We’re a few weeks into the NBA season so it’s time to examine how this year’s rookie class is faring. The pre-draft assertions that this class would be deep on solid rotation players and starters, but light on true star power has proven apt, thus far. That said there are a few players that have exceeded expectations. Who has excelled? Who is taking their time to find their feet? To find out, it’s time for Vendetta Sports NBA Rookie Rankings.
Every month, we’ll take a look at the top ten rookies of the season based on a mixture of statistical analysis, eye test, within the context of what is expected of the player by their team.
Without further delay, here are this week’s rankings.
1. Tyrese Haliburton
Stats: 12.1 ppg; 5.5 apg; 1.4 spg; 0.5 bpg; 52/50/89 shooting splits.
The preseason pick for Rookie of the Year heads our first Rookie Rankings. The 6’5” point guard has been impressive from the outset. Aside from a poor second game, he’s scored in double figures in every outing and recorded at least five assists in all bar two of his matches. Impressively, he’s only turned the ball over eight times in his eight appearances.
Haliburton came in with a reputation as a young man that could give Sacramento a little of everything and has backed that up. As much as his passing has been excellent, it’s his shooting and defense that will have most pleased the coaches. Whilst his current shooting splits – 52/50/89 – are surely unsustainable, even dropping to a 45/40/80 level will be impressive for a rookie not renowned as a sniper. Defensively, he’s recorded eleven steals in his last five games after not picking up a steal in his first three games.
Every year there is talk of a star player being continually passed over at the top of the lottery. This season Haliburton is looking like that man.
2. LaMelo Ball
Notable stats: 12.8 ppg; 6.3 rpg; 5.9 apg; 1.5 spg; 35.6 3P%.
This writer has stated on the record that the youngest of the Ball brothers might well be the best player in this class when it’s all said and done. That said, playing behind an established back court was expected to curtail his overall impact as a rookie. So far, LaMelo has been outstanding, both playing alongside his more established teammates in Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier, and often playing ahead of them with the game on the line.
Ball’s play making is as exciting as we all expected. His vision and timing on the pass remind this writer of a less flashy Jason Williams. Ball has a nose for the, well, ball. As such he’s an excellent rebounder, though his slight frame was expected to cut back his rebounding numbers, so to pull in 6.3 a game (2nd in the rookie class) is a pleasant surprise at this stage of his development.
Perhaps the most surprising and encouraging element of LaMelo’s game right now is his jump shot. He has that unusual release typical of the Ball brothers, though unlike his siblings LaMelo has come into the NBA able to hit shots off the dribble, in traffic and – importantly – moving to his right.
Ball’s future is as an all action triple-double machine; a less athletic Jason Kidd, if you will. He’s already well on the way.
3. Payton Pritchard
Stats: 8.6 ppg; 2.4 rpg; 3.1 apg; 1.3 spg; 42.3 3P%; 14.0 PER.
Whilst there is a clear drop off after the top two rookies in this list, let’s not let that overshadow the impact that the 26th pick in the draft has had for the struggling Celtics. You show me someone that predicted Pritchard to be the 3rd best rookie in the league after three weeks of the season and I’ll show you a liar. Or Payton’s mother.
As the lead guard off the bench, Pritchard has given the C’s solid play making, scrappy defense, and some electric deep shooting. He’s seen his minutes increase on a near game-by-game basis, to the point he’s now closing some contests for coach Brad Stevens – he’s making the most of those late game chances, too.
4. Patrick Williams
Stats: 9.6 ppg; 3.6 rpg; 0.9 spg, 0.8 bpg; 42.1 3P%.
The maligned 4th overall pick (to be clear, Williams wasn’t maligned – it was his being picked so high that was questioned) has performed very well so far. He’s been a starter since day one, beating out Otto Porter and Chandler Hutchison (not exactly a murders row, to be fair) and has made himself an important cog at both ends of the floor. He has been compared to Kawhi Leonard on the defensive end, which is a touch premature, but the vague outlines are there. Williams is long limbed, has giant hands, and possesses wonderful instincts.
At the offensive end, he might already be more advanced than Leonard was at the same stage. His mid-range game is already elite and Williams uses his size to methodically get to his spots. Most encouragingly, he’s stroking the three at well over 40% so far.
Despite the wide spread head scratching at this pick on draft day, the Bulls look like they have a gem of a player on their hands.
5. James Wiseman
Golden State Warriors
Stats: 11.0 ppg; 6.0 rpg; 1.7 bpg; 42.9 3P%.
Expectations for Wiseman were all over the shop coming into his rookie campaign. His athleticism should translate straight away. But he only played three collegiate games. He’s playing alongside Steph Curry. He’s not playing alongside Klay Thompson. The Warriors are one of the best organisations at developing talent. The Warriors haven’t developed a player to an elite level since Draymond Green. So, no matter what Wiseman does, someone will have expected it.
What he has done is stepped straight in as a solid NBA starting centre. He has already developed nice chemistry with Curry on the pick and roll. He’s rebounding reasonably well for a rookie and will only improve as he adds strength. His rim protection is already very good and overall his defense is better than advertised – Draymond has surely helped, there. Wiseman has also helped Draymond by doing the one thing the veteran can’t: shoot the ball. Wiseman has been judicious in his shot selection, but is making well over 40% of 1.6 deep attempts he takes. In that sense, he’s a true modern NBA centre.
6. Anthony Edwards
Notable stats: 15.1 ppg; 2.6 rpg; 2.1 apg; 41.3 FG%; 28.6 3P%.
The #1 pick has come as advertised.
Let’s go through what Edwards is not/cannot do. He’s not a distributor in any way, shape, or form. He’s not going to play any defense (the fact that this stands out as poor in this Wolves team demonstrates how terrible his defense is). He’s not going change the flow of the game with his energy or intensity. He’s not going to stretch the defense with his jump shot.
But man oh man is he going to be an elite scorer. Even without a jumper to help create driving lanes, Edwards is filling it up, scoring over 15 points per contest in only 26 minutes. His first step is slick, his athleticism simply overwhelming.
Edwards exudes a confidence that is rare in a rookie. He has full confidence in his ability to put the ball in the basket. If – when? – he learns to shoot the ball and make the right pass, he’ll be an elite offensive player. Right now? He’s a typical example of a ‘good stats/bad results’ player.
7. Saddiq Bey
Stats: 10.4 ppg; 4.9 rpg; 45.7 3P%.
Even at the time it looked like the Pistons got a steal in nabbing Bey at pick 19. The Villanova product has been a flamethrower from deep so far. Despite a decidedly below overage overall FG% of 37.7%, he’s hitting his treys at a white hot 45.7%, draining 2.6 deep attempts per game. He’s not just hitting catch and shoot attempts, either – nothing is that easy in this Pistons offense. He’s making shots against hard close outs, making side-step shots, and even dropping a few shots off the bounce.
8. Deni Avdija
Stats: 7.1 ppg; 3.9 rpg; 2.3 apg; 1.1 spg; 45.7 3P%.
Playing with high usage superstars in Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook – not to mention high usage support players like Davis Bertans and Thomas Bryant – means that Avdija isn’t going to have a high usage rate, himself. Unfortunately for the Israeli, he’s at his best with the ball in his hands. Despite the numbers not exactly jumping off the page, Avdija has so far proven himself a solid secondary play maker, able to exploit the gaps created by his more credentialed teammates.
With Russ & Beal both missing time early in the season, Deni has had the chance to get time on the ball and he’s made the most of those opportunities.
9. Desmond Bane
Notable stats: 8.9 ppg; 3.9 rpg; 48.7 3P%.
Our own Jackson Law labeled Bane the steal of the draft a few months ago. Whilst Pritchard has stolen that title early doors, Bane has been a very solid contributor for the Grizzlies. An older rookie, Bane was expected to be able to make an immediate impact, and to his credit he’s become a prime member of the second unit right away.
Bane has already shown the ability to score from all three levels with reasonable efficiency, his developed body able to absorb contact like a seasoned pro. That said, as well as he takes contact on the drive, he’s not quite finishing around the rim as effectively as he could. If he can remedy that, he’s an outside chance of an All Rookie first team spot.
10. Tyrese Maxey
Notable stats: 10.1 ppg; 36.4 3P%.
Maxey sneaks into the top ten based on his immense performance for the undermanned 76ers in Denver.
With COVID protocols ravaging the Philadelphia roster, Maxey made his first career start and made it count: his 39 points (alongside 7 boards, 6 assists and a pair of steals) being the highest for a rookie making their debut start since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar back in 1970. The 21st pick in the draft has had his moments outside of his explosion in Denver with good nights off the bench against Brooklyn and Charlotte.
Just outside the top 10:
- Jordan Nwora (Bucks): Has quickly found a niche as a knockdown shooter off the Bucks bench.
- Immanuel Quickley (Knicks): An exciting player who appears to have won the trust of his coach.
- Jae’Sean Tate (Rockets): Mature age rookie making the most of his opportunities.
- Precious Achiuwa (Heat): Impressive in his limited minutes, especially on defense, where he looks every inch the Bam Adebayo clone.