The 2019-2020 NBA season is off to a phenomenal start, as there are seemingly more NBA Finals contenders than we’ve seen in a long time in this league. Additionally, the NBA rookie class has come into the league with a bang, as there are more rookies playing major roles on their teams than we normally see at this point in the season. That’s with Zion Williamson not even stepping on the court yet as well. With the NBA season approximately a quarter of the way through, here’s my rookie rankings.
Note: These rookie rankings are based on the season each player is having, NOT based on each player’s long-term outlook.
1. Ja Morant, PG, Memphis Grizzlies
Season Stats: 28.7 MPG, 18.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 6.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 45.7 FG%, 41.0 3PT%, 76.5 FT%
Outlook: Ja Morant has missed the last four games due to back spasms, but other than that he’s been phenomenal this season and by far the frontrunner to win the Rookie of the Year award. Not only is he leading all rookies in PPG, and APG, but his shooting splits, especially from 3, are far better than many expected them to be for Morant’s first season in the league (TS% 53.7%). If there’s one thing that Morant undoubtedly needs to improve, it’s his defense. Other than that, Morant looks like a guy who will be an all-star within the next two or three years.
2. Brandon Clarke, PF, Memphis Grizzlies
Season Stats: 21.2 MPG, 11.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 63.0 FG%, 45.5 3PT%, 82.6 FT%
Outlook: It must feel pretty good for the Grizzlies to have two of the best players in the class. The fact that Brandon Clarke fell all the way to pick 23 was a crime. I had him pegged as a player who was being undervalued by the NBA, as the league worried that he’s undersized and not long enough. However, his athleticism more than makes up for both of those things. Clarke, who’s out week-to-week with an injury, is barely playing over 20 minutes per game, but is clearly making the most of his minutes as he’s fifth in the NBA in field goal percentage, and 20th in the NBA in PER. He’s also averaging 0.9 steals per game and 1.6 blocks per game per 36 minutes, as he’s a force on the defensive side of the ball.
3. P.J Washington, PF, Charlotte Hornets
Season Stats: 28.2 MPG, 11.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 49.1 FG%, 42.1 3PT%, 64.0 FT%
Outlook: P.J Washington has started every game this season for the Hornets, and is a major reason why the team is 9-15 when most expected them to be the league’s worst. The 6’7” forward from Kentucky has shot lights out from three-point range so far, as he’s shooting 42.1% on 3.2 attempts per game. Another highlight of Washington’s has been his defense, as he’s averaging 1.1 SPG and 0.8 BPG, as well as having a positive DBPM. While a bit undersized, it’s clear P.J Washington has everything it takes to be a really good stretch four in this league.
4. Eric Paschall, SF, Golden State Warriors
Season Stats: 31.9 MPG, 17.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 50.7 FG%, 30.4 3PT%, 81.1 FT%
Outlook: Selected at 41st overall in the NBA Draft, Eric Paschall received an opportunity that not many second round picks in the NBA Draft get. He played over 30 minutes on opening night, as the Warriors’ depth is horrendous this season. Once Draymond Green got injured, Paschall stepped up his game, scoring 34 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in a win over the Trail Blazers on November 4th. With Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson injured, Paschall is the leading scorer for the Warriors this season. However, Paschall’s defense hasn’t been good this season, as pretty much all his defensive metrics are very low (0.0 DWS, -2.9 BPM). You can make an argument that if several other rookies were in his situation, they’d be doing similar if not better. After all, the roster looks much like a G-League one right now, so who else is going to score? That being said, the number Paschall is putting up this year are still impressive for a second round pick, and he deserves credit for that.
5. Kendrick Nunn, SG, Miami Heat
Season Stats: 29.4 MPG, 15.2 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 44.1 FG%, 34.9 3PT%, 75.9 FT%
Outlook: Kendrick Nunn spent all of the 2018-19 season in the G-League after going undrafted. This season, he’s started every game for the 16-6 Miami Heat, which is pretty impressive. Nunn started out the season on fire, as he had 20 or more points in seven of his first 14 games. However, he’s quieted down a bit over his last eight games, not recording a 20-point game since. In addition to Nunn’s scoring bursts, he’s also contributed defensively averaging over a steal per game. Nunn was certainly a great find for the Heat.
6. Tyler Herro, SG, Miami Heat
Season Stats: 28.4 MPG, 14.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 44.8 FG%, 38.1 3PT%, 82.2 FT%
Outlook: Tyler Herro started the first three games for the Heat this season, and has since been moved to the bench. As a lights-out shooter, Herro’s three-point percentage has been far below where I expected it to be. However, he’s still contributing 14 PPG off the bench for a 16-6 Miami Heat team. It was pretty hard to rank Herro and Nunn, as their statistics are almost identical across the board. However, don’t be surprised to see Herro sky up this list by the end of the season, as I expect his shooting number to drastically increase.
7. Rui Hachimura, SF, Washington Wizards
Season Stats: 29.2 MPG, 14.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 49.0 FG%, 20.9 3PT%, 86.8 FT%
Outlook: I was low on Rui Hachimura coming into the season, as his passing, defense, and efficiency were all major concerns. However, Hachimura has impressed me so far this season. While passing and defense still aren’t good by any means, Hachimura efficiency hasn’t been bad at all. He’s averaging 14.1 PPG with a true shooting percentage of 53.7%, both very solid numbers. Another major flaw in Hachimura’s game is his three-point shooting, which is at 20.9% on 2.0 attempts per game. However, every rookie has their flaws. The question with Hachimura going forward is going to be whether or not he can sustain this level of efficiency, and if he can improve upon those holes in his game right now. With the size and athleticism of Hachimura, there’s still a lot of potential there.
8. R.J Barrett, SG, New York Knicks
Season Stats: 32.1 MPG, 14.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 39.5 FG%, 31.0 3PT%, 53.2 FT%
Outlook: I like what I’ve seen from R.J Barrett this year, and I think he’s going to end up being a top-five player in the class. He’s shown this season that he can get to the rim at ease, probably his biggest strength right now. That being said, this year has been tough at times for Barrett. His efficiency is pretty brutal, as he’s shooting below 40% from the field. In addition, he’s shooting only 31.0% from downtown. His three-point shot was a major concern coming into the NBA. I do expect Barrett to improve as the season goes on, as he’ll get more opportunities when the Knicks sell off some of the veteran they have at the trade deadline. The coaching change will also have an impact on Barrett’s improvement going forward.
9. Coby White, PG, Chicago Bulls
Season Stats: 24.8 MPG, 12.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG, 36.7 FG%, 35.0 3PT%, 77.5 FT%
Outlook: The field goal percentage for Coby White has been horrible, but there is still a lot of good to take away from what he’s done this season. White is shooting 35% from downtown, which is a pretty decent number, and has scored 25+ points in four games this season. The flashes have been there, but there have also been the games where White can’t buy a bucket, which is driving his FG% down. White hasn’t started a single game this season, but I’d expect to see him potentially get an opportunity to do so at some point during the season, as the Bulls are 8-15.
10. Jaxson Hayes, C, New Orleans Pelicans
Season Stats: 21.1 MPG, 8.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 61.3 FG%, 0.0 3PT%, 66.1 FT%
Outlook: Jaxson Hayes has been starting at center for the Pelicans 10 of the last 11 games due to injuries and he’s made an immediate impact. Hayes is shooting 61.3% from the field, and averaging over a block per game. Hayes athleticism and defense are what gives him so much potential going forward. No one expected him to have an impact this early in his career, and here we are. Despite not playing much at the beginning of the season, Hayes already has 1.2 win shares, the third-most of all rookies behind Brandon Clarke and Eric Paschall. I have a feeling Hayes could be a lot higher on this list by the end of the season.
Next Up: Cam Johnson, Jarrett Culver, Matisse Thybulle, DeAndre Hunter, Darius Garland, Terrence Davis
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