As the final buzzer sounded on the NBA regular season, the journeys of 14 teams ended early. The beginning of the playoffs exhibits a new generation of players like Jamal Murray, Joel Embiid and Nikola Vucevic beginning to stake its claim to postseason slots, while older players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade watch from home.
This year’s draft class has shown flashes of being one of the best of all time, and the Rookie of the Year award has been one of the most widely discussed topics in sports this year. By and large stuck on struggling teams, the league’s top rookies have mostly played their final games of the season. Here are five of my favorite rookies from this year:
5.) Mitchell Robinson | Team: New York Knicks | Pick: 36 | PTS: 7.3 REB: 6.4 BLKS: 2.4
The New York Knicks have somehow managed to find a diamond in the rough with Mitchell Robinson, a 20-year-old center from New Orleans. Robinson was committed to play at Western Kentucky University, but he elected to skip his first year to instead train for the draft. After being passed on by every team, Robinson was selected with the 36th pick. Many saw the pick as the Knicks trying to collect another low-risk, high-reward player as a project. Robinson was viewed as someone with potential, but also as a player that would need time before delivering on his promise. That has not been the case. This year, the center averaged 2.4 blocks, a league second-best for ALL players. He recorded a total of 162 blocks, almost double the amount of the next-closest rookie. Although Robinson hasn’t shown any flashes of offensive ability outside of the paint, the prospect of running the pick-and-roll offense with him as a dynamic slasher provides a unique opportunity for the Knicks moving forward.
4.) Landry Shamet |Team: Los Angeles Clippers| Pick: 26 | PTS: 9.1 AST: 1.5 3PT percentage: 42.2
A former Wichita State WuShock, Landry Shamet has proven himself to be one of the most underrated rookies this year. Originally drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers, Shamet was traded to the Clippers in a blockbuster move that sent Tobias Harris to Philly. Analysts characterized the deal as the Clippers acknowledging that, without Blake Griffin and the rest of the esteemed Lob City, it was time for a rebuild. However, with the help of Shamet’s three-point shooting, the Clippers find themselves squaring off against the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. Shamet holds the best three-point field goal percentage of any rookie at 42.2 percent. With the addition of fellow rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Clippers have set themselves up for a bright future.
3.) Deandre Ayton | Team: Phoenix Suns | Pick: 1 | PTS: 16.3 REB: 10.3 FG percentage: 58.5
The Suns slid into the lottery again this year and managed to snag Deandre Ayton with the number one pick. A big man from Arizona University, Ayton was highly touted as the premier prospect, an offensive powerhouse that any lowly team would love to have. And yet, when I search NBA twitter, I rarely see any mention of him. The Suns (unsurprisingly) managed to have another disappointing season, resulting in much of Ayton’s appeal diminishing to fans around the country. People simply didn’t get to see him play, because the Suns are a poorly run small market team with an abysmal record. So without much nationally televised screen time, Ayton’s play was displayed only to Suns fans and diehard NBA fans. Ayton managed to average a double-double with 16.3 points, an impressive feat made even more awe-worthy given the fact that the Phoenix Suns don’t even carry a competent point guard. With Ayton and Devin Booker, the Suns see themselves on the edge of being mediocre.
2.) Trae Young | Team: Atlanta Hawks | Pick: 4 | PTS: 19.1 AST: 8.1 FG percentage: 41.8
Trae Young’s NBA career didn’t start off as hot as many had thought it would. In the beginning of the season, Young seemed as if he was ill-fitted for the league; he was undersized, couldn’t defend and wasn’t shooting anywhere near as well as he had in college. However, as the season progressed, Young began to gain composure and grew comfortable enough to help orchestrate the Hawks offense in primetime wins against the Lakers, 76ers and Bucks. As he’s quickly climbed the ranks of premier shooters in the league today, his passing has also looked like an impressive attribute. The Hawks have certainly found their point guard of the future, who, alongside fellow rookie Kevin Huerter (whom I played against in high school), has given Atlanta basketball fans hope.
- Luka Doncic | Team: Dallas Mavericks | Pick: 5 | PTS: 21.2 AST: 6.0 REB: 7.8
Lauded as the prodigal son of European basketball, Luka Doncic has absolutely set the NBA ablaze with his phenomenal rookie campaign. Doncic set the Mavs’ record for most triple-doubles by a rookie with five. With his impressive passing and sweet stepback jumpshot, the NBA’s golden boy has played his way into the hearts of many Americans. Doncic’s basketball prowess has been on display for a long time, as he started playing professional basketball for Real Madrid at the age of 16. After winning the Euroleague championships last year, Doncic immediately showed that his game could translate to the real professional leagues. It’s only fitting that this European wunderkind begins his journey as the former European great Dirk Nowitski ends his.