In a draft class that was not highly touted, a number of rookies have flourished much sooner than anticipated and made names for themselves in the first year of their young careers. Three players stood out at the very top, much like the top five in this upcoming draft, and showed why during their first season. Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball certainly shined the brightest but there were many rookies who exceeded expectations and made their mark during their first campaign. Here, I take a look at the 10 best rookie performers from the 2020 NBA Draft.
10. Isaiah Stewart, PF/C, Detroit Pistons
2020 NBA Draft Selection: Round 1, Pick 16
Stewart’s season did not start off great as his minutes were inconsistent and his impact was minimal, but he is starting to come into his own and find a role on the Pistons as the season winds down. Detroit is only 20-50, but two of their rookies – Stewart and Saddiq Bey — are providing hope for a rebuilding franchise.
Stewart may be a bit undersized, but he makes up for it with brute strength and solid footwork in the paint. He has shown the ability to hang with anybody down in the post and also score on the perimeter, which has been a quicker than expected development in his game. He is a rare combination of a traditional big who can punish in the post and a modern big who can also stretch the floor making him an intriguing draftee to keep an eye on in the next few years.
9. Desmond Bane, SG, Memphis Grizzlies
2020 NBA Draft Selection: Round 1, Pick 30
Bane was known as one of the best shooters coming into the draft and he has lived up to that status in Year 1. He has 47/44/81 shooting splits as a rookie and is the best three-point shooter among qualifying rookies with his 44% mark on four attempts per game. Bane is an impactful bench scorer who has also made 16 starts throughout the season. I believed Aaron Nesmith would be the top shooter in this year’s class, but Bane is already proving me wrong and asserting himself as one of the best young shooters in the entire NBA.
8. Patrick Williams, SF/PF, Chicago Bulls
2020 NBA Draft Selection: Round 1, Pick 4
Williams may not have lived up to a top-five selection during his rookie season, but he is still one of the more exciting prospects in this class with plenty of development still to come. He averaged nine points and close to five rebounds this year, which is a decent impact for a rookie, especially considering most of the hype around him is for the future. Williams is an extremely versatile forward with elite athleticism.
As one of more raw players in the NBA, there is no need to panic that he did not put up the numbers of the three guys drafted before him. It is not too difficult to imagine this guy turning into one of the best players in this year’s class a few years down the line, but he was still good enough to rank in the top 10 in 2021.
7. Cole Anthony, PG, Orlando Magic
2020 NBA Draft Selection: Round 1, Pick 13
A rib injury that kept out Cole Anthony for 25 games in the middle of the season was a huge blow for the young star out of North Carolina, but his performances while he has been on the floor are certainly promising for Magic fans desperate for hope. A trade that sent Nikola Vucevic to the Chicago Bulls, along with trading away Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon, placed the Magic in a full rebuild that is currently centered mostly around their young rookie Cole Anthony.
He has struggled with shooting efficiency, just like he did at North Carolina, but the 20-year-old has shown flashes of brilliance and his lack of fear for the big moment. He has already drilled a game-winning buzzer beater and 12 points with four rebounds and assists per game is not too shabby for the young star. IF he can improve his shooting percentages in years to come, Anthony could be a star in this league and a steal in this draft.
6. James Wiseman, C, Golden State Warriors
2020 NBA Draft Selection: Round 1, Pick 2
Another player who battled injuries and missed significant time as a rookie is James Wiseman. He made 39 appearances and contributed an impressive 11.5 points per game along with 5.8 rebounds considering he only played three live action games against actual competition at Memphis.
He very easily could be higher on this list, but the injury and slow development of an outside jumper allowed a few players to jump ahead with more consistent production this season. He should be farther along in his three-point shot development than a player like Isaiah Stewart, given he was the #2 selection in the draft and has a more modern skillset than the Pistons rookie. Despite the red flags, Wiseman still showed brilliant flashes and reminded us why he was still deemed worthy of the second overall selection without any real college experience. But the Warriors are in a difficult position bringing along a talented big that clearly slows down the tempo and puts a clamp on what they’re attempting to do, considering the team blossomed once Wiseman went down with an injury.
5. Saddiq Bey, SF, Detroit Pistons
2020 NBA Draft Selection: Round 1, Pick 19
I was a bit surprised to see Saddiq Bey fall to 19 in the draft as I loved his size and shooting ability for a wing player in an accomplished two-year career at Villanova. He still has room to improve as a defender, but he is thriving offensively in his rookie season in Detroit. He is averaging over 12 points per game and is adjusting well to the lengthier three-point line by shooting 39% from beyond the arc.
Bey is one of the most natural scorers in this draft and can flourish in a variety of roles. He may not have the ceiling of some of the players behind him on this list, but he has been one of the most productive rookies and will likely continue this throughout a long NBA career. The Pistons found a gem at #19 in the draft.
4. Immanuel Quickley, PG/SG, New York Knicks
2020 NBA Draft Selection: Round 1, Pick 25
Another player who has outperformed his draft selection is Immanuel Quickley. The 2020 SEC Player of the Year was not even the highest draft selection from his own school as Tyrese Maxey was selected four picks earlier. He is proving that to be a mistake this year as a steady contributor for the surging New York Knicks.
He is averaging over 11 points per game in just 19 minutes in their crowded backcourt. His two-point efficiency is not quite there yet, but the Kentucky product already showcases a smooth floater and solid three-point shooting. He also ranks as one of the top pick-and-roll initiators in the entire league making him a versatile combo guard who will find a role no matter who is around him. This was truly one of the best, if not the best, value picks in the entire 2020 NBA Draft.
3. Tyrese Haliburton, PG/SG, Sacramento Kings
2020 NBA Draft Selection: Round 1, Pick 12
While there was a clear top three prior to the 2020 NBA Draft, Tyrese Haliburton has replaced James Wiseman as the third best rookie this season. His sensational season would often be considered the best by a rookie with 13 points, three rebounds, and five assists per game with most of his appearances coming from the bench. The former Cyclone is fitting in perfectly with slashing playmaker De’Aaron Fox in the backcourt as the Kings finally have the perfect tandem to build around.
Haliburton is taking care of the ball with only 1.6 turnovers per game and shoots a high percentage of 41% from distance. It is not ludicrous to expect that he can emerge as a consistent 50/40/90 player as he finished this season with 47/41/86 splits as a young rookie. An injury cut his season short after 58 games, but his impact was immense while he was on the court and the Kings have to be excited for the future with Fox and Haliburton running the backcourt.
1B. Anthony Edwards, SG/SF, Minnesota Timberwolves
2020 NBA Draft Selection: Round 1, Pick 1
It is very difficult to discern who is the best rookie in this class with two young stars in Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball. Edwards is an explosive athlete who is still raw and is averaging 19 points per game anyway. The emergence of Edwards has not directly translated to success for the Timberwolves, but if they can keep their selection this year and find another superstar in the top three.
The Atlanta native is oozing with potential, and his rookie stardom is just a glimmer of what he can be in this league. Edwards is still only 19 years old and with a few more years of development, he could be one of the best players in the entire league. The Timberwolves hit a home run with this pick, and I do not think they could be happier with the production they have gotten from the top overall pick.Edwards may ultimately prove to be the more durable player and over time that could be a big factor.
1A. LaMelo Ball, PG, Charlotte Hornets
2020 NBA Draft Selection: Round 1, Pick 3
It’s a tough choice between Edwards and Ball for the top rookie, but I have to go with LaMelo here because of the success he has brought to a franchise desperate to return to the playoffs. Injuries have decimated their roster as Ball missed 21 games of his own while Gordon Hayward and Malik Monk have also battled long-term injuries. The Hornets are still holding onto a playoff spot and will be battling for the 7 or 8 seed in the upcoming play-in tournament.
Ball has shined ever since his 0-point performance in his first career game and is emerging as one of the most dynamic point guards in the league at the young age of 19. We knew he would be an outstanding passer and playmaker coming into the league, but his shooting is far better than expected at 36% on five attempts per game. The percentage is not elite, but what was a perceived weakness is far from it as he is averaging 16 points per game to go along with six rebounds and assists per game.
There is still, remarkably, plenty of room for improvement as he could transform into a triple-double machine and one of the best playmakers and shot creators in the entire league. We could see endless debate for the next 15 years over who the best player in this draft class was, but it will likely come down to Edwards and Ball, the two players who shined the brightest in their rookie seasons.