Each NBA Team's Top Rookie of All Time
NBA rookies come and go with each passing season, and while you never know what you’re going to get, sometimes your team simply strikes gold.
Every team in the league has experienced both the good and the bad when it comes to first-year players, but as the league prepares for the 2012 incoming class, history has already claimed one top rookie for each NBA franchise.
Will Anthony Davis someday be on this list? How about Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?
Only time will tell, but while we can’t look too deep into the future, we can certainly take a trip down memory lane.
Atlanta Hawks—Bob Pettit
In 1953, the then-Milwaukee Hawks selected Bob Pettit with the second overall pick in the NBA draft.
Pettit, a 6’9” post player, had to adjust to playing on the outside facing in, but the adjustments seemed to go smoothly, as he averaged 20.4 points and 13.8 rebounds per game.
The Hawks only improved five games in the wins column upon Pettit’s arrival, but the first-year player was named Rookie of the Year and would go on to lead the team to a championship just a few seasons down the road.
Pete Maravich is another viable candidate, as his overall career is one of the most spectacular in league history.
Boston Celtics—Larry Bird
The Boston Celtics have one of the richest histories of all NBA franchises, and part of the reason for that is legendary small forward Larry Bird.
Bird was drafted in 1978, but because the league had different eligibility rules at the time, he opted to play one more year at Indiana State University and eventually signed with the Celtics a year later. His 5-year, $3.25 million deal made him the highest paid rookie in NBA history at the time.
The money was well spent, as the team went on to win 32 more games than they had won the previous year. In the 1980 season, Bird was the Celtics leading scorer with 21.3 points per game, and he also recorded 10.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
The 6'9" forward also shot more than 40 percent from beyond the arc and was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team en route to beating out rival Magic Johnson for Rookie of the Year honors.
Brooklyn Nets—Bernard King
The Brooklyn Nets have two Rookie of the Year recipients in franchise history, and while neither of them are Bernard King—Derrick Coleman and Buck Williams won the awards in 1991 and 1982—King’s numbers were undeniable in his first year in the NBA.
In his rookie season, the 6’7” small forward set the franchise record for most points scored in a season when he averaged 24.2 points per game.
His athleticism was well ahead of his time, as his long arms and solid physique helped him pull down nearly 10 rebounds per contest.
King may have fallen behind Phoenix’s Walter Davis in ROY voting, but he did make the NBA-All Rookie Team that season.
Charlotte Bobcats—Emeka Okafor
While it turned out that the Orlando Magic made the correct choice in drafting Dwight Howard first overall in 2004, the Charlotte Bobcats got the consensus No. 2 pick in UConn center Emeka Okafor.
Okafor’s first season in the NBA was the Bobcats’ first season as an expansion team, and while the organization struggled with an 18-64 record, the big man had a solid showing in 73 games played.
Having scored 15.1 points in his debut season—a career high still to this day—the center showed he can get it done on the inside.
His 10.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game showed his toughness, which helped him earn the respect of voters who named him the 2004-05 Rookie of the Year.
Chicago Bulls—Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest player to ever lace up in the NBA, and it all began when he left the North Carolina Tar Heels and began his career in the 1984-85 season.
Everybody knew that Jordan was a special player coming out of college, but 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game screamed stardom right away.
Known for his athleticism early in his career, Jordan was the kind of player who could impact both sides of the floor. While his highlight-worthy finishes dropped jaws in every NBA arena, he also recorded 2.4 steals per game and showed how he could bully the league’s best en route to an All-Star appearance and Rookie of the Year recognition.
Jordan was drafted third overall in the ’84 NBA draft, and while the Houston Rockets can’t feel too sorry for themselves about selecting Hakeem Olajuwon, the Portland Trail Blazers are still haunted by the name Sam Bowie to this very day.
Cleveland Cavaliers—LeBron James
Having made the cover shot of Sports Illustrated as a high school junior, LeBron James just might be considered the most hyped rookie to ever enter the NBA.
Luckily for James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, he lived up to that hype.
Coming straight out of high school, James became the youngest player to ever win the Rookie of the Year award, as well as the youngest player to score 40 points in a single game.
Averaging 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists, James became only the third player in league history to average at least 20 points, five assists and five rebounds in his rookie season.
The other two that came before him? That would be Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson, making for solid company in such an exclusive club.
Dallas Mavericks—Jason Kidd
The Dallas Mavericks selected Jason Kidd out of California with the second overall pick in 1994, and while he didn’t stand out enough to be the outright winner of the Rookie of the Year award, he was good enough to share it with fellow rookie Grant Hill.
Kidd’s point-per-game average was a decent 11.7, but his game was well-rounded enough to also land him averages of 7.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds.
The real treat for the Mavericks was that Kidd led the league in triple-doubles that season.
Kidd has been somewhat of a stat sheet stuffer his entire career, and his rookie year proved to be the starting point for the current-day 39-year-old point guard.
Denver Nuggets—Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets would have a Rookie of the Year on their list of accomplishments if it weren’t for LeBron James.
James entered the league alongside Anthony and dominated the league, winning the prestigious individual award.
However, none of this takes away from what Anthony was able to accomplish. The small forward posted averages of 21 points and six rebounds that season, and he became the second-youngest player in NBA history to score 30 points in a single game at the time.
Anthony was the second choice behind James, and in most other years, the award would have been his with the kind of performance he displayed.
Detroit Pistons—Dave Bing
Dave Bing was drafted with the No. 2 pick by the Detroit Pistons in 1966, and his rookie season exposed him as a different style point guard than the league was used to seeing.
The 6’3” floor general had good size, an athletic skill set and was an explosive playmaker. He scored more than the average point guard, as he shot the ball more than most teams could imagine out of their facilitators.
Simply put, Bing was the NBA point guard of today more than 40 years ahead of his time.
Bing was named the Rookie of the Year in 1967, as he averaged 20 points per game.
Golden State Warriors—Wilt Chamberlain
The Golden State Warriors weren’t always in the Bay Area, and when they were in Philadelphia back in 1959, they had one special rookie named Wilt Chamberlain.
In his first-ever season, Chamberlain averaged 37.6 points and 27 rebounds, while only fouling 2.1 times in 46.4 minutes. He went on to set the record for rebounds per game, as he won both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards that season.
Before entering the league, the big man spent one year with the Harlem Globetrotters as a way of surpassing his final season at Kansas. His physical attributes made him one of the game’s most dominant players, and his statistics show it still to this day.
Chamberlain’s rookie performance has gone untouched more than 50 years later, as it’s arguably one of the greatest rookie performances in all of sports.
Houston Rockets—Elvin Hayes
Back when the Houston Rockets were located in San Diego, they selected Elvin Hayes with the first overall pick in the 1968 NBA draft.
Hayes was a 6’9” center, and while that may be a bit undersized by today’s NBA standards, it’s safe to say he did just fine for himself early in his career.
The big man recorded 17.1 rebounds per game, and with a 28.4 point-per-game-average, he is still the last player to lead the league in scoring as a rookie.
Despite his incredible numbers, fellow rookie Wes Unseld went on to win Rookie of the Year honors, but the two would soon be teammates following a trade that sent Hayes to the Baltimore Bullets two seasons later.
Indiana Pacers—Clark Kellogg
Clark Kellogg is known nowadays more for his broadcasting career than his NBA playing days, but the former Indiana Pacer hit the ground running when he made his debut in the 1982-83 regular season.
The 6’7” forward averaged an astonishing 20.1 points and 10.6 rebounds in his first year, and while this would prove to be the best season of his six-year career, he made his impact averaging 18.9 points and 9.5 rebounds by the time he retired.
Kellogg’s rookie season was one to remember, but he was ultimately overshadowed by Terry Cummings’ 23.7 point-per-game average and 10.6 rebounds per game when it came to Rookie of the Year voting.
Los Angeles Clippers—Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin’s rookie season was postponed following a knee injury that kept him sidelined, but once the big man finally hit the floor, fans in L.A. realized that he was well worth the wait.
The big man immediately made his impact with a 20-point, 14-rebound performance in his debut. He would go on to average 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds while shooting 63.2 percent from the free-throw line, which we now know is a solid number for such a poor shooter.
Griffin also put together the longest double-double streak for a rookie in more than 40 years.
It wasn’t until the team received Chris Paul a year later that they would become playoff contenders, but with Griffin’s jaw-dropping jams making highlights every night, Griffin—the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest winner that season—made the Clippers a team worth watching.
Los Angeles Lakers—Magic Johnson
If you’ve ever wondered how versatile Magic Johnson really was as a player, consider that the 6’9” point guard recorded 42 points and 15 rebounds in Game six of the 1980 NBA Finals—as the starting center.
Johnson is the true definition of an all-around player, as he showed that he could play any position en route to recording 18 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists in his rookie campaign.
Larry Bird may have taken home Rookie of the Year honors, but Johnson took home an NBA championship in his first-ever season as a professional basketball player.
Elgin Baylor is another strong candidate for the franchise’s best rookie, as he averaged a remarkable 24.9 points and 15 rebounds per game.
Memphis Grizzlies—Pau Gasol
In June 2001, the Memphis Grizzlies traded a package surrounding Shareef Abdur-Rahim to the Atlanta Hawks for the rights to rookie Pau Gasol.
The big man entered the league and earned All-Rookie First Team honors, as well as the Rookie of the Year award.
A much more clean-cut version of the Gasol we see today led the team in scoring that season with 17.6 points per game, and he also managed to pull down 8.9 rebounds.
Gasol was effective on the court, making it even more important to stay healthy, which is exactly what he did as the only player on the roster to play in all 82 games that year.
Miami Heat—Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade entered the NBA in 2003 as a part of one of the most highly anticipated draft classes in NBA history.
Potential stars, including LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, headlined the draft, but following their departures from draft boards early, the Miami Heat were content to pick up Wade with the fifth overall selection.
The 6’4” guard went on to average 16.2 points, 4.5 assists and four rebounds in his first season, and his playoff performance against the Indiana Pacers proved that he was going to be the leader of the franchise moving forward.
Wade’s rookie statistics hardly hold comparison to what he has done every season since, but while he didn’t stand a chance at the ROY award behind James and Anthony, he was the clear-cut third choice ahead of Kirk Hinrich and Chris Bosh.
Milwaukee Bucks—Lew Alcindor
Although he’s more commonly known today as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lew Alcindor made his impact immediately upon arriving in 1969.
In his first season with the Milwaukee Bucks, Alcindor was the league’s second-leading scorer with a 28.8 point-per-game average and the third-leading rebounder at 14.5 per game.
With the big man in the middle, the Bucks improved their record nearly 30 games that season.
While Alcindor had moves down low that were nearly impossible to defend, he also made his teammates better by simply allowing them to do what they do best. He was the new go-to option, and with defenses coming his way, his teammates could make the right plays en route to a successful season.
Minnesota Timberwolves—Christian Laettner
Christian Laettner may have never quite lived up to his collegiate reputation, but his rookie season with the Minnesota Timberwolves was nothing to scoff at.
Entering the league in the 1992-93 season, the 6’11” forward posted what would become his career high in points with 18.2 per game.
He was a solid rebounder as well, as he was able to bring down 8.7 boards per game that year.
With players such as Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning in his rookie class, Laettner never stood a chance at the Rookie of the Year award, but his first season in the league is something to hold onto, as it was arguably the best year of his 13-year career.
New Orleans Hornets—Alonzo Mourning
By the end of his playing days, Alonzo Mourning was known mostly for his defensive presence and nagging injuries, but at the start of his career, the big man was one of the more versatile two-way players in the game.
Mourning averaged 21 points in his rookie season to go along with his 10.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocks.
The 6’10” center may not have been the biggest player on the court, but his game was physical, and he intimidated opponents night in and night out, even early in his career.
Mourning became the Hornets’ career leader in blocks just 49 games into his first season, but he was unable to take home the Rookie of the Year award that season for one big reason—Shaquille O’Neal.
New York Knicks—Willis Reed
Willis Reed may be most famously known for his surprise entrance and hobbled NBA Finals performance against the Los Angeles Lakers, but the legendary New York Knicks player had one heck of a rookie season that should never be forgotten.
Reed was drafted No. 8 in 1964, and he quickly became recognized as a dominant big man on both offense and defense. His tough, physical nature led him to average 19.5 points and 14.7 rebounds per game.
His scoring production was seventh in the league that season, and his rebounding was fifth.
Reed went on to win Rookie of the Year, and he also made the first of his eventual seven All-Star appearances.
Oklahoma City Thunder—Kevin Durant
In 2007, the big question for the Portland Trail Blazers was: Greg Oden or Kevin Durant?
The then-Seattle SuperSonics lucked out big-time, as the Trail Blazers went with the safer, once-in-a-lifetime athlete in Oden.
That season, Oden missed the entire year following microfracture surgery, while Durant went on to average 20.3 points and 4.4 rebounds on his way to taking home the Rookie of the Year award.
Durant was named the Western Conference’s Rookie of the Month five times that season, and he capped off the year with a then-career-high 42 points and 13 rebounds.
Orlando Magic—Shaquille O’Neal
The Orlando Magic haven’t had the best of luck when it comes to keeping their superstar big men around long-term, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t had good times before the relationships have come to an end.
Shaquille O’Neal had a dominant rookie season averaging 23.4 points, and he even posted eventual-career highs of 13.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocks.
The 7’1”center has to be considered one of the most physically dominant big men to ever play the game, and while he didn’t have the sheer mass that he had late in his career, he was still one of the biggest players in the league upon his arrival.
O’Neal was voted Rookie of the Year in 1993, and he was the first rookie to be voted into the All-Star game since Michael Jordan. The Magic missed the playoffs that season, but a 20-win improvement was good enough to spark big change moving forward.
Philadelphia 76ers—Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson is known for many things around NBA circles, but one thing that can’t be denied is how productive he was in his rookie season with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Iverson entered the league at a time when big men still ruled the Association, which is the reason he went down as the shortest No. 1 pick in NBA draft history.
Size meant nothing to Iverson, though, as he posted 23.5 points, 7.5 assists and shot 34.1 percent from behind the arc. He may have been just 6’0” tall—if you’re feeling generous—but his physical style of play allowed him to rack up 4.1 rebounds and 2.1 steals that same season.
Iverson’s impact on the team wasn’t felt right away, as the Sixers only won 22 games that year, but Rookie of the Year honors and a whole lot of potential gave the city of Philly something to look forward to.
Phoenix Suns—Walter Davis
Coming off his gold medal performance in the 1976 Olympics, Walter Davis became the Phoenix Suns’ selection in the 1977 NBA draft.
The team chose the 6’6” perimeter player with the fifth overall pick, and he went on to win the Rookie of the Year award that season.
Davis wasn’t a stat sheet stuffer in the way many Rookie of the Year winners had been before him, but a point-per-game average of 24.2 led to high praise and All-NBA recognition.
He never eclipsed that per-game average again in his career, but he went on to play solid basketball, averaging almost 19 points per game over his 15 years in the league.
Portland Trail Blazers—Geoff Petrie
The Portland Trail Blazers have had their fair share of bad luck, but the original Trail Blazer, Geoff Petrie, was a solid pickup while healthy with the team.
Petrie was the Blazers first-ever draft pick, as well as the organization's first player to officially sign a contract in their inaugural season in the Association.
Despite the lack of a three-point line, the 6’4” guard was a threat from deep who went on to average 24.8 points per game in his first season. He would split co-Rookie of the Year honors with Boston’s Dave Cowens, but his time in Portland didn’t last because of a career-ending knee injury.
Brandon Roy is another noteworthy rookie in franchise history, but ironically enough, he too was forced away from the organization with his own nagging knee problems.
Sacramento Kings—Oscar Robertson
Oscar Robertson may be historically recognized as averaging a triple-double in his second NBA season, but his rookie year was just as impressive, as he almost completed the same exact feat.
Averaging a remarkable 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 9.7 assists, Robertson went on to win the Rookie of the Year award—he was also the All-Star MVP and an All-NBA First Teamer.
The Cincinnati Royals didn’t become a championship team under Robertson's lead, but they did experience a 14-game improvement with the All-Star guard on the roster.
The Kings played host to another historic rookie performance when Tyreke Evans became just the fourth player to reach Robertson's legendary mark of a 20-5-5 season.
San Antonio Spurs—David Robinson
David Robinson made the San Antonio Spurs wait two seasons before he officially joined them out of the Navy, but The Admiral was well worth the wait, as he went on to have one of the greatest rookie seasons in NBA history.
The 7’1”, 250-pound man in the middle racked up 24.3 points, 12 rebounds and 3.9 blocks in his first season with the Spurs. He also recorded 1.7 steals and shot 73.2 percent from the line in 36.6 minutes per game.
Robinson went on to have an illustrious career, experiencing two championships and a multitude of individual accomplishments.
Tim Duncan is a close second on this list, having averaged 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in the 1997-98 season.
Toronto Raptors—Damon Stoudamire
As the first-ever draft pick of the Toronto Raptors, Damon Stoudamire became the NBA's third-lowest selection (No. 7) to win the Rookie of the Year award.
Entering the league, Stoudamire had already earned the nickname Mighty Mouse, both for the tattoo on his arm and for his ability to play tough basketball despite his small stature.
The 5’10” point guard may have been a little player on the court, but he made a big splash in his inaugural season, averaging 19 points, 9.3 assists and four rebounds per game.
Stoudamire set the rookie record that season for three-pointers made by a rookie with 133 completions from beyond the arc.
Utah Jazz—Darrell Griffith
Darrell Griffith was chosen as the second pick in the 1980 draft, and his first season stands out as one of he best rookie performances in Utah Jazz history.
While the casual fan likely doesn’t remember the career of Griffith, the Jazz’s most memorable players took more time to get integrated into Utah’s system and the team’s rotation.
Griffith made his mark felt right away with a 20.6 point-per-game average.
The team had just recently moved from New Orleans to Salt Lake City, and having parted ways with Pete Maravich, Griffith stepped in and won the Rookie of the Year award en route to becoming the team’s newest star attraction.
Washington Wizards—Wes Unseld
The Washington Wizards have been through a few franchise-shifting changes over the years. As the original NBA expansion team, the squad known then as the Chicago Packers drafted Walt Bellamy, who had a remarkable rookie campaign in the 1961-62 season.
That being said, when they were the Baltimore Bullets, they couldn’t have made any better decision than to draft Wes Unseld with the second overall pick in 1968.
The big man averaged 13.8 points in his rookie season, but at just 6"7", it was his 18.2 rebounds that really separated him from the rest of the league’s men in the middle
Unseld—as well as recently drafted Earl Monroe—helped the team transition into a winning franchise that year, as they went on to be the proud owners of a 57-win season.
The center won Rookie of the Year and MVP honors that year, and he is only the second player to ever do so after Wilt Chamberlain did it in 1960.