NBA Rookies Already Outperforming Their Draft Positions
First impressions are out on the 2019-20 class of NBA rookies, and a handful are already exceeding the expectations set by their draft positions.
It's quickly starting to look like a few late-lottery picks should have gone earlier, and teams definitely misevaluated one second-rounder. Even a few undrafted prospects have found their way into starting lineups during their first month of professional action.
These prospects have immediately emerged as value players based on where and how their teams acquired them.
Ky Bowman, PG, Golden State Warriors
Early Per-Game Numbers: 7.5 points, 2.5 assists, 42.6 field-goal percentage, 40.0 three-point percentage
Nobody drafted Ky Bowman, and now he's playing 20.3 minutes per game for the Golden State Warriors.
In three starts with Stephen Curry, D'Angelo Russell and Draymond Green out, the rookie has averaged 14.3 points, 5.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds on 5-of-12 shooting from three.
He played a key role in the Warriors' takedown of the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday (19 points, eight assists, four boards), making good ball-screen reads as a passer and scorer. He's given the lineup a jolt with his burst, confident shot-making and off-the-dribble playmaking.
Long-term, Bowman, who had games of 44, 38 and 37 points last year at Boston College, projects as more of a bench spark and change-of-pace guard. But filling in for Curry and Russell, he's done an admirable job creating opportunities and putting pressure on the defense.
When Golden State is healthy enough to compete again, the rotation will need contributors on cheap contracts. Auditioning to be one of them, Bowman is making a strong case to stick and be part of a team likely to bounce back into the Western Conference playoff picture in 2020-21.
Brandon Clarke, PF, Memphis Grizzlies
Early Per-Game Numbers: 11.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 60.7 field-goal percentage
Steal watch was activated the moment Brandon Clarke slipped to No. 21 overall after he finished second in the nation to Zion Williamson in player efficiency rating at Gonzaga.
It's no surprise he leads all rookies (minimum 15 minutes per game) in the same stat through seven games. A bouncy and aggressive leaper around the basket, Clarke is first among rookies in rebounds while blocking 1.7 shots in 22.4 minutes per game and shooting 60.7 percent from the field. He even scored 18 points without missing a shot in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday.
Clarke continues to impact games with his athleticism and energy, which translates to easy baskets in transition, off lobs and following offensive rebounds. Just as he did at Gonzaga, he's been able to make plays off the ball without needing any sets run for him.
But he's also developed soft touch on his one-handed push shots in the paint, and he's proved capable of putting the ball on the floor and creating his own floater and layup opportunities.
Age (23), tools and offensive limitations as a scorer and shooter led to Clarke falling in the draft, allowing the Memphis Grizzlies to acquire one of June's biggest value picks and a franchise-cornerstone role player.
Tyler Herro, SG, Miami Heat
Early Per-Game Numbers: 13.7 points, 2.6 assists, 42.3 field-goal percentage, 35.3 three-point percentage
The No. 13 pick in the draft, Tyler Herro has outplayed and outproduced guards Darius Garland (No. 5), Jarrett Culver (No. 6), Coby White (No. 7) and Cam Reddish (No. 10). He's given the Miami Heat a quick source of offense in the form of shot-making, driving and secondary playmaking.
Shooting 56.5 percent off the catch, (52.9 percent on catch-and-shoot threes), Herro has looked comfortable stepping into spot-up, transition and off-screen jumpers. He's also shown signs of a pull-up game and the ability to navigate through defenders into layups.
His passing has popped, as well. In time, Herro figures to work as an effective ball-screen playmaker.
With solid 2-guard size (6'5", 200 lbs), an obviously high skill level and no shortage of confidence, the 19-year-old rookie has been an immediate contributor to one of the league's most improved teams. He won't be consistent throughout the season, but Herro's 29-point explosion against the Atlanta Hawks won't be his last scoring outburst, either.
Ja Morant, PG, Memphis Grizzlies
Early Per-Game Numbers: 20.4 points, 5.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 52.3 field-goal percentage, 50.0 three-point percentage
Only four NBA players are averaging at least 20 points and five assists on over 50 percent shooting: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker, Derrick Rose and Ja Morant.
Even with the expectations associated with the No. 2 overall pick, the rookie is exceeding them early, scoring in volume with remarkable efficiency while still doing his part as a playmaker for the Memphis Grizzlies. He's already carried them to wins over the Brooklyn Nets (30 points, nine assists) and Minnesota Timberwolves (26 points, four assists, four rebounds).
He's shooting 54.7 percent on 16.0 drives per game, impressive numbers compared to De'Aaron Fox, a popular predraft comparison who's making 48.1 percent of his shots on 17.4 drives per contest. Converting 6.3 field goals per game inside 10 feet, Morant has consistently torched defenses with his special ball-handling, shiftiness and explosiveness, which allow him to penetrate and finish in the paint.
The elusiveness off the dribble, vision and passing skill have also translated to 5.3 assists per game on a team that doesn't have many shooters (No. 28 in three-point percentage).
He's even made six of his 12 three-point attempts. And though the sample size is limited, Morant has capitalized by taking what the defense gives him and showing recognition that he should play to his strengths.
It's no surprise his turnover rate is high (4.3 per game) given his track record at Murray State, workload as a rookie and lack of supporting talent. But this early, the positives easily outweigh the negatives. He's been one of the NBA's tougher point guard covers right off the bat.
Kendrick Nunn, PG/SG, Miami Heat
Early Per-Game Numbers: 18.3 points, 3.1 assists, 1.7 steals, 45.9 field-goal percentage, 40.9 three-point percentage
Even though he'd finished as the country's second-leading scorer, trailing only Trae Young during the 2017-18 college season, every team in last year's draft let Kendrick Nunn slip through the cracks. The Golden State Warriors even had him on their summer league and G League rosters and still didn't keep him around.
He's now a rookie starter for the 5-2 Miami Heat, averaging 18.3 points per game.
Nunn has totaled at least 24 points in three of his first seven NBA appearances, demonstrating the same knack for shot-making that led to volume production at Oakland. The 24-year-old has flashed a balanced mix of three-point shooting (40.9 percent), pull-up jumpers and drives, but he's also taken on point guard duties, creating for teammates (3.1 assists per game) in a combo role.
Nunn's 2016 guilty plea to misdemeanor battery after he allegedly hit and pushed a woman he was dating, as well as his uninspiring athletic ability, was certainly behind his fall out of the 2018 draft. So far, he's capitalized on his chance with the Heat, proving his scoring instincts and skill level outweigh his lack of speed and explosiveness.
Though it wouldn't be surprising if he eventually cools off, Miami should feel confident it landed a useful rotation player without using a draft pick or making a trade.
Eric Paschall, PF/C, Golden State Warriors
Early Per-Game Numbers: 17.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 56.8 field-goal percentage, 33.3 three-point percentage
The draft's No. 41 pick, Eric Paschall ranks fourth among rookies in scoring after his eighth NBA game.
His promising start looks more legitimate by the day, particularly after Monday night when his 34 points and 13 rebounds led a Golden State Warriors lineup without Stephen Curry, D'Angelo Russell, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson to a win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
He's shooting 62.9 percent inside the arc, tapping into his powerful frame around the basket, as well as his shot-making off pull-ups and short fallaways around the key. And he's just starting to get comfortable from deeper, hitting six of his last 10 three-point attempts.
Head coach Steve Kerr has even been able to use the 6'6" Paschall at center, where his 255-pound body and wing-like skills and coordination can cause problems for traditional bigs.
Both parties seemed to luck out by finding each other, as Golden State's injuries opened the door for Paschall, whose age (23 as of Monday) and questionable NBA fit allowed him to fall to the second round. He's capitalizing on his opportunity in a positionless system suited for his inside-out versatility.
PJ Washington, PF, Charlotte Hornets
Early Per-Game Numbers: 15.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 57.1 field-goal percentage, 46.7 three-point percentage
After an underwhelming freshman season at Kentucky, PJ Washington shot up to No. 12 overall in the 2019 draft by making clear improvements to his body and touch. Both have been evident this season as keys to his early success in Charlotte.
Averaging 15.1 points on an ultra-efficient 57.1 percent shooting from the field, Washington is scoring in a variety of ways, using his signature back-to-the-basket footwork and hook shot, but also the extra athletic ability and range he added last year.
He's earning himself easy baskets in transition and from the dunker position by getting off the ground quickly for finishes. His improved first step and coordination have also shown on face-up moves and adjustment layups.
The biggest development, though, has been his three-point shooting (14-of-30) and overall shot-making versatility. They haven't just been open spot-up jumpers. He's hit some off movement and others with hands in his face.
Washington still has room for growth as a shot-creator and perimeter defender. He can expand his off-the-dribble game and improve his lateral quickness and anticipation guarding away from the basket. But early indications still suggest the 21-year-old is on the verge of becoming the Hornets' most valuable on-court asset.