NBA Rookies Who Could Shock Us This Season
Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett lead the NBA's projected Rookie of the Year race for the 2019-20 season. And after Brandon Clarke won summer league MVP, the surprise factor won't be as strong when he emerges as an immediate contributor.
But who's going to shock us? Who's going to emerge as this year's version of Landry Shamet and Mitchell Robinson?
Based on what they did last year and where they were drafted, we predicted five names who could surprise by becoming impactful rotation players right away.
Ignas Brazdeikis, New York Knicks
Buy into Ignas Brazdeikis' summer league performance. It's going to earn him looks from head coach David Fizdale even after the team signed a handful of veteran forwards.
With Reggie Bullock injured to start the season, Fizdale may turn to Brazdeikis earlier than expected. New York's rotation will need more shooting, and the No. 47 pick hit 39.2 percent of his three-point attempts at Michigan before making 11 of 19 threes in Las Vegas.
Aside from Brazdeikis' ability to stretch the floor, he's a crafty three-level scorer with 6'7", 221-pound size he isn't afraid of using. Fizdale is bound to admire and value the rookie's toughness and spirit after last year's 17-win squad was missing those traits.
A few notable, surprising developments from Brazdeikis' summer included sequences of impressive passing and defense that didn't frequently pop last season but suddenly help strengthen his role-player profile.
Confident, fearless and versatile while powered by ball-handling, shot-making and improvisation, Brazdeikis will get a chance this season. He remains a good bet to emerge as one of the most productive second-round picks.
Carsen Edwards, Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics replaced Kyrie Irving with Kemba Walker in free agency, but they didn't need to sign another guard when Terry Rozier left for the Charlotte Hornets. General manager Danny Ainge and head coach Brad Stevens presumably feel confident calling on Carsen Edwards as an additional source of offense off the bench.
He only strengthened his case for immediate minutes during summer league when he averaged 19.4 points on 21-of-45 shooting from three.
Edwards' limitations are clear, as he won't offer much playmaking or driving and slashing to put pressure on rim protectors. But moving from Purdue to the NBA shouldn't hinder his perimeter effectiveness.
Only three players in the country averaged more jump-shot makes than Edwards last year. He hit 135 threes through 36 contests and ranked fifth in pull-up points per game. Able to catch fire, as evidenced by his 34.8 points and 7.0 threes per game during the NCAA tournament, the 21-year-old guard will step into a fitting role for his streak-scoring ability.
A 2019 postseason star, Edwards will be one of the few rookies capable of making an impact in the 2020 playoffs.
Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers
Four full games from Darius Garland at Vanderbilt were enough for the Cleveland Cavaliers to draft him fifth overall. And despite seeing limited action over the past year due to a knee injury, he's in position to surprise as one of the league's most productive rookies.
Sharing the ball with Collin Sexton, Garland won't match Ja Morant's numbers with the Memphis Grizzlies. But he is a dark horse to finish as the third-highest scorer in the class.
An advanced ball-handler and versatile shot-maker, Garland looks ready to create offense from the point or catch-and-shoot from the wing next to Sexton. He's distinguished for his off-the-dribble footwork and jumper. While efficiently finishing at the rim will be challenging, Garland should be ready to punish defenses with his pull-up, step-back and spot-up shooting.
His decision-making needs work, but he's also shifty and skilled enough to generate offense as a driver and passer off ball screens.
Expected to land in the 2020 lottery, the Cavaliers' front office will use the year to assess the development and projected value of their previous two lottery picks. Garland should receive plenty of touches and chances to play through mistakes, which will lead to a poor field-goal percentage, a weak assist-to-turnover ratio and some high-scoring outputs.
Nicolo Melli, New Orleans Pelicans
Nobody drafted Nicolo Melli...in 2013.
Since then, he's improved his reputation overseas with consistent shooting, basketball IQ and physical defense. And though he's coming off a down season compared to 2017-18, Melli still checks the right boxes for a backup power forward in the NBA, especially on this particular roster.
The Pelicans surely valued his fit as a 6'9" stretch 4 who'll give their frontcourt a needed floor-spacer behind Zion Williamson and Derrick Favors. Melli shot over 40 percent from three during each of the past four seasons while playing at least 65 games every year.
He lacks the quickness and athleticism to be considered a significant off-the-dribble threat. But his skill level is high, and he should offer enough offensive ability to capitalize on pull-up opportunities and passes out from the post.
Even if Melli doesn't finish as a top rookie scorer, he's bound to emerge as an impact player for a Pelicans team capable of making noise in the Western Conference.
Jordan Poole, Golden State Warriors
Jordan Poole signing a first-round contract must have called for a celebration, but landing in Golden State should have been the real reason to party.
It's an ideal situation for his specific game and needs. After the Warriors lost a combined 47.5 points per game when Kevin Durant left for the Brooklyn Nets and Klay Thompson went down with a torn ACL, head coach Steve Kerr may need to call on the rookie early.
Vulnerable to slumps, low-percentage attempts and defensive lapses, Poole won't have a long leash. Instead, he'll make his mark this year with streak-scoring that's traditionally suited for a sixth-man role. He won't be the first Warrior off the bench, but he can give the second unit a needed weapon.
He's one of the class' most advanced shot-creators, equipped with various step-back, pull-back and crossover pull-up moves for separating. He's also a dangerous shot-maker capable of connecting on those specialty jumpers and open spot-up threes (50 percent on uncontested catch-and-shoot attempts at Michigan).
His scoring attack is ultimately fueled by confidence, and both ball movement and supporting talent should lead to rhythm shots with Golden State.
Expect games throughout the season that highlight the rookie's flashy one-on-one skills, microwave shooting and knack for scoring in bunches.
Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports.