Rookie Rankings
2020-2021 NBA Rookie Rankings: Number Two (Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)

2020-2021 NBA Rookie Rankings: Number Two

The 2020 draft class was always going to be a bit of a raffle. The top players were flawed, but the draft was deep with potential role players. It was always probable that players drafted in the 20’s were going to be as good as players taken mid lottery, and so it has proven. In the second edition of our Rookie Rankings, we see who has built upon a solid start, who has stepped up as injuries and absences take hold, and who has fallen away.

1. LaMelo Ball (Last ranking: 2)

Charlotte Hornets

Notable stats: 14.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 2.5 highlight plays (stat Ed, please check)

In preseason, I said that Ball will probably be the best player out of this rookie class, but that he wouldn’t win Rookie of the Year. Right now he’s got to be the front runner, right?

Now starting – though only thanks to injuries ahead of him – Ball is (apologies) balling out. Since being elevated to the starting unit, Ball has put up 21.8 point, 6.1 rebounds and an even 6 assists and 1.4 steals with 46/45/90 shooting splits.

He still turns the ball over a tonne, but that doesn’t matter when you can make a pass like this:

The patience, fore site and composure to draw Goran Dragic whilst simultaneously lulling Duncan Robinson into exactly the right position to open up a passing lane is elite and frankly, it’s remarkable in a 19 year old rookie. Now that he’s at the controls from the jump, it’s on Ball and his coach James Borrego to keep him there.

Ball is probably not going to be the true #1 star on a contender, but he’s exactly the sort of piece that every championship contender wants.

2. Tyrese Haluibuton (LR: 1)

Sacramento Kings

Notable stats: 12.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 2.3 made 3’s, 50/45/82 shooting splits.

Haliburton was my preseason Rookie of the Year pick. He may be second on these rolling rookie rankings, but he hasn’t disappointed, by any means. The 12-13 Kings are right on the playoff fringe, playing the best basketball we’ve seen in Sacramento for many a year.

Credit where it is due to – namely to De’Aaron Fox and coach Luke Walton – though Haliburton’s influence on both ends of the floor can’t be overstated. The #12 pick – there are so many teams kicking themselves right now – is already a solid defensive player that can assume responsibility for the best opposing guard; he’s become the de facto leader of the second unit; and when paired with Fox his play making and shooting allow Fox to move into a more aggressive mindset, hunting his own shot, secure that the rookie will look after his teammates.

For all of Haliburton’s ‘glue guy’ qualities, he’s more than capable of searching for his own shot when required.

3. Desmond Bane (LR: 9)

Memphis Grizzlies

Notable stats: 10.3 points, 2.7 assists, 48/48/82 shooting splits, 2.1 made 3’s.

One of the oldest of this years rookies is so far having one of the larger impacts.

On a team that is injury riddled and crying out for consistent scoring, Bane has provided a reliable outside threat whilst also showing just enough game off the bounce to stop teams from overloading on him Duncan Robinson/Klay Thompson style. Most encouraging is Bane’s movement, which is very much reminiscent of Duncan Robinson/Klay Thompson. He’s constantly whirring and cutting, coming quickly off of screens in acres of space.

Eventually, Memphis may have a decision to make between the sometimes brilliant but frustratingly enigmatic Dillon Brooks or Bane, who looks a round peg for a round hole. For the moment, though, they need both. Bane is proving a steal at pick 30.

4. Immanuel Quickley (LR: not ranked)

New York Knicks

Notable stats: 12.4 points, 2.6 assists, 41/37/94 shooting splits.

The immediate concern upon the Knicks re-acquiring Derrick Rose was how that would impact the rookie microwave Immanuel Quickley. Thankfully, Rose looks to be cutting into Austin Rivers’ court time whilst allowing Quickley to play with less defensive attention as co-leader of the Knicks bench units.

For all of Quickley’s scoring outbursts, he’s shown a rare maturity for a rookie in his role when his shot isn’t falling. He’s prepared to become the distributor once a few shots don’t drop and always busts his backside on defense – a pre-requisite to play for coach Thibideau.

5. Jae’Sean Tate (LR: not ranked)

Houston Rockets

Notable stats: 9.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 0.7 blocks.

The mature-age rookie has been a revelation this season, especially since the James Harden trade. Despite being of similar stature, Tate isn’t a PJ Tucker close. He’s not nearly the shooter that Tucker has become, though Tate is much more dynamic with the ball in his hands and is a far superior rebounder.

Against Memphis earlier this month he was exemplary, posting 19 points and 7 rebounds with a steal and a pair of blocks thrown in on top of his usual stout defense.

The former Sydney King has – perhaps surprisingly – quickly carved out a niche for himself in the NBA.

6. Patrick Williams (LR: 4)

Chicago Bulls

Notable stats: 10 points, 4.4 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 0.7 blocks, 38.9% 3P%.

Chicago’s do-it-all rookie continues to stick it to those that mocked his being selected 4th overall.

He’s already been compared to a young Kawhi Leonard defensively, but is he starting to resemble a young Kawhi at the other end of the court as well? Williams could stand to be more aggressive with the ball, but as it stands his judiciousness means he rarely forces a poor shot which of course helps his and his team’s efficiency. The way he glides to the basket and snakes in for rebounds is also reminiscent of the younger version of Leonard.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves – I’m not saying that Williams is a future Finals MVP, or even a future All Star. The similarities are striking, though.

7. Xavier Tillman (LR: not ranked)

Memphis Grizzlies

Notable stats: 7.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 0.8 blocks.

Possibly a surprise inclusion on this list for some, Tillman has quietly been a very important factor in the injury depleted Grizzlies keeping themselves above water, despite his less than eye-catching numbers.

Tillman’s activity at both ends of the floor has earned him a rotation spot. He’s a willing screen setter and rim runner for Ja Morant, and has thrown himself head first at bigger bodies on defense, sacrificing his admittedly quite mature frame to save wear and tear on the considerably thinner Brandon Clarke.

Averaging almost a steal and block per game despite playing only 21 minutes a night is a testament to Tillman’s instincts and motor. He’s no star, but is already proving a reliable long term rotation piece.

8. Theo Maledon (LR: not ranked)

Oklahoma City Thunder

Notable stats: 7.5 points, 2.9 assists, 36.6% 3P%.

This month’s bolter is the Thunder’s French rookie guard. Prior to being held out due to COVID protocols, Maledon started 6 straight games in lieu of the injured George Hill, posting solid scoring night punctuated by an eye-popping 6 for 6 night from deep against Miami and a 6 steal effort in a win over Houston.

Maledon has been playing professional basketball in Europe since he was 15 years old, which perhaps explains his old-head-on-young-shoulders demeanour on the court. The 19 year old is calm in a crisis and doesn’t look overwhelmed at all in NBA company.

9. Anthony Edwards (LR: 6)

Minnesota Timberwolves

Notable stats: 14.2 points, 3.4 rbounds, 2.2 assists, 38/32/81 shooting splits.

His team is horrific and his own personal performances could best be described as ‘patchy’, yet there are just enough flashes of prime time potential from Anthony Edwards to keep us all on the edge of our seats.

He has reasonable counting stats, though his efficiency is utterly disgraceful. Still, there are signs of progress. All of Edwards obvious athletic gifts are for nought if he can’t make basic reads, which was the case at the beginning of the season.

We’re now starting to see the #1 pick make not only solid reads, but on occasion advanced reads at both ends of the floor. His assists to turnover ratio in February is 3.6:1 which far outweighs his overall season number of 1.4:1. If Anthony is turning into something as a complimentary play maker, which a month ago seemed an age away from happening. If his shot can come around, he has all the makings of a really good offensive player. Edwards 80% free throw shooting bodes well for his otherwise horrific shooting numbers, which come down to extremely poor shot selection more than any sort of technical flaw.

10. Saddiq Bey (LR: 7)

Detroit Pistons

Notable stats: 8.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 41.7% 3P%.

Like Edwards in Minnesota, Bey is toiling in adversity in Motor City, but has worked manfully in carving out a station for himself. Known for his shooting – despite a funky release – Bey has come as advertised, knocking down 41% of his attempts beyond the arc.

His tenacious defense is welcome, as is his surprising ball handling chops. Bey wasn’t expected to be able to break down his man and get to the cup as well as he has in his rookie campaign.

Bey has started sporadically, performing just as well on a per-minute basis as he has off the bench, suggesting both a pleasing level of maturity and a certain adaptability.

Just outside the top 10: Payton Pritchard (Celtics); Deni Avdija (Wizards); Tyrese Maxey (Sixers); Cole Anthony (Magic).

Dropping out from the last rankings: Pritchard, Avdija, Maxey, James Wiseman (Warriors).