of bust. He is a competitor on both ends of the floor and looks like he is poised to have a very long NBA career.
6. Wendell Carter Jr, Chicago Bulls, #7 Pick
The fact that Wendell Carter Jr is the 6th ranked rookie really speaks to the quality and depth of this draft. He is already a good NBA center and he is only 19 years old. He reminds you of a young Al Horford the way he can shoot, score on the block, defend the rim, and pass effectively. He can do a lot of different things but defense is really where he has excelled as a Rookie. His 1.6 blocks per game is second among rookies and 14th overall in the NBA.
Something is building in Chicago, Carter Jr and 21 year old Lauri Markkanen is a great young frontcourt to build around and 23 year old Zach Lavine has undoubtedly taken the next step in his career averaging 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists this season.
5. Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings, #2 Pick
Bagley is the most athletic guy we have seen out of this draft, his leaping ability on first and second jumps stands out in a league of incredible athletes. Although he doesn’t average the most rebounds among rookies he is by far the leader in offensive rebounds per game, 2.7 of his 6.8 rebound per game are offensive. His soft touch around the hoop paired with his vicious dunks keeps defenders guessing in the paint.
He has the athleticism to rack up blocks but he will have to improve his individual defense below the rim if he is going to be near the top of this list. One area that has been very impressive this year is Bagley’s ability to shoot from deep. He started out really hot from 3 point range but has since cooled off, just 21 games into his career it is hard to tell if shooting will be a strength or weakness.
4. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns, #1 Pick
Deandre Ayton has all the tools to be a great NBA player. He has size, length, post up skills, and a smooth jumper. He has put a lot of these skills to work already in this young season, his 16 points and 10 rebounds are numbers that have seldom been replicated by rookies.
Ayton loses a lot of points in these rankings because of how awful the Phoenix Suns are. They have an elite level scorer and playmaker in Devin Booker, about 5 years of lottery picks, and veterans such as Trevor Ariza and Jamal Crawford. With these players, paired with the #1 overall pick as highly touted as Ayton, myself and Suns fans expected more. He may need to focus less on his own numbers and focus more on getting wins.
3. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks, #5 Pick
Steph Curry says he is getting sick of the comparison of him to Trae Young, but he better get used to it. Aside from Steph, nobody else in the league is will to pull up for a 40 foot 3 pointer on his way down the court.
His shooting percentages are awful so far this season but that seems more to do with shot selection and a poor team than it does actual shooting skills. It’s pretty rare for rookies to shoot efficiently from downtown so I am not too concerned as of today. If he is still shooting at this rate 1 or 2 years from now Hawks fans will be tearing their hair out.
Trae Young was the first player to lead the NCAA in points and assists for a reason. His vision and passing skills mixed with his ability to shoot and stretch the floor separate him from a lot of other young prospects. His 7.6 assists per game is almost twice what the next highest rookie averages.
We have already seen Young put up some ridiculous stat lines, just 23 games into his career. His 35 point, 11 assist, 1 turnover performance against Cleveland is one of the top games by any Rookie yet this year. Performances like these surely contributed to Young being named the Eastern Conference November Rookie of the Month.
2. Jaren Jackson Jr, Memphis Grizzlies, #4 Pick
Triple J may have benefited in these rankings just due to the fact that he was drafted by a winning team, but wins mean something. Aside from Luka this is my favorite rookie this year, and I hate it because he plays for the Mavs Southwest Division rival, Memphis Grizzlies.
His shot blocking is already elite. We are only a quarter of the way through the season and Jackson Jr has already recorded a 7 block game. To go along with that, JJJ has such a smooth 3-point stroke for a big man that we are going to have to start calling him quadruple J. He would make any team in the NBA better, as he has proven to make Memphis better as they sit atop the division and right among the top teams in the West.
I am already surprised by the number of 20 point games JJJ has been able to produce. I though he would contribute greatly to the Memphis defense but I was really expecting minimal offensive game from the 19 year old who played just 20 minutes per game in his one season at Michigan State.
1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, #3 Pick
Luka Doncic, aka The Matador aka WonderBoy, has been better than advertised. That is very high praise as Luka was drafted as the most accomplished 19 year old prospect of all time.
Not only does Luka have the best overall numbers but he has the best NBA moments of any rookie. His step-backs against superstars like Harden and Kyrie, his blocks against LeBron, and buzzer beaters left and right show that all of the clutch rumors we heard about Doncic are true. Flip through Mavs or NBA social media and you are bound to see some sort of list that places Luka Doncic among some of the greatest players to ever suit up, my list of the greatest teenagers of all time is no different.
What separates Luka is that he can control the game in every way. He is an elite iso-scorer, playmaker, rebounder, and ball handler. The fact that Luka is shooting nearly 40% from 3 and averaging 1.1 steals and 0.4 blocks can put any criticism of inefficient shooting and lack of athleticism to rest.
Not only is Luka a great rookie but he is making a run at being the best NBA teenager ever and has a legit shot of making the All-Star game as a rookie, a very rare feat. Being voted Western Conference Rookie of the Month already gives him the leg up on being the NBA 2019 Rookie of the Year.
Rookie Ranks Heat Map:
This graphic easily shows where each rookie excels and struggles. The green areas shows categories that player does great relative to everyone else and a red box shows they rank last in that category compared to everyone else. This reinforces the fact that Luka is an amazing all-around player, at or near the top in every major statistical category, only struggling in blocks and turnovers.