NBA Rookies Who Could Flash Franchise Potential in Their 1st Season
NBA teams with high draft picks hope to land a franchise player they can build around. The top of the 2018 board offered numerous exciting options for organizations in desperate need of young talent.
Based on our scouting from college and summer league, five rookies jump out as the most likely to flash cornerstone potential immediately.
These guys may not put up numbers like Donovan Mitchell or Ben Simmons did last season, but neither did young stars such as Devin Booker and Kristaps Porzingis. That didn't stop them from making convincing cases that they were the future of their respective franchises.
Phoenix Suns C Deandre Ayton
Franchise role: No. 1 or 2 scorer alongside Devin Booker
The Phoenix Suns kicked off their rebuild by snagging Devin Booker with the 13th overall pick in 2015. They've built their roster around him ever since, particularly after they whiffed on a pair of top-10 picks in Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss in 2016. It's also premature to label 2017 No. 4 pick Josh Jackson following his up-and-down rookie year.
But after this coming season, Phoenix should feel confident about 2018 No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton becoming its next star building block.
Ayton, a strong Rookie of the Year candidate, is already one of the most physically impressive centers in the league. He should emerge as an immediate force around the basket.
His flashes of post skill and shooting point to a future 20-point scorer. He ranked in the 98th percentile in half-court offense as a freshman, having averaged 20.1 points on 61.2 percent shooting at Arizona.
While the Suns will continue to feature Booker as its top shot-creator, Ayton should quickly emerge as a No. 2 option—one who'll help balance out the shot distribution of an offense dominated by guards and wings.
Dallas Mavericks PG/SG Luka Doncic
Franchise role: Leader
Prior to the 2018 draft, sources told Bleacher Report that the Dallas Mavericks had Luka Doncic at No. 1 on their board. That explains their decision to trade the No. 5 pick and a lightly protected future first-rounder to the Atlanta Hawks to move up for him.
Dallas coveted Doncic as its next franchise player to pair with 2017 No. 9 overall pick Dennis Smith Jr. and free-agent signee DeAndre Jordan. The 19-year-old, who earned MVP honors of both the Spanish ACB and Euroleague this past season, should already be prepared to justify the Mavericks' interest.
Dallas will feel Doncic's impact and leadership from day one. The 6'6" ball-handler possesses a unique, sophisticated ability to pick apart defenses with timely maneuvering and pinpoint passes.
Doncic's size, playmaking, shooting and crafty two-point scoring ability all fuel his versatility. But his basketball IQ, competitiveness and knack for making clutch plays are what separate and distinguish him as the future leader and player Dallas will want with the ball in fourth quarters.
Smith may lead the Mavericks in scoring for the next few years, but Doncic is the one who'll help turn the ship around.
Memphis Grizzlies PF/C Jaren Jackson Jr.
Franchise role: Defensive centerpiece, three-and-D unicorn
Jaren Jackson Jr. will make his franchise-player case with his rare, valued mix of shooting and defense for a 6'11" interchangeable big. Given his age, tools and capabilities, his first-year flashes should be persuasive, even if the volume production isn't there in 2018-19.
The 18-year-old left college as the only player since 1992 to average at least one three-point make and three blocks in fewer than 25 minutes per game, per Sports Reference. He then backed up his three-and-D prowess in summer league by shooting 14-of-28 from deep and averaging 3.3 blocks.
Since 1946, only four NBA players have ever averaged at least one three-pointer and two blocks in a season (minimum 30 games). Three of those four were Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis and Serge Ibaka.
Jackson is an unusually comfortable shooter for his size, and he has spectacular defensive ability. He can both protect the rim and switch around the perimeter, making him perfect for today's NBA.
At this stage of his development, he's still a raw two-point scorer and shot-creator. As a rookie, he'll have trouble reaching double figures on nights when his three-ball isn't falling. But seeing as Jackson will play two full NBA seasons before he turns 21, it's wiser to bet on his development than to expect his current limitations to remain and hold him back.
He'll start his career playing minutes at the 4 or backing up Marc Gasol. By his second or third season, Jackson will be the future in Memphis.
Chicago Bulls C Wendell Carter Jr.
Franchise role: The rock
It should only take a season for the Chicago Bulls to feel confident they've added a second franchise player next to Lauri Markkanen.
Wendell Carter Jr. won't have to score in volume to convince them or the league. He projects as a rock—an efficient double-double machine the Bulls can count on for offense, rebounding, defense and toughness.
Despite not being the featured No. 1 option at Duke, he averaged 20.1 points, 13.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes while shooting 58.6 percent from two and 41.3 percent from three.
His success carried over to summer league, where he looked to be in even better shape, diminishing concerns about his potential to switch and guard the perimeter the way Al Horford does for the Boston Celtics.
The Bulls and their fanbase should see Carter as their Horford—a well-rounded, fundamentally sound big whose consistency and all-around play drives his star value.
New York Knicks SF/PF Kevin Knox
Franchise role: Secondary scorer beside Kristaps Porzingis
Kristaps Porzingis is the New York Knicks' centerpiece. Early signs are pointing to the franchise having found its second cornerstone in Kevin Knox.
The draft's No. 9 pick flashed star potential in summer league, using the extra space and freedom he didn't have at Kentucky. Though he flourished in Las Vegas, he also averaged 15.6 points to lead the Wildcats in scoring as a freshman.
Standing 6'9" and 212 pounds, Knox's tools and face-up scoring versatility fuel tantalizing upside. He thrived in college working off the ball, shooting off screens and curling into runners and layups. But in Vegas, Knox demonstrated new one-on-one shot-creating that could eventually help propel him to No. 2 in the Knicks' offensive pecking order.
Head coach David Fizdale should feature the rookie right away, particularly since Porzingis is likely to miss the start of the season as he continues to recover from a torn ACL. Knox will have every opportunity to play through mistakes and build up his skill level, basketball IQ and confidence. And after three full NBA seasons, he'll be only 21 years old.
With a more proven NCAA forward on the board at No. 9 in Mikal Bridges, the Knicks chose Knox, presumably for his higher ceiling. He appears on track to approach those heights if summer league was any indication.
Knox could end up being the Knicks' No. 3 option in 2019-20 if they're able to acquire a prized free agent. Until then, he's their second-most valued asset, as well as one of the more exciting young prospects in the Eastern Conference.