Predicting the NBA's 2018-19 All-Rookie Teams

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 12, 2019

Predicting the NBA's 2018-19 All-Rookie Teams

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    The NBA's 2018-19 rookie class already looks like an all-timer.

    That's good in almost every way—save for the colossally high standards attached to this season's All-Rookie teams.

    Huge volume numbers aren't necessarily enough for a first-team spot. Same goes for advanced-statistics domination. The total package is necessary to earn our prediction as an All-Rookie member, which the following 10 players have secured ahead of the season's stretch run.

Second Team

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Kevin Huerter, Atlanta Hawks

    Playing the Klay Thompson role in Atlanta's production of Splash Brothers East, the 6'7" net-shredder has predictably emerged as one of the top snipers in this rookie class. He's one of just five freshmen averaging at least 1.5 triples and joins Landry Shamet as one of two to do so while converting at least 38 percent of his long-range looks.

    Since grabbing a full-time starting spot in late November, Huerter has averaged 11.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.1 triples on 39.6 percent shooting from downtown. That's almost a picture-perfect recreation of rookie Thompson, with slightly fewer points (12.5) and worse distance shooting (41.4) but better volume in the other categories.


    Rodions Kurucs, Brooklyn Nets

    Last summer's 40th overall pick is the most surprising selection here for a lot of reasons. He isn't a top-10 rookie performer in any of the traditional counting categories, and he hasn't always had a regular rotation role, drawing a dreaded "Did Not Play—Coach's Decision" as recently as Feb. 21.

    But if you want to talk impact, he shines in that department like few other freshmen. Among the top 15 rookie scorers, only Kurucs and Shamet have positive plus/minuses. He has the third-highest net rating differential among Brooklyn's regulars (plus-1.1), and the club's record is 29-20 when he plays, 21-11 when he starts and 6-13 when he watches from the sideline.


    Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks

    Only two things—both directly related—are keeping Robinson off the first team: playing time and personal fouls. He's not even logging 20 minutes per night and is still committing 3.2 fouls, which translates to a whopping 6.0 per 36 minutes.

    And yet he's already an advanced-statistics star. He leads all qualified rookies in box plus/minus (6.5) and player efficiency rating (22.1), and his 4.4 win shares are third-most in the class. He's on pace to post the best field-goal conversion rate (69.5) and block percentage (10.7) of any qualified rookie in league history. He's nowhere close to a finished product, but he's already flashing cornerstone potential for the 'Bockers.


    Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers

    Despite a rough start to the season, Sexton has proved one of this crop's steadier contributors. It doesn't hurt that the rebuilding Cavs can hand 30.6 minutes per game to the 40.8 percent shooter, but he's still a top-five rookie in points (15.2) and assists (2.9)—a distinction shared with only Trae Young and Luka Doncic.

    While Sexton hasn't wowed anyone with efficiency, he's been better than advertised from distance (1.2 threes per night on 38.8 percent shooting) and is trending up as a table-setter (four games with five-plus assists in his last nine).


    Landry Shamet, Los Angeles Clippers

    Shamet, the 26th selection in last year's draft, has only once averaged fewer minutes than the previous month. Why is that impressive? Because he first suited up for a championship contender, navigated through a midseason trade and now plays for a club pushing hard for the postseason. In other words, multiple win-now clubs have decided giving the rook more minutes is the best way to win now.

    He's a shooting specialist, but he already appears elite in that category. If the campaign closed today, he'd join Stephen Curry as one of the only two rookies to average at least two threes while hitting at a 40 percent clip from range.

    Since joining the Clippers at the deadline, Shamet has ramped up to 2.9 threes and a 45.7 percent success rate while posting an incredible plus-22.8 net differential.

First Team: Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Before a knee sprain slowed Marvin Bagley III in late February, it was starting to seem like nothing could.

    The No. 2 pick sprinkled encouraging flashes into his first half, but this was something different. Over a five-game stretch in February that included a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder and two-point losses to both the Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors, he erupted for 23.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals per night on 53.4 percent shooting.

    "His foot is on the gas," Kevin Durant told reporters after the first-year big put 28 points and 14 boards on the champs.

    While Bagley isn't the primary factor behind the Sacramento Kings' surprising success, he has played a big part. He's fourth on the team in points (13.9), third in rebounds (7.2) and first in blocks (1.0).

    He's also one of three rookies—along with Luka Doncic and Deandre Ayton—averaging at least 13 points and seven rebounds. Nine previous freshmen cleared those marks during the 2010s; all nine made their respective All-Rookie first teams.

First Team: Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Jaren Jackson Jr. turned 19 years old in September.

    By Oct. 19, he'd delivered his first 20-point performance in his second career game, pouring in 24 against the Hawks on a tidy 8-of-12 shooting (2-of-4 from distance). Before the end of November, he'd put 36 on the Brooklyn Nets. And just before Christmas, he'd sunk the Los Angeles Lakers with a 27-point outburst capped by a step-back triple over LeBron James.

    Somewhere along the way, Jackson put himself at the forefront of the Memphis Grizzlies' reclamation project.

    "We never had to sit everyone down and have a big speech about Jaren being the franchise's future," Grizzlies executive vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger told Ben Golliver of the Washington Post. "It's like, 'Duh.'"

    If not held back by foul trouble and occasional frontcourt crowding, Jackson's numbers could've really taken off. As it is, no one will sneeze at 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 26.1 minutes per night by an NBA teenager. Or at the 0.9 threes per game on 35.9 percent shooting provided by the 6'11" part-time power forward, part-time center.

    Jackson's immediate future is clouded by a deep thigh bruise that has him sidelined with no clear timetable to return. If that means his freshman season is already in the books, he'll exit it with per-36-minute averages of 19.0 points, 6.5 boards, 1.9 blocks, 1.2 threes and 1.2 steals. No NBA first-timer has ever showcased that level of across-the-board production.

First Team: Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

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    Barry Gossage/Getty Images

    History probably won't have Deandre Ayton atop this draft class and might not even put him in the top three. But that has a lot more to do with the strength of this group than it does the Phoenix Suns' new standout in the middle.

    Ayton has been exactly as advertised. There isn't a more powerful post presence among this crop, and it's not particularly close. He needs polish in every area—he didn't start regularly hooping until he was 12 years old—and he's still the top rebounder (10.3) and third-best scorer (16.6) in this class.

    "I think he's been steady all around, all year long," Paul Pierce said on ESPN's The Jump, via the Arizona Republic's Dana Scott. "It's just that the Suns have been so bad we haven't paid attention to him, but he has all the tools. I compare him to like a young David Robinson."

    Ayton is physically gifted as they come. His strength and athleticism just rarely translate to the defensive end. But even there, he's making strides. Sure, he started from the bottom, but at least he's working his way up from traffic cone to minor annoyance. That's progress, which is all you're trying to see from a 20-year-old center.

    His steady play and potential for growth—he has a lot more offensive range than Phoenix has asked him to show—should comfortably net him a first-team spot.

First Team: Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    If Luka Doncic's sizzling start convinced you to close the Rookie of the Year voting early, then Trae Young would like a word with you.

    "Of course I want to win it, and I still think there's a chance. ... And with the way I've been playing lately, I think if I continue to play this way, there's definitely a chance that I'll win it," he told HoopsHype's Alex Kennedy.

    While Young will always be a bit of a water faucet, he's kept the temperature more hot than not of late. Since the All-Star break, he's jumped to 15th in scoring (26.1 points per game, a hair behind Kevin Durant) and third in assists (9.0, just between Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry). LeBron James is the only other player averaging at least 20 points and eight assists over that stretch.

    So, yeah, Young is cooking. And he just keeps raising the bar.

    Already this month, he became the first rookie since Earl Monroe to post at least 49 points and 10 assists in a game. Then he delivered his first triple-double.

    While his shooting rates could use some helium, and his turnovers could come down a notch, Young's rookie effort is nearing its best-case scenario. He has given the Hawks an identity and may be a consensus All-Rookie first-teamer.

First Team: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

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    Luka Doncic hit the NBA hardwood sprinting, probably because he's been running with professional ballers since he was 13 years old.

    "It's very obvious that he's been playing professionally," Damian Lillard said, per Bleacher Report's Sean Highkin. "I'm sometimes on the weak side and seeing him coming off of a pick-and-roll, and he's seeing everything. He's making the right plays and he's manipulating situations to get what he wants out of the play. You don't really see that from a rookie."

    "He's got real game," the four-time All-Star added. "He's a real pro."

    That's the thing with Doncic: He's more than a great rookie.

    He's a great player.

    Averaging 21 points, seven boards and five dimes as a rookie is mind-numbing; only Oscar Robertson has ever done that. But really, it's impressive for anyone to hit those marks. Only 29 players have ever accomplished as much during a full season, and just 17 more than once.

    An All-Rookie first-team spot is simply part of Doncic's destiny. But it's the flight plan carrying him beyond that and into the Association's upper echelon of superstars that should really excite the Dallas Mavericks.


    Statistics used courtesy of Basketball Reference and and current heading into games March 11.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.