What Every NBA Team Must See from Its Top Rookie in CampOctober 2, 2019
What Every NBA Team Must See from Its Top Rookie in Camp
NBA training camp represents the first hands-on opportunity for head coaches to work with their rookies.
Coaches should have a plan for how to develop their young additions. For certain rookies, it may mean making adjustments to fit the team's system and roster.
We pinpointed what every NBA team will want to see from its top rookie as they prepare for their first NBA season. Each team's top rookie was decided by who it drafted first.
The Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings don't have any rookies on guaranteed deals. Los Angeles Lakers second-round pick Talen Horton-Tucker will be limited by an injury during camp, while Orlando Magic rookie Chuma Okeke is recovering from a torn ACL, so both of them were left out here.
Atlanta Hawks: De'Andre Hunter
What team needs to see: Three-point shooting
The Atlanta Hawks specifically targeted De'Andre Hunter in the draft, moving up from No. 8 to No. 4 to secure him. Head coach Lloyd Pierce likely has plans to use him right away, particularly given his projected defensive readiness.
But for Hunter to justify a starting role, he'll need to make the three-point opportunities that come to him.
The Hawks took the third-most threes in the league last year, and without many stretch bigs in their rotation, Pierce will be counting on Hunter to help stretch the floor. It'll be even more important for him to adjust to the NBA's three-point arc if he's playing the wing while John Collins is at power forward.
Hunter will need his three-ball to fall from an individual-scoring standpoint as well, since he isn't the most advanced shot-creator or explosive athlete.
He was accurate at Virginia, making 41.9 percent of his three-point attempts through two seasons. But he averaged only 0.9 makes per game during his college career.
Boston Celtics: Romeo Langford
What team needs to see: Healed thumb improves shooting
The Boston Celtics coaching staff will be focused on Romeo Langford's shooting after he finished 27.2 percent from three as a freshman at Indiana. He also had surgery in April to repair a torn thumb ligament that he suffered in November, according to ESPN's Jonathan Givony, which may have contributed to his low shooting percentage.
At the Celtics' media day Monday, Langford said his hand is 100 percent, per the Boston Globe's Adam Himmelsbach. That should put him under an even brighter spotlight in training camp and the preseason.
Langford will have a tough time finding minutes behind Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. Even second-round pick Carsen Edwards could have an edge for early minutes after he excelled in summer league while Langford sat.
Behind Kemba Walker, Smart, Brown and Edwards, Langford won't receive the same 4.5 pick-and-roll ball-handling possessions per game he got last year at Indiana, so he'll have to show head coach Brad Stevens that he's capable of spotting up from three. He shot 26.8 percent on catch-and-shoot chances last year, including 4-of-26 on guarded attempts.
Brooklyn Nets: Nicolas Claxton
What team needs to see: Skill set/defensive range to play power forward
DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen will make it tough for Nicolas Claxton to earn minutes at center as a rookie. Finding the floor will mean gaining head coach Kenny Atkinson's trust in his ability to play power forward without hurting the offense.
He's shown some flashes of touch and range, having hit 18 threes and 30.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot chances as a sophomore at Georgia. Even demonstrating the ball skills and body control to face up and attack, which he can do, will help his cause.
But Claxton's true value to Brooklyn's rotation will show on defense, where he averaged 2.5 blocks and 1.1 steals in 2018-19. He'll have the chance to make a name for himself in training camp with his playmaking and switching, as he's a 6'11" big who can protect the rim and slide his feet guarding away from the basket.
If he can build a reputation for being a defensive specialist inside Brooklyn's locker room, Claxton could surprise and earn a role, especially with Wilson Chandler suspended for the first 25 games of the season.
Charlotte Hornets: PJ Washington
What team needs to see: Last year's shooting success wasn't a fluke
PJ Washington moved up draft boards last year by improving his shooting. Just being a back-to-the-basket scorer wasn't enough. After shooting 5-of-21 from deep as a freshman, he returned to shoot 33-of-78 on triples and reshape his identity.
Hornets head coach James Borrego has already talked about using his lottery pick in a stretch role.
"We are not going to wait for PJ to shoot threes," he told reporters last week, per The Athletic's Roderick Boone. "He's going to shoot threes now, and we are excited about that."
Though he's relatively polished, Washington doesn't have any other distinguishable skills. To build his value both to Charlotte's rotation and the NBA in general, he needs to make his jump shot an every-game weapon.
Chicago Bulls: Coby White
What team needs to see: Efficiently sparking the second unit
What can Coby White add that Kris Dunn, Tomas Satoransky and Ryan Arcidiacono can't? The rookie needs to figure that out in training camp, because the Chicago Bulls will be looking to make a jump up the standings, and head coach Jim Boylen figures to trust his veteran guards more in 2019-20.
White finished summer league shooting 33.7 percent while averaging 4.8 assists and 3.8 turnovers. He'll need to show his three-ball is better than the Las Vegas numbers (3-of-30) suggest. His decision-making and defense have also come under question since he arrived at North Carolina.
The Bulls still selected White No. 7 overall, having bought into his uptempo pace, shot-making and ball-screen playmaking. In training camp, he'll want to show Boylen that he can spark Chicago's 29th-ranked offense, particularly since Dunn and Arcidiacono are limited scorers. But White will need to do so while playing under control and keeping opposing point guards in front of him on defense.
He'll try to make a case as Chicago's bench spark without being a liability on either end of the court.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Darius Garland
What team needs to see: How he fits alongside Collin Sexton
Darius Garland and Collin Sexton will work together in the backcourt, and they'll use training camp to start building chemistry. Cavaliers head coach John Beilein will want to see his No. 5 pick show that he can play on and off the ball, which he demonstrated during his brief five-game stint at Vanderbilt.
Garland converted 6-of-9 catch-and-shoot chances and 13-of-23 pull-ups before he injured his knee this pats season. He excels at creating separation into dribble jumpers and hopping into deep, spot-up threes.
After Sexton averaged only 3.0 assists as a rookie, Garland will want to establish himself as the more threatening playmaker, both for the team's sake and his individual value. While the Cavaliers would benefit from adding a savvier passer, Garland would emerge as the more desirable prospect long term by appearing better-suited for a lead-guard role.
His decision-making and feel for setting up teammates should be under the microscope during camp.
Dallas Mavericks: Isaiah Roby
What team needs to see: Versatility
Through three seasons at Nebraska, Isaiah Roby gradually improved his shooting and defensive activity to the point where the Dallas Mavericks saw a three-and-D NBA big man. Sequences of grab-and-go, fastbreak-initiating helped separate him further.
He was still more of a flash-play prospect, however, unable to produce in volume or with consistency. Lacking strength and physicality around the basket, coach Rick Carlisle shouldn't expect an NBA-ready prospect.
All he'll want to see are the NCAA and summer league glimpses of versatility that point to a future interchangeable 4/5. Roby has time with Dallas to tie everything together after the Mavericks signed him to a four-year contract.
Denver Nuggets: Michael Porter Jr.
What team needs to see: Setback-free camp, plus flashes of scoring potential
The Denver Nuggets will just want to see Porter compete during training camp without experiencing any physical setbacks. He hasn't played in over a year after logging only 53 minutes as a freshman at Missouri.
They'll also want to see that Porter still has the scoring upside that led to his generating No. 1 overall hype out of high school.
Though Denver is deep, he could upgrade the Nuggets rotation by giving it another bucket-getter at either forward spot. The Nuggets could be more dangerous with Porter starting at the 3 and Will Barton occupying the sixth-man role.
Denver's 2018 first-round pick has separated himself over the years with a unique mix of 6'10" size and wing skills, including face-up moves and three-point range. The Nuggets shouldn't be counting on much passing or defense from Porter, but showing he can create and make shots against defenders such as Jerami Grant and Torrey Craig in training camp would be a confidence-booster for both him and the coaching staff.
Detroit Pistons: Sekou Doumbouya
What team needs to see: Flashes of long-term shooting/defensive potential
Pistons head coach Dwayne Casey won't expect much from Sekou Doumbouya, the draft's youngest prospect, who combined to play 18.1 minutes per game last year overseas. He'll just want to see the No. 15 overall pick look like an eventual combo forward capable of making threes, finishing around the rim and defending.
Doumbouya doesn't have to flash any ball-handling moves or one-on-one scoring. Offensively, he'll want to show he can efficiently convert off the catch as a shooter and cutter.
And though he may have trouble making the right reads defensively, he'll want to convince Casey he can disrupt on the ball with his size, length and quickness.
Doumbouya won't have many chances to steal minutes at power forward behind Blake Griffin and Markieff Morris. His best chance to play will be to add more defensive toughness than Joe Johnson and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk on the wing.
Golden State Warriors: Jordan Poole
What team needs to see: Catch-and-shoot offense
With Klay Thompson out recovering from a torn ACL, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will call on Jordan Poole for his scoring, particularly as a catch-and-shooter.
In training camp, the rookie will want to show off his rhythm shot-making after he finished his sophomore season at Michigan ranked in the 92nd percentile out of spot-ups. Poole wasn't as effective shooting off screens (34.5 percent), which Thompson and the Warriors did plenty of last season. Golden State led the league with 13.2 field-goal attempts last year off screens, nearly double the Orlando Magic, whose 7.3 shots off screens ranked second.
It's no wonder that Warriors coaches have been working on Poole's curling around pindowns, per The Athletic's Anthony Slater.
He should wind up having an opportunity to become a regular in the rotation with Golden State's second unit needing a boost. Unlikely to offer much playmaking or defense, Poole will need to his rely on his jump shot working in an off-ball role.
Houston Rockets: Chris Clemons (Exhibit 10 Contract)
What team needs to see: Microwave scoring carrying over
The nation's leading scorer at Campbell, Chris Clemons has now proven he can produce at a high level against summer-league competition (20.2 points) and the Shanghai Sharks, who gave up 21 points in 19 minutes to the undrafted rookie on Monday.
His 5'9" size and limited playmaking have led to skepticism about his potential to play in the NBA. But continuing to execute in training camp and preseason could change that perception.
Clemson won't even need to show the ability to facilitate or run an offense. Whether it's with the Houston Rockets or another team, coaches will value his elite shot-making and knack for putting the ball in the hoop after he averaged 30.1 points and 4.2 threes per game as a college senior.
Indiana Pacers: Goga Bitadze
What team needs to see: Defense and shooting
Drafted for his scoring and expanding offensive skill set, Goga Bitadze needs to show Pacers head coach Nate McMillan that he's capable of anchoring the second-unit defense.
Opponents are going to target him with pick-and-rolls the instant he enters a game. He put up impressive shot-blocking numbers overseas (1.9 per game), but his lateral quickness away from the basket raised concerns about his hedging, recovering and switching.
In terms of earning McMillan's trust, it won't hurt to prove last season's 36 threes in 51 games weren't fluky. His value to the Pacers and NBA will jump significantly if he can confirm he's a post scorer and roll man who can also stretch the floor and pick-and-pop.
Los Angeles Clippers: Mfiondu Kabengele
What team needs to see: Mix of shooting and energy
The Los Angeles Clippers roster has changed dramatically since it added Mfiondu Kabengele in the draft. Suddenly a title contender after acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, bringing back JaMychal Green and acquiring Moe Harkless in a trade, L.A. doesn't have much room or a need for a rookie big man.
Kabengele's best shot at earning minutes will be establishing a speciality that Clippers head coach Doc Rivers can seek out when needed. And that speciality should be a mix of shooting and energy.
He shot 7-of-16 from three in summer league and was a career 37.4 percent three-point shooter in college. At 6'10" and 256 pounds, his tools, athleticism and motor around the rim can translate to easy baskets off offensive rebounds (92nd percentile at Florida State), rolls (85th percentile) and cuts (70th percentile).
With limited passing and defensive IQ, Kabengele will need to lean heavily on his three-ball and finishing at the rim.
Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant
What team needs to see: Aggressiveness/trial and error
Led by 20-year-old Jaren Jackson Jr., the Memphis Grizzlies are thinking long term. They'll just want to see Morant start the season fully healthy after knee surgery knocked him out of summer league. Explosiveness is also a major part of Morant's game, so his knee health seems especially important.
Otherwise, it sounds like Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins will just want Morant to play freely. In training camp, Jenkins will presumably hope to see his No. 2 pick, who led the nation in transition points per game, help speed up a Grizzlies offense that ranked last in the NBA in pace.
Considering he's encouraging Morant to play "fast and aggressive," Jenkins sounds OK with his point guard turning the ball over. The rookie should be looking to put constant pressure on defenses with his open-floor ball-handling and ball-screen attacking/playmaking. Morant's ability to create easy shots for teammates is his signature strength, and his young teammates will benefit from his superb setup passing.
He should be aggressive with his jump shot as well, even though it's considered his weakness. Jenkins won't expect him to shoot a high percentage, but the more he shoots his pull-up as a rookie, the more comfortable he could be entering his sophomore season.
Morant needs to capitalize on a role and season in which he'll have complete freedom to play through mistakes.
Miami Heat: Tyler Herro
What team needs to see: Maintain signature confidence, aggressiveness and competitiveness
During training camp, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra will want Tyler Herro to maintain his signature confidence, aggressiveness and competitiveness. Those traits will lead to mistakes, but they're also what make Herro so dangerous offensively.
He came out firing in summer league, where he averaged 19.5 points and 2.8 threes per game. He should continue to look for his shot and show coaches he's also a threat to create off the dribble. Herro added 3.8 assists per game during summer league, and he converted 49-of-110 pull-ups and 14-of-26 runners at Kentucky.
While his picturesque jump shot and form draw the most buzz, Herro's ball skills will help to separate him from other shooters.
Keeping his foot on the gas in training camp should also help push Dion Waiters, which is even more of a reason why Spoelstra will want Herro to stay aggressive.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Jarrett Culver
What team needs to see: Versatility
After moving up to No. 6 for Jarrett Culver, the Minnesota Timberwolves will be looking for ways to get him involved. That could mean having to get creative and using him at different positions.
Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders will want to see Culver's versatility, which should help to maximize his opportunities. Last year at Texas Tech, he evolved into a lead scorer (18.5 points) and capable playmaker (3.7 assists) after mostly serving as a spot-up player during his freshman season.
Sanders could look to use Culver for backup point guard minutes if Jeff Teague can't stay healthy or Shabazz Napier struggles. Or he could use him at either wing spot, as he's now listed at 6'7" and has improved his shot creation for scoring.
He did take a step backward last year as a shooter (30.4 percent from three), so Saunders will want to see Culver get back on track with his jump shot, particularly since Minnesota ranked 19th in three-point percentage and the rookie still figures to play more of an off-ball role.
New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson
What team needs to see: Letting the game come to him
With a ridiculous amount of hype surrounding Zion Williamson's debut and potential, he may have the urge to try to validate it right away. He doesn't need to, however.
The No. 1 pick should let the game come to him within an offense that's already going to be competent behind Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, JJ Redick and Derrick Favors.
Williamson doesn't need to be Superman in training camp or the regular season. He should focus on understanding his role and figuring out where the best scoring opportunities will come from in this particular system and lineup.
Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry won't need the 19-year-old to try to take over games as a creator and scorer. He should start by playing to his strengths as a transition weapon, driver in space, low-post presence and offensive rebounder.
And he could begin working on building his defensive reputation and value right away with his extraordinary mix of power, motor and quickness for playmaking.
Williamson has a giant window of time to strengthen his ball skills and shooting, regardless of what some fans' expectations may be.
New York Knicks: RJ Barrett
What team needs to see: Adjust to new role, playing without the ball
Two years ago, RJ Barrett was the Gatorade National Player of the Year and Geico champion at Montverde Academy. Last year, he led Duke with 18.5 field-goal attempts per game alongside the country's top prospect in Zion Williamson.
This year, he's just another wing on one of the league's weakest rosters.
Barrett is looking at a giant role change with the Knicks. He'll need to show head coach David Fizdale that he's comfortable playing without the ball, since the offense will presumably run through Julius Randle and Marcus Morris while Dennis Smith Jr., Elfrid Payton and Frank Ntilikina handle the rock.
Barrett figures to fall in the pecking order next to Kevin Knox, Allonzo Trier and Bobby Portis, working more as a complementary scoring option out of spot-up position. And as a freshman, he generated .898 points per possessions out of spot-ups (49th percentile), having shot 31.9 percent on catch-and-shoot chances and 34.5 percent on drives to the basket attacking closeouts.
This season, he'll need to do a better job of capitalizing on open/rhythm jumpers and wisely picking his spots to attack the rim.
New York isn't the most promising situation for Barrett's rookie season, given his particular weaknesses and projected role. But regardless of where he landed, he would have needed to show he can score off the ball, especially if he struggles to create/separate one-on-one like he did during summer league.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Darius Bazley
What team needs to see: Being coachable/receptive
Thunder head coach Billy Donovan can't be expecting much this season from Darius Bazley, a 19-year-old rookie who skipped college and shot 36.4 percent in summer league.
Coaches will just want to see Bazley compete and familiarize himself with a new level of offensive schemes and overall competition.
Being receptive and coachable should be Bazley's priorities during training camp, though it wouldn't hurt to show he can make open jump shots and slide his feet defending the perimeter.
Bazley figures to spend most of the year in the G League. Training camp just represents an opportunity to get acclimated with the Thunder's culture and NBA-caliber athletes.
Philadelphia 76ers: Matisse Thybulle
What team needs to see: Signature three-and-D ability
The 76ers are aware of Matisse Thybulle's limitations as a creator, since he averaged only 9.1 points and 2.1 assists as a senior at Washington. All head coach Brett Brown will presumably want to see in training camp is the first-round pick's signature three-and-D ability.
Brown will also want to make sure Thybulle's defensive reputation holds up, moving from Washington's zone to man-to-man. However, he helped validate the hype during summer league with some terrific reads and plays on the ball.
Thybulle also made 39.3 percent of his three-point attempts in July, which he'll need to keep up since he's likely to spend most of his time on offense standing behind the arc. Outshooting James Ennis could be enough for him to crack the Sixers' rotation.
The coaching staff will ultimately keep Thybulle focused on playing to his strengths as a spot-up shooter and high-IQ defender. This team has enough offensive weapons.
Phoenix Suns: Cameron Johnson
What team needs to see: Capable of helping right away with off-ball shooting
It's rare to see a 23-year-old get drafted in the lottery. The Phoenix Suns, who ranked last in the NBA in three-point shooting, clearly viewed Cameron Johnson as a fit who can immediately contribute.
The Suns also added Ricky Rubio, Dario Saric and Aron Baynes this summer, which suggests the front office is looking to escape the tanking phase in 2019-20.
Suns head coach Monty Williams will want to see Johnson's signature shot-making in training camp after he shot 45.7 percent from deep last season at North Carolina. He demonstrated textbook form and and accuracy shooting off the catch and movement, ranking in the 97th percentile both out of spot-ups and off screens.
Williams won't ask Johnson to put the ball down. Instead, he'll have him focus on getting himself open and shot preparation.
Portland Trail Blazers: Nassir Little
What team needs to see: Rising confidence
Viewed as a potential top-three pick before arriving at North Carolina, Nassir Little fell out of favor with head coach Roy Williams, and he struggled in a role without the freedom to play through mistakes. The 6'6", 220-pound forward appeared unsure of how to go about creating scoring chances in the half court, and his jump shot never clicked (14-of-52 from deep).
He didn't look any sharper in summer league, where he averaged 3.3 points on 6-of-18 through four games.
The bar is low for Little entering his rookie year. The Trail Blazers coaching staff will just be looking to reignite his confidence as a ball-handler and shooter.
Realistically, Little's role off the bat will be to finish at the rim, crash the glass, make open jump shots and defend with intensity. Focusing on those areas would be a reasonable ask in training camp.
Improving his one-on-one creation, pull-up game and defensive awareness are more long-term goals for Little.
San Antonio Spurs: Luka Samanic
What team needs to see: Flashes of versatility and competitiveness
Luka Samanic will be a long shot to see action this season behind LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, DeMarre Carroll, Trey Lyles and Jacob Poeltl. Despite standing 6'11" and 227 pounds, the Croatian big man shot 35.7 percent in summer league without a bread-and-butter strength or skill.
The Spurs will exercise patience with the 19-year-old rookie. In training camp, coaches will just want to see Samanic compete with toughness while flashing the versatility he's developed overseas, even if the execution isn't there yet.
He was arguably the most impressive player during scrimmages at the NBA combine, where he showed off shooting range, drives past closeouts, the ability to absorb contact inside and lateral quickness defending the perimeter.
Toronto Raptors: Terence Davis
What team needs to see: Scoring and competitiveness
The Toronto Raptors stole Terence Davis away during summer league after he debuted for the Denver Nuggets. Head coach Nick Nurse will now want him to put pressure on Norman Powell and Patrick McCaw, shooting guards who've seemingly plateaued.
Despite going undrafted, Davis had been on a tear since the college season, emerging as a standout at the G League Elite Camp and the NBA combine before averaging 18.3 points in summer league.
Nurse will want Davis to be his aggressive self during training camp, with his ability to catch fire as a driver and shooter. He didn't always put forth the best effort defensively at Ole Miss, so locking in at both ends should be a priority as well.
Davis, who can shoot and handle in ball-screen situations, comes off as a sneaky rookie capable of cracking Toronto's rotation, especially if Powell and McCaw fail to make a jump.
Utah Jazz: Miye Oni
What team needs to see: Shooting and funcational athleticism
Oni took 48 shots in summer league, 37 of which came from behind the three-point arc. It seems like he's going to try to break into the league and Utah Jazz rotation by making jump shots after averaging 2.0 threes per game on 35.6 percent shooting during his three-year career at Yale.
The Jazz have creators, so head coach Quin Synder will likely want Oni to focus on his shooting and ability to use his athleticism for finishing and defense.
Regardless, Oni figures to split most of his rookie year moving from Utah's bench to the G League, although an injury to Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic or Royce O'Neale could lead to Snyder calling on the No. 58 pick. Utah drafted Justin Wright-Foreman at No. 52, but Oni got the three-year deal.
Washington Wizards: Rui Hachimura
What team needs to see: Continued scoring execution/versatility
Hachimura will earn his NBA money by scoring, and the Wizards could certainly use another scorer in the lineup.
This franchise isn't going anywhere in 2019-20, so it's all about the Japanese forward's long-term development and potential. But head coach Scott Brooks will still want to see that Hachimura's execution from Gonzaga, summer league and the World Cup can carry over into training camp and the regular season.
He'd create even more optimism than he already has by outplaying Davis Bertans and Moritz Wagner right off the bat. Strong and athletic, a mix that's consistently led to efficient finishing around the basket, Hachimura will want to show that he'll also remain a threat to create and convert from the elbows and short corners, facing up or playing back to the basket.
Brooks will presumably love to see his lottery pick looking comfortable stepping into jump shots since his shooting range may be the biggest question mark. He combined to shoot 2-of-10 from three over the summer after totaling 24 threes through 102 career NCAA games.
Not having a three-ball hasn't stopped Hachimura from producing in every setting he's played in, however. Emerging as Washington's toughest frontcourt scorer/cover during training camp should help instill confidence in both the rookie and coaches heading into the season.
Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports.