NBA Rookies Who Have Had the Best Start to Their NBA Careers

David McCracken@crackemcFeatured ColumnistNovember 14, 2015

NBA Rookies Who Have Had the Best Start to Their NBA Careers

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    Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

    The 2015 NBA rookie class had a lot of hype to it, and for good reason.  

    With the likes of Jahlil Okafor and Karl Anthony-Towns entering the draft after their freshmen seasons, there were general managers across the league clamoring for a spot in the lottery.  

    Some players have lived up to the hype through the season's opening three weeks, while others haven't gotten the opportunities to prove themselves on the court like they were expected to.  

    It's important to remember that every player on this list still has a lot to prove and are unfinished products. More so, there are probably rookies who aren’t on this list that could take the league by storm in the next few years.  

    Without further ado, here are the top 10 rookies who have started off their seasons—and their careers—on the right foot. 

How This Was Ranked

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    It's quite simple: Who has made the biggest impact for their team when given the opportunity to shine?  

    These rookies are broken down by minutes per game and what they do when they are on the court, including points per game, rebounds per game, assists/blocks per game and field goal percentages on the offensive and defensive end.  

    No rookie is a polished product, even if they average a double-double or shoot lights-out for the field. A player like R.J. Hunter from the Boston Celtics, for example, has been a solid player off the bench in recent games and has shown vast improvements on the defensive end of the floor. But he doesn't not make this list simply because he has not proven that he can maintain that level of play over an extended period of time.  

    The 10 rookies on this list have been major contributors on their respective teams and show the potential to be big-time players down the road. 

Honorable Mentions

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Myles Turner: 6.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 0.9 bpg  

    Myles Turner has (wait for it) turned heads for the Indiana Pacers when he has been given the opportunity. At 6'11'', Turner came out of the Texas Longhorns as the 11th pick in the draft with the hopes of replacing Roy Hibbert in the Pacers' rotation. Shooting 55.3 percent from the field and averaging 15.9 minutes per contest, Turner has become a key member of Indiana's rotation. However, Turner just recently fractured his thumb against the Boston Celtics this past Wednesday, and is expected to be sidelined for the next four weeks, according to Yahoo Sports.  

    Mario Hezonja: 4.9 ppg, 0.6 apg, 1.2 rpg  

    Coming out of Barcelona this season, the hype train for Mario Hezonja took off during the Summer League when 'Super Mario' began making highlight plays and flashed a unique fast break chemistry with teammate Aaron Gordon. However, things have simmered down for the 20-year-old since the regular season began for the Orlando Magic. Although he was selected fifth overall this past draft, Hezonja finds minutes hard to come by playing behind the likes of Tobias Harris and Evan Fournier. Averaging 14.6 minutes per contest, Hezonja has a long way to go before breaking into the starting rotation for the Magic. However, being so young with so much upside, look for Hezonja to make an impact sooner rather than later.

    Willie Cauley-Stein: 5.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.0 bpg  

    Dubbed as a "$100 million player" by Larry Bird per Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star this past May, Willie Cauley-Stein has filled in nicely so far for the Sacramento Kings. Playing alongside DeMarcus Cousins, Cauley-Stein is averaging 20.9 minutes per game while shooting an outstanding 70.6 percent from the field. That field goal percentage must be taken with a grain of salt, however, as nearly all of Cauley-Stein's baskets have come within five feet of the basket. Cauley-Stein may never be an offensive juggernaut, but he has flashed the ability to be a 'Tyson Chandler type of player, making an impact of the defensive end of the floor. 

10. Jerian Grant

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    Brock Williams-Smith/Getty Images

    Jerian Grant: 6.8 ppg, 3.8 apg, 2.7 rpg  

    There's a lot to like about Jerian Grant.  

    A four-year player at Notre Dame with great size, Grant was one of the more complete point guards in this year's draft when he was selected 19th overall. He has been a huge addition, to say the least, for a rebuilding New York Knicks franchise this season, averaging 20.8 minutes per contest. Grant didn't show the upside of other point guards like D'Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay leading up to the draft, but was ready to step into the NBA to make an immediate impact.  

    Shooting 37.9 percent from the field and 85.2 percent from the charity stripe, Grant still needs to develop a consistent three-point shot moving forward, as he is currently shooting below 10 percent from downtown.  

    He hasn't set the world on fire in New York, but hasn't needed to at this point. As long as he can continue to distribute the ball to Carmelo Anthony and his teammates, Grant is looking at a solid year ahead of him.  

9. D'Angelo Russell

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    D'Angelo Russell: 9.3 ppg, 2.6 apg, 3.6 rpg  

    The second overall pick in this year's draft by the Los Angeles Lakers, a lot was expected from D'Angelo Russell in a hurry. A ball-dominant player coming out of Ohio State, Russell hasn’t been getting the touches he needs on offense to showcase the playmaking ability that Rick Pitino compared to the likes of Magic Johnson this past June in an interview with ESPN.  

    Averaging 9.3 points per game and 2.3 assist per game in 25.1 minutes, Russell is still producing on the court despite the growing pains he is experiencing with the Lakers. Head coach Byron Scott needs to take the ball out of Kobe Bryant's hands on some possessions to allow Russell to play his game. When he does, he looks pretty good.  

    In 23 minutes against the Brooklyn Nets last week Friday, Russell scored 16 points, four rebounds, three steals and registered just one turnover. Maybe that performance will spark the Lakers into giving Russell more control over the offense, which should allow him to skyrocket up this list in the weeks to come. 

8. Stanley Johnson

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Stanley Johnson: 7.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.3 apg 

    Stanley Johnson looked like an NBA player in college. Standing at 6'7'', weighing 245 pounds, Johnson was selected eighth overall by the Detroit Pistons and has proven his worth thus far.  

    Johnson had a reputation as a defensive-stopper in college and although he has looked solid on defense in the NBA, the box score doesn't reflect his effort as he averages under one steal per game.  

    Coming into the draft, there were some weaknesses in Johnson's game that needed to be improved, in particular, his jump shot.  

    Much remains the same in that department.  

    Shooting 35.8 percent from the field and 21.1 percent from three-point range, Johnson must continue to improve his shot in order to become a dominant player in this league. He is already averaging 7.6 points per game with a limited offensive arsenal in 21.3 minutes per game, so things look bright for the small forward out of Arizona.  

    This past Monday against the Golden State Warriors, Johnson scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds on 9-14 shooting, including two-three pointers. It marked a career-high for Johnson, who is still fighting for minutes behind Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris.  

7. Justise Winslow

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    Alan Diaz/Associated Press

    Justise Winslow: 7.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.4 apg 

    The Miami Heat were desperate for a small forward after the departure of LeBron James, and one just so happened to fall into their lap during the draft. 

    Somehow, the Heat were able to select Justice Winslow with the 10th overall pick.

    Winslow's season numbers aren't that staggering, averaging 7.2 points per game along with 4.7 boards per contest. But he is averaging 28.4 minutes per game, which shows that head coach Erik Spoelstra believes he has game-changing ability, which was evident in his debut against the Hornets.

    Winslow was a key player during Duke's championship run last season and at just 19, the sky is the limit for the 6'7'' small forward. 

6. Nemanja Bjelica

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Nemanja Bjelica: 8.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.8 apg  

    Trivia Question: What pick was Nemanja Bjelica drafted this year? 

    Well, it's a trick question because Bjelica was selected in the second round (35th overall) to the Washington Wizards back in 2010. The 27-year-old rookie had a reputation overseas for his shooting ability, and he has been instant offense off the bench for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season.  

    Scoring 8.9 points per game while shooting 50.9 percent from the field in 28.9 minutes per game, Bjelica has taken on a veteran presence on a young Wolves team, despite being a rookie himself. What's even more impressive about his scoring ability is that Bjelica isn't taking easy layups.  

    He's hitting them from deep.  

    Shooting 44.1 percent from three-point territory, Bjelica has become a great compliment at the power forward position when Karl-Anthony Towns is in the game. It may have taken Bjelica five years to make it to the Association, but he is quickly making up for lost time. 

5. Emmanuel Mudiay

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Emmanuel Mudiay: 11.9 ppg, 6.8 apg, 4.1 rpg 

    The second-biggest mystery of this year's draft class, behind Kristaps Porzingis, Emmanuel Mudiay has burst onto the scene in a big way for the Denver Nuggets. When he was selected seventh overall, the Nuggets had to decide what to do with then-point guard Ty Lawson

    After they traded Lawson off to the Houston Rockets, newly appointed head coach Mike Malone gave Mudiay the keys to the offense. 

    There have been growing pains with Mudiay, but that was expected. Despite averaging 11.9 points per game, he is shooting just 30.8 percent from the field. Standing at 6'5'', Mudiay is grabbing 4.1 rebounds per game and is averaging 6.8 assists per game—more than Jerian Grant and D'Angelo Russell combined.  

    His presence was felt immediately in the NBA during his debut against the Houston Rockets, where he scored 17 points to go along with nine assists and five boards. It's possible that Mudiay was overlooked by many teams after opting to play a year in China, and he could leave a few general managers wishing they selected him when they had the chance.   

4. T.J. McConnell

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    T.J. McConnell: 5.7 ppg, 7.7 apg, 4.6 rpg 

    This may be the biggest surprise from the rookie class, and also the selection that will receive the most criticism. But T.J. McConnell has been outstanding for the Philadelphia 76ers this season.  

    Leading all rookies in assists and currently sixth in the entire league in that category, McConnell is averaging 7.7 assists per game in 29.6 minutes per game. On top of his impressive assist total, McConnell is also scoring 5.7 points per game and—despite standing at just 6'2''—he is grabbing 4.6 rebounds per contest.  

    Some will argue that he is just filling the stat sheet because he plays for a bad team, and that may be true. But you can’t argue with results.  

    He shoots 45.3 percent from the field and has a lot of room for improvement on his 25 percent three-point mark, but McConnell is outperforming his fellow rookie point guards at this point of the season. 

    Mudiay, Russell and even Grant to an extent show more potential than McConnell, who is limited athletically, but McConnell could potentially become a double-double point guard for the 76ers this season. 

3. Kristaps Porzingis

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Kristaps Porzingis: 11.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.1 bpg

    Hey, New York Knicks fans! Remember when you all booed Kristaps Porzingis on draft night? 

    Those boos have quickly turned to cheers at Madison Square Garden, as Porzingis has exceeded every expectation of him thus far. Earning the title of 'Porzin-God' just shows how ridiculous the hype has been for Porzingis.  

    But let's be honest. He's one of the most entertaining players to watch in the NBA already.  

    But before we get carried away with what the future holds for Porzingis, let's focus on the present. He is averaging 11.5 points per game along with 8.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks. So much for him being too skinny to compete defensively in the NBA this season.  

    On top of everything though, he has been the spark that the Knicks have been searching for. Off the court, his personality shines with the fanbase and on the court, he is becoming the putback king of the NBA.  

    Let's enjoy the hype train while it's still on the tracks. Porzingis appears to be the real deal after all. 

2. Jahlil Okafor

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    Jahlil Okafor: 19.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.8 bpg 

    Going into his freshman season at Duke last year, Jahlil Okafor appeared to be the surefire No. 1 pick in this year's draft.  

    Despite winning the ACC Player of the Year award and leading Duke to a national championship, Okafor fell to third in the draft, where the 76ers were more than happy to take him.  

    With Joel Embiid still injured, Okafor was seen as the centerpiece for the 76ers franchise alongside Nerlens Noel, and that has not changed through the first three weeks of the season.  

    Averaging 19 points per game on 46.8 percent shooting, Okafor has been a revelation. Some criticism surrounding Okafor during his time in college was that he was too slow on the defensive end of the floor and didn't have the athleticism to block shots and consistently rebound the ball. 

    His 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game is evidence that he is proving his critics wrong.   

    It's far too soon to say that the Lakers will regret selecting Russell over Okafor in the 2015 draft, especially since Russell appears to be improving steadily as the season progresses, but Okafor appears to be the next great NBA center. And he's only 19 years old.  

1. Karl-Anthony Towns

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    Karl-Anthony Towns: 15.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 2.3 bpg  

    The only player who has played better than Okafor was the only big man selected ahead of him in this year's draft. 

    Karl-Anthony Towns had a strong debut against the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this season and has not looked back, averaging a double-double of 15.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game in just under 30 minutes. 

    Towns, who turns 20 on Sunday, is one of just nine players in the NBA averaging a double-double in points and rebounds, and his 2.6 blocks per game average ranks tied for seventh in the league.  

    Arguably his best game as a pro so far was his second game against the Denver Nuggets. Towns stole the show for the Minnesota Timberwolves as they defeated the Nuggets 95-78 behind Towns' 28 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks.  

    Similar to Porzingis, Towns was expected to take a season or two to improve before he became a franchise player. But all that has changed since the regular season began. It's not crazy to say that he has as much upside, if not more, as Anthony Davis.  

    That's how good he has been during the first three weeks of the season. 

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