Projecting Every Top 2019 NBA Rookie's Impact in Year 1
The 2018 draft class proved it could enter the NBA and make an immediate impact. How will 2019's class fare during its rookie season?
Common sense says to lower the bar. A handful of this year's top picks were taken by rebuilding teams far away from competitiveness. That could result in productive rookies, but also inefficient ones.
Still, a few landed in suitable situations that could help expedite their adjustment and growth.
Based on physical and skill development, projected roles and fit, we predicted the impact each top-10 pick should have in 2019-20.
1. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
Impact level: Quality starter
Even at the NBA level, opponents will continue to have trouble containing Zion Williamson's mix of power, explosiveness and quickness.
He'll also benefit from having a passer like Lonzo Ball and a star guard in Jrue Holiday. The easy buckets from Williamson won't stop coming. Right away, he'll still be a handful around the basket off low post-ups, finishes and offensive rebounds.
He and Ball together should also lead to frequent layups and dunks in transition. The Pelicans will want to play to their strengths and push the pace.
A near lock to lead all rookies in player efficiency rating, Williamson can also be an impact defender, more because of his lateral quickness, recovery time and playmaking (2.1 steals, 1.8 blocks) than his strength.
Half-court offense may require an adjustment period, as teams are bound to sag off and force Williamson to shoot from outside the paint. He only hit 0.7 threes per game (33.8 percent) and went just 2-of-12 on pull-ups at Duke.
Williamson won't be taking over games next year as easily as he did in college. But as a 19-year-old, he's going to be more effective than your average starter.
2. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
Impact level: Productive/inefficient starter
The Memphis Grizzlies traded Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz and will immediately hand Ja Morant the offensive keys. It will result in both solid rookie production and a heavy dose of missed shots and turnovers.
Morant will have the freedom to play through mistakes on what could be one of the league's weaker lineups for 2019-20.
After leading the nation in both assists and transition points, the athletic point guard will continue putting pressure on defenses by getting downhill and setting up teammates. His tremendous passing skills and IQ should immediately translate to open looks off fastbreaks and ball screens.
He'll also earn his fair share of layups, runners and free throws by getting into the lane and elevating with explosiveness.
However, he won't shoot well from outside. Morant made 34.3 percent of his half-court jump shots. He shot 32.1 percent off the dribble and 26.3 percent when guarded off the catch. He may even have trouble finishing at the rim, as well, given his skinny frame and 54.0 percent mark around the basket at Murray State.
He also led the nation in turnovers. Given how much he's expected to dominate the ball for a team without stars or vets, expect to see more forced decisions.
Still, between the freedom he'll have and his tremendous vision, look for Morant to challenge for top-five placement in assists. Just anticipate a low field-goal percentage and plenty of wrong decisions along the way.
3. RJ Barrett, New York Knicks
Impact level: Productive/inefficient starter
RJ Barrett, the No. 3 overall selection, became the Knicks' highest draft pick since Patrick Ewing went No. 1 overall in 1985. Fans actually cheered him Thursday night, which was an indication of potentially misled short-term optimism.
Expectations have to be managed for 2019-20. Barrett figures to face similar challenges that led to Kevin Knox's 37.0 field-goal percentage as a rookie.
It seems unlikely the Knicks can surround him with talent and vets to take off pressure. His partner in crime at Duke, the draft's No. 1 overall pick, may have been more impactful than anyone he'll have in New York this upcoming season. Even if the Knicks do sign Kevin Durant, he'll be out for—at the very least—most of next year after rupturing his Achilles during the NBA Finals.
Plus, Barrett ranked in just the 51st percentile in half-court offense last year. He also ranked in the 49th percentile out of spot-ups and 47th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler while shooting 30.8 percent from three and 66.5 percent from the free-throw line.
He still relies more on improvising and instincts over skill. NBA defenses will catch up. Inefficiency seems inevitable, based on his weaknesses, age (19) and projected teammates.
Barrett should be productive, however. He will have a green light to keep attacking and firing away. A dangerous transition scorer, Barrett also has practically every shot in the bag, including pull-ups, runners, floaters and an innovative layup package.
He may already be the team's best playmaker after averaging 4.3 assists and grading in the 95th percentile or better as a ball-screen passer to roll men and cutters at Duke.
Barrett seems poised to put up numbers—let's say in the range of 15 points and three assists per night. However, the production will presumably be empty for a lottery-bound roster.
4. De'Andre Hunter, Atlanta Hawks
Impact level: Average role player
After trading up to draft at No. 4 overall, the Atlanta Hawks likely saw a player they believed could contribute right away. De'Andre Hunter (6'7", 225 lbs) played two seasons at Virginia and just went off for 27 points to win the national title game.
As a rookie, he may be valued more for his defense than his scoring. Hunter already has a strong physical profile for an NBA forward with enough strength, length and quickness to effectively guard either forward spot. He should immediately be able to contest at a high level while defending on the ball.
Offensively, however, he'll be used mostly off the ball.
Last year, 30.4 percent of his possessions were from a spot-up position. Hunter's role will be similar in Atlanta. He's not an advanced shot-creator, which will limit his scoring potential. Instead, he'll need his three-point stroke to carry over quickly. He didn't shoot them in volume at Virginia (2.8 attempts per game), but he was accurate (43.8 percent).
He'll still be good for two-point baskets when given space for straight-line drives or post-up opportunities.
Otherwise, Hunter wasn't a strong rebounder (5.1 per game) or noteworthy assist weapon (2.0 per game). He'll settle in as a three-and-D role player between Trae Young and John Collins. Don't bank on many offensive outbursts like the one we saw during his final NCAA game.
5. Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers
Impact level: Productive/inefficient starter
Darius Garland hasn't participated in live action since November. He played four full games over the past season before tearing his meniscus. Now, he's expected to run the Cleveland Cavaliers, who won 19 times last year.
Don't count on the 19-year-old rookie making a major impact.
The fact he'll have to share the rock with Collin Sexton adds another element to the adjustment process. But the good news is he's built to work on and off the ball.
An exceptional shot-maker off both the dribble and catch, Garland should still be counted on for empty scoring production. He's bound to make enough jumpers and occasionally catch fire throughout the season. He's also shifty off the dribble, which should lead to more finishes around the basket and assists off ball screens.
But he also had more turnovers than assists during his limited time at Vanderbilt. He's always been a score-first ball-handler with questionable decision-making as a passer. Now he's being paired with Sexton, so it's reasonable to imagine he won't come close to matching Ja Morant's playmaking numbers in 2019-20.
Bank on around 15 points per game with a low field-goal percentage, a solid three-point mark and a poor assist-to-turnover ratio.
6. Jarrett Culver, Minnesota Timberwolves
Projected impact: Quality role player
Jarrett Culver's transformation from role player to lead scorer launched him up draft boards. He'll have to revert back to spot-up duties next season, however, as the Minnesota Timberwolves' offense still runs through Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
And after he just shot 30.4 percent from three and 31.6 percent on catch-and-shoot chances, Culver may be in line for some rookie bumps.
However, becoming more well-rounded will create extra margin for error and allow him to impact a game in additional ways.
Even if his shot isn't falling, he should still be able to score and dish inside the arc off his own dribble and creativity. He ranked in the 77th percentile out of isolation and the 78th percentile as a pick-and-roll passer. And at 6'7", he has strong 2-guard size, plus the ability to lose defenders with changing speeds and long strides.
A disciplined defender with strong tools, Culver should also be capable of holding his own while guarding one-on-one and reading plays off the ball.
Culver won't score in volume this year like he did at Texas Tech. But he should be a serviceable two-way role player in the Wolves' starting lineup.
He'll be a first-team All-Rookie candidate if he can make enough jump shots.
7. Coby White, Chicago Bulls
Projected impact: Offensive spark/quality role player
It would be surprising if head coach Jim Boylen gives Coby White full control of the offense as a rookie. Fourth-year point guard Kris Dunn is still there, and Zach LaVine also does his fair share of ball-handling.
A more realistic projection for White has him either playing a change-of-pace role off the bench or assuming a supporting role as a starting point guard. If Dunn starts, White would be valued for his ability to enter a game and inject the offense with speed and shot-making ability. As a starter, he'd likely be asked to defer to LaVine, Otto Porter Jr. and rising star Lauri Markkanen.
Chicago is a good situation for White either way. He's the long-term upgrade over Dunn. The question is what to expect from him next year.
He'll have big scoring outputs mixed with off nights. White has a knack for heating up through streaky shooting. He hit at least four threes in a game 11 times last year. On the other hand, he can have trouble getting clean separation, which leads to contested shots and inefficient performances.
Expect similar results from White as a facilitator. He's capable of making high-level reads and passes off ball screens. But he's also turnover-prone (2.7 per game).
Still, as a fourth or fifth option for a team that could use precisely what he offers in terms of pace, shooting and passing, White is set up nicely for an impactful rookie year, even if his numbers won't be flashy.
8. Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans Pelicans
Projected impact: On-and-off energizer
The New Orleans Pelicans moved back from No. 4 to No. 8, presumably with Jaxson Hayes in mind.
Just 19 and without a great deal of offensive skill or strength, he may be on a minutes watch this season. Hayes also averaged 5.7 fouls and just 8.6 rebounds per 40 minutes, which are issues likely to carry over.
But his role won't be much different from the one he played at Texas, which called for him to run the floor, cut, roll to the basket and protect the rim. He has the physical tools and athleticism to continue executing as a finisher and shot-blocker.
Right away, he'll give Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday an easy-basket target and the Pelicans a defensive playmaker with switchability.
But there are bound to be games in which Hayes is quiet offensively and stuck in foul trouble. Expect a season mixed with exciting plays above the rim and outings featuring minimal production and impact.
9. Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards
Projected impact: Average role player
Rui Hachimura will have the chance to compete for the starting power forward spot right away, but that's mostly because the Washington Wizards lack talent. Landing in Washington has its pros and cons for the Gonzaga product, who'll have the minutes to produce and a role that could expose his need to make adjustments.
On the positive side, he should still be capable of generating offense from the foul line to the baseline. At 6'8", 230 pounds, he's strong, athletic and quick enough to keep scoring off cuts and post-ups.
Scary-low numbers as a rebounder (12.1 total rebounding percentage) and passer (9.1 assist percentage) raise questions. His steal (1.7 percent) and block (2.4 percent) rates were also notably low, particularly for a talent like Hachimura playing in the West Coast Conference.
And as a junior, he made just 15 threes and 29.0 percent of his two-point jumpers beyond 17 feet. The game won't come as easily to Hachimura as it did this past campaign when he shot 59.1 percent from the field.
Next season, Hachimura could score in double digits while playing to his strengths as a face-up and back-to-the-basket weapon inside 17 feet. It won't translate to difference-making impact, however, until he improves as a passer, rebounder, shooter and defender.
10. Cam Reddish, Atlanta Hawks
Projected impact: Streaky shot-maker/average role player
After Cam Reddish shot 35.6 percent at Duke, it will tough to trust him for consistent offense as a rookie.
His role won't be any different, either. Reddish, who just spent 33.8 percent of his possessions out of spot-ups, 22.8 percent in transition, 12.3 percent off screens and 8.8 percent off handoffs (77.7 percent combined), will continue to play an off-ball role in Atlanta alongside Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and John Collins.
Reddish will find himself standing around the arc frequently next season, which could hurt his ability to build rhythm or confidence. It will result in more erratic production and shooting.
But he's also too talented and skilled. He hit 2.5 threes per game last year and will have outings in which he heats up for the Hawks. Through his rookie campaign, he should be good for streaky shot-making that helps him produce points in bunches.
He may also be able to add defensive value with his versatility and anticipation. It's realistic to expect mistakes on that end, but the coaching staff will likely feel optimistic about Reddish's long-term defensive upside by the conclusion of his first season.
Bet on more inefficiency from the No. 10 pick, but also three-point and pull-up shot-making, as well as some flashes of ball-screen offense and defensive potential.