The 2019-20 NBA regular season has brought more excitement than recent years. The path to a championship seems more obtainable than in recent years with the breakup of the Golden State Warriors. More surprising, the most recent draft class has seemingly made a name for themselves. With injuries and “load management” running rampant throughout the league, rookies are putting up valuable numbers. Let’s take a look at the top 20 rookies so far this season:
1. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
The best way to succeed as a rookie in the NBA is to do exactly what got you there; Morant is doing exactly that. The second overall pick leads all rookies in points (19.1) and assists (6.0) this season. When the game is on the line, Morant has excelled in breaking down the defense with penetration. The most impressive stat for Morant is that he only averages 28.1 minutes per game; allowing him to transition into a heavier minute load in the future.
2. Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat
Has anyone noticed the Miami Heat have a knack for finding gems? Tyler Herro is third in 3PM this season, trailing his current teammates in Kendrick Nunn. He is tied for second in points (16.8), and averages 14.1 shots per game. Since Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup, his numbers have remained consistent. Pat Riley loves aggressive guards, and Nunn fits the mold.
3. Eric Paschall, Golden State Warriors
The moment Stephen Curry and Draymond Green were out of the Warriors lineup with injuries, all seemed lost in Golden State. While outsiders mocked, Paschall took advantage of his chance as an NBA starter. Through his first 16 games, Paschall has averaged 16.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, and announced himself with a 34-point performance against the Portland Trail Blazers. He is averaging 30+ minutes this season, and will have more opportunities to showcase his skills while Golden State finds it’s way through an injury-plagued season.
4. RJ Barrett, New York Knicks
The entire world seemed to be against the New York Knicks once they lost out on the first pick of the draft and ended up with RJ Barrett instead of Zion Williamson. As a result, Williamson has yet to play, and Barrett is averaging 33.4 minutes per game (first), 15.1 points (fourth), and 5.6 rebounds (second). He has remained aggressive in his offensive attack by getting to the line 5.2 times per game. While his free throw percentage is only 49%, Barrett has yet to show away from contact.
5. Tyler Herro, Miami Heat
The Miami Heat had a superb draft, and Herro could be the next player teams regret passing on. The Heat rookie is second in 3PM (28-of-72), while emerging as a reliable option off the bench. He is fourth in minutes (29.5), and has only made three starts. With the Heat off to a fast start, and Dion Waiters not returning to the lineup any time soon via suspension, Herro will continue to keep his spot in the rotation this season.
6. PJ Washington, Charlotte Hornets
Expectations for the Charlotte Hornets seemed moot once Kemba Walker left for the Boston Celtics in free agency. When they drafted PJ Washington out of Kentucky with the 12th overall pick, they were looking for someone who could rebound, help on defense and space the floor. The rookie standout is second in minutes (28.1), and has continued to fill the line with 11.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and is hitting 41% from deep.
7. Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards
When the Washington Wizards selected Rui Hachimura ninth overall, some may have thought they were reaching. The season is still early, but Hachimura is third in rebounds (5.3), and seventh in points (12.9) while logging 26.8 minutes per game. He has started all 14 games this season and has silenced his critics in the process. What Hachimura lacks in shooting range, he makes up with a mid-range game coupled with rebounding.
8. Coby White, Chicago Bulls
Watching White sprint down the court on a fast break is a thing of beauty. When he doesn’t drive to the basket, White has the ability to pull up from deep. Though his shooting percentages are low (.386/.356/.794), they have risen from early on in the season when he was shooting less than 25% from deep.
9. Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies
Positions have gone the route of useless over the last decade in the NBA. Having prototypical size still matters, but a player’s ability to use their on-court IQ and skills define their legacy. Clarke, a 6’8″ power forward, has equally impressed the Grizzlies fanbase with his performance this season. Not only is Clarke leading all rookies in per game rebounds (6.4), he’s also putting up 12.4 points per game in only 22.2 minutes a night. His shooting touch from the field this season has been more than impressive with percentages of 62% from the field, 44% from three, and 85% on free throws.
10. Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans Pelicans
Hayes may not be the first name you think of when you think of New Orleans Pelicans rookies, but here we are. Hayes did not see any time on the court in the first three games of the season, but since then has found himself at the center of the Pelicans rotation. His ability to guard the paint has given the Pelicans a much-needed energy boost at the center position. In his last six games, Hayes has averaged 10.1/5.7/1.6 in 27 minutes, and the team has managed a +42 with him on the floor.
Photo Credit: Karen Pulfer Focht – AP