Projecting 2019 NBA Rookie Stat Leaders in Every Major Category

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJune 29, 2019

Projecting 2019 NBA Rookie Stat Leaders in Every Major Category

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    A handful of NBA rookies will be legitimate factors on the league's stat leaderboards. 

    Last year, we saw Luka Doncic in a tier with top scorers, Trae Young finish as one of the best assist men and Deandre Ayton have one of the highest field-goal percentages among starters.

    The 2019 draft class will also have immediate producers in all major categories, which we defined as points per game, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, three-pointers made and field-goal percentage.

    Predictions were based on a combination of perceived NBA-readiness and projected roles.

Scoring Champ: Zion Williamson

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    Runner-up: RJ Barrett, New York Knicks

    Zion Williamson can benefit from the trade that sent Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers. He was going to produce regardless, with an unprecedented mix of power, quickness, explosion and motor. But a backcourt of Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday should make the game easier for the New Orleans Pelicans rookie, who'll catch more balls in high-percentage scoring positions. 

    He'll continue to be a lay-in and dunk machine just by tapping into his body and his athleticism for transition buckets, lobs, putbacks and finishes off cuts. His field-goal percentage will dip from 68 percent at Duke, however, as defenses adjust and force him into tougher runners and jumpers.

    But assuming the 6'7", 285-pound Williamson is receiving around 30 minutes per game, he'll have enough chances to capitalize on his developing ball-handling, post moves and touch. He'll still cause problems facing up and attacking in space, while his back-to-the-basket game should remain another source of offense around the block.

    Barrett will have a good opportunity to produce in New York, but his perimeter skills aren't ready for consistency. And after shooting 52.5 percent at the rim, he'll likely struggle to finish efficiently as well. 

    Bet on Barrett's scoring average winding up in the mid-teens, while Williamson gets closer to approaching 20 points per game like Doncic (21.2 ppg). 

Assists Leader: Ja Morant

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    Runner-up: Coby White, Chicago Bulls

    A lock to lead all rookies in assists, Ja Morant can also finish top-five in the league. 

    The Memphis Grizzlies guard just became the only NCAA player to average 10 assists per game since 1995. Speed, explosion and ball-handling regularly create playmaking chances for Morant, but his vision and passing skill are what led to historic production and our lofty projection.

    Memphis' shooters and rollers will benefit from his signature righty and lefty quick-trigger one-handers. He catches his teammates' defenders off guard by delivering dimes off live dribbles through traffic or toward the corners and wings. 

    And Morant should have dangerous targets in Jaren Jackson Jr.—a finisher, spot-up shooter and pick-and-pop threat—as well as fellow rookie Brandon Clarke, a tremendous lob catcher who shot 68.7 percent from the field last season at Gonzaga.

    Memphis' trade of Mike Conley also puts the No. 2 pick in position to dominate the ball with starter minutes. Meanwhile, Darius Garland, a score-first ball-handler, has to share the rock with Collin Sexton in Cleveland. And Coby White, who only averaged 4.1 assists at North Carolina, will have to deal with Chicago running the offense through Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen. 

    Morant may average near four turnovers, but expect him to dish roughly eight assists per game as the Grizzlies' lead guard.

Rebound King: Zion Williamson

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    Runner-up: PJ Washington, Charlotte Hornets

    There aren't many rookie big men set up for full-time roles. Two who are were poor rebounders in college, specifically the Atlanta Hawks' De'Andre Hunter (9.8 rebounding percentage last season) and the Washington Wizards' Rui Hachimura (12.1 rebounding percentage). 

    With starter minutes, a 285-pound frame, explosiveness and motor, Williamson is poised to win the rookie rebounding crown, albeit with limited competition. 

    At 18 years old, he finished second in the country in points per game off putbacks (3.9), and there isn't a reason why he can't continue using the offensive glass as a source for scoring. 

    The Pelicans' No. 8 pick, center Jaxson Hayes, was also a weak rebounder at Texas (12.5 rebounding percentage), which could lead to the need for Williamson to spend more time and energy under the boards.

    The Charlotte Hornets' PJ Washington and the Memphis Grizzlies' Brandon Clarke will be the challengers to monitor. But neither has Williamson's rebounding tools or role. New York Knicks forward RJ Barrett is the sleeper to finish second behind Williamson based on his projected minutes and urges to hunt grab-and-go opportunities. 

Steals: Zion Williamson

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    Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

    Runner-up: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

    Williamson's athletic ability should translate to production and activity at both ends.

    He registered a 3.9 steal percentage in 2018-19, the second-highest among first-rounders behind Matisse Thybulle, who played in a zone at Washington and presumably won't have a full-time rookie role.

    Williamson has spectacular quickness and acceleration to jump passing lanes or make plays on the ball. 

    He also has a tendency to hunt for steals, which leads to both highlight plays and blown gambles. Williamson will get caught at times throughout the season, but he's going to force turnovers, intercept passes and pick-pocket ball-handlers while help-defending. 

    Morant will get his steals as well—he's just dealing with a different type of competitor in Williamson.  Williamson figures to rack up at least 1.7 steals per contest if Ben Simmons and Nerlens Noel were able to average 1.7 and 1.8, respectively, during their first years.

Shot-Blocking: Jaxson Hayes

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    Runner-up: Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans 

    The battle for the top shot-blocking rookie will feature the Memphis Grizzlies' Brandon Clarke and a pair of New Orleans Pelicans. 

    At 6'7", 207 pounds, Clarke figures to see a drop-off from his 4.5 blocks per 40 minutes at Gonzaga, particularly if Memphis re-signs Jonas Valanciunas in free agency. Williamson's quickness and explosiveness will naturally translate to plays on the ball. But Jaxson Hayes is the most built for swatting shots with his 6'11" size, his quickness and his defensive territory while protecting the rim. 

    Williamson and Clarke will play most possessions at power forward. Hayes will find himself in a more suitable shot-blocking position at the 5. And just like Mitchell Robinson did for the New York Knicks, Hayes can compensate for his limited strength (220 lbs) and feel for the whistle with his anticipation plus his tools (height and 7'3½" wingspan) and his athleticism to cover ground and airspace.

    Hayes blocked 2.2 shots in just 23.3 minutes per game at Texas. The same workload this year in New Orleans could be enough to out-swat Williamson and Clarke.

3-Pointers Made: Darius Garland

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    Runner-up: Tyler Herro, Miami Heat

    Between Darius Garland's track record as a shooter and his projected role with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he's the favorite to lead all rookies in three-pointers made.

    He moved up recruiting ranks after drilling four threes at the 2018 Nike Hoop Summit. He then exploded up draft boards by drilling 11 threes in four games before a knee injury ended his season for Vanderbilt. 

    The eye test loves Garland's fluid, concise shooting stroke, both off the catch and the dribble, with plenty of range. 

    He'll receive a green light to play through mistakes on a rebuilding team, which will likely mean having the freedom to pull up when feeling confident or hot. Based on a small sample size that saw Garland make six of nine spot-up threes, he'll remain a threat working off the ball for possessions when Collin Sexton is handling the point.

    RJ Barrett's 66.5 percent free-throw mark at Duke suggests he'll need time (based on history and indicators). Cam Reddish won't see enough shots in Atlanta this year. Cameron Johnson has to compete for minutes and looks with wings Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges (and possibly Josh Jackson and restricted free agent Kelly Oubre). 

    The Miami Heat's Tyler Herro will pose a challenge, given his textbook shooting fundamentals and shot-making versatility—plus he has a path to the starting lineup. However, Garland's role should be more consistent, and there isn't much to question regarding his accuracy or his perimeter skill.

Field-Goal Percentage: Jaxson Hayes

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    Runner up: Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans 

    After leading all draft picks in field-goal percentage for 2018-19, Jaxson Hayes figures to finish first among rookies.

    Tall and long with bounce and standout coordination, the 6'11" Hayes shot 72.8 percent just by running the floor, diving to the basket and finishing off plays at the rim. He ranked in the 95th percentile as a roll man, the 96th percentile as a cutter and the 95th percentile in transition. 

    His role won't look any different in New Orleans, where he'll play to his strengths, specifically the ability create and convert easy-basket opportunities. Hayes won't take shots that aren't outside five feet. And with Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday in the backcourt, he'll have multiple high-level passers to set the table.

    Williamson's field-goal mark won't plummet, but his transition may require an adjustment period, as defenses are bound to sag and make him shoot over the top. And at 6'7", it may take another season or two for the soon-to-be 19-year-old Williamson to be as dominant inside as he's been.

    Stats courtesy of Sports Reference and Synergy Sports.