The NBA hype has been put on hold recently, with the FIBA World Championships being held in China. Some of the world’s best player laid it all on the line for their country, while others are back with their teams working out for the upcoming year.
This previous draft class had plenty of hype early on, with the boys out of Duke gaining plenty of attention while Ja Morant came out of nowhere to swipe the number two pick. Bookies and neutral fans alike are all looking at the newest member of the Pelicans organization in Williamson to take the rookie of the year award, while some organizations within the NBA are looking at RJ Barrett as a potential sleeper.
With the NBA pre-season officially underway, that leaves us with a couple of weeks to tickle the taste buds and fantasize about the potential standout performers that will step up once the regular season hits. Here, we will look at five rookies who could make a good run at the NBA rookie of the year award.
Let’s start this out by saying that Michael Porter is eligible, but he won’t be making this list. Ben Simmons syndrome won’t hit again this season, with Porter likely to be hampered somewhat by his back over the course of the 82-game year. He most definitely has the skills to win, but his durability won’t do him any favors.
5. Tyler Herro – Miami Heat
I won’t lie, I originally had Coby White in the five spot as a bit of a smokey pick. After watching Miami over the last couple of days, Tyler Herro gets on this list and for a good reason. His all over court presence will grow this season, and so will his confidence.
We saw that Herro could shoot from basically anywhere during his time at Kentucky. We also saw that against San Antonio a few nights ago, in which Herro hit 18 points off the bench on 7/13 shooting. That included 2/5 from long range, to go with three assists and rebounds, a steal and a block. Working in tandem with Jimmy Butler, Herro could profit from the extra attention that his teammate will get to be an offensive pain for any team.
As The Athletes Hub fantasy analyst and all-round sports nerd Ray Ashworth put it, Herro could be one of the best rookies in terms of output this year. He won’t have to fight for minutes as much as the likes of Coby White, and that will help his case immensely. If Herro can pull off a string of consistent performances to go with a couple of standout single-game stunners, he could steal the award right from the Duke boys.
4. Jarrett Culver – Minnestoa Timberwolves
The sixth pick of the draft this year, Culver made an instant impact out at Texas Tech in the two years he was there. After splitting time with Chris Beard his freshman year, Culver shouldering a ton of offensive responsibility to end up at the Big XII player of the year award.
Culver could start, depending on whether Robert Covington gets played at power forward. If Culver does not get the start, he is more than capable of coming off the bench and providing an immediate shooting threat. Defensively, Culver has great speed and movement down the court so could indeed spend some extended time on the court to provide a strong body.
The Timberwolves have had two rookie of the year winners in the last five years. There is a mountain to climb, but it is still feasible to think that Culver could win the award at the end of the season.
3. Ja Morant – Memphis Grizzlies
Coming out of Murray State, Morant had an electric year to thrust himself into the number two pick for Memphis. Highlights of him dunking over opponents made the rounds on social media, and now he has his chance to do that on the big stage. The trade of Mike Conley will see Morant starting at Memphis, where he has every chance to upstage the Duke boys and grab the award.
Morant, unlike Williamson, isn’t surrounded by a team of young talent. It isn’t to say that Memphis don’t have very talented players, but Morant is the standout player. While he is currently listed as the number three in this list, and two in a lot of others, his impact on the court may be too hard to ignore. If Williamson gets hurt early on, or has to miss games through load management, Morant and RJ Barrett could be fighting it out for the award come April.
2. RJ Barrett – New York Knicks
The third pick of the draft, the former Duke player was incredibly impressive during his one and done season. The number one high school prospect coming into college, Barrett was taken by the Knicks as someone who they can build around from the years to come.
His stats coming out of college were arguable better than those of his teammate in Zion Williamson. Barrett outscored him, while racking up 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists. He can shoot from anywhere, with an ability to crash the board and dish out dimes at will. Most have Morant up about Barrett, but having the limelight off him may help him in the end.
Much like Morant, Barrett will be on the floor from opening day and will have to make a large impact if the Knicks want to have a remotely successful season. Should Barret perform the way that he did at Duke for most of the season, there is no reason why he can eclipse Williamson and Morant as the rookie of the year.
1. Zion Williamson – New Orleans Pelicans
The 2019 college basketball player of the year was a unanimous number one draft pick, with a lot of the hype revolving around how he will fit in after the trade of Anthony Davis. With the likes of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday around, Williamson is primed to have one of the best rookie years in history.
Issues with his knees could derail the season ahead, so load management may be needed to ensure that he stays fit. Assuming that Williamson does stay fit, the fact that he can crash the rim as well as knock down shots from long range has him well in front of everyone in the league. At 6’8 and 260 pounds of freakish ability, Zion Williamson has every right to be the odds on favorite to take the title this year.