2019-20 NBA Rookies Who Have Real All-Star Potential
A handful of NBA rookies have started to play better. The question is who will continue to improve and reach a level that results in an All-Star appearance?
Five rookies have jumped out as the most likely to get there, based on either their talent, comfort level, room to improve, history of gradual development and team situations.
Some of the more productive rookies didn't make the cut because of questions about their ability to maximize potential, which may be tied to specific (tough to fix) weaknesses and fit with their respective team.
José Calderón, 14-year NBA veteran and Special Assistant to Executive Director of National Basketball Player’s Association, joins "The Full 48" to discuss his career on and off the court, playing alongside greats, in the Olympic Games, and his role at the NBPA.
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
Last year, scouts weren't just acknowledging Zion Williamson's star potential. Some projected his ceiling as that of a league MVP.
A knee injury has delayed his NBA arrival until January 22. But everything we saw in preseason (23.2 points per game, 71.4 percent FG) backed up the scouting report and his projections coming out of Duke, where he registered the highest player efficiency rating of any college player over the past decade.
We shouldn't anticipate a lengthy adjustment phase for Williamson, either. If anything, the league will have to adjust to his unprecedented mix of power, explosiveness and quickness. He should continue going over, through and past defenders. And he's flashed enough ball-handling ability to shake opponents and get to his spots when there isn't an open runway for liftoff.
At minimum, Williamson figures to score and rebound at a high, efficient rate by cutting, rolling, running the floor, crashing the glass and outmuscling bigs on the block. And even without the defensive IQ, he'll be a routine threat to force turnovers, switch, jump passing lanes and block both layups and jumpers.
But he doesn't turn 20 years old until July. There is an enormous window of time for Williamson to improve his shooting touch and range, as well as his defensive IQ.
The fact that New Orleans Pelicans teammate Lonzo Ball is figuring things out should only make the game easier for Williamson.
Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
At this rate, Ja Morant will steal 2021 All-Star votes from De'Aaron Fox and Russell Westbrook, popular predraft comparisons for the 2019 No. 2 pick.
He's played like a No. 1 overall prospect while Williamson has sat.
Morant's rookie year peaked Tuesday night, when he put together a 26-point, eight-assist effort (on 10-of-11 shooting) in a win over the Rockets that enhanced his star power and potential even further.
It was a lock that his passing would translate, which was one of the reasons he felt like a safe pick despite a questionable jump shot. Morant's 6.9 assists per game will only spike as his basketball IQ and teammates improve. Spectacular ball-handling, breakdown quickness, delivery skills and vision could turn Morant into one of the league's premier playmakers.
But he's also on pace to join 2011-12 Kyrie Irving as the only rookie guards to play at least 25 minutes, have usage rates higher than 25 percent and sport a true shooting percentage over 56 percent. Considering how much Morant has the ball in his hands, his scoring efficiency has been a surprising, pleasant development—particularly given the questions that swirled around his jumper at Murray State.
While he's not attempting threes in volume, he's making the ones he's taking (0.9 3PTM, 40.7 percent). His pull-up percentages are on the rise, too, from 32.1 percent in college to 36.3 percent in Memphis.
The other key development has been his floater touch. Only Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Collin Sexton have made more runners than Morant, who's converted 49 of 101 attempts.
Elite athletically for the position in terms of speed and explosiveness, the Grizzlies' newest franchise player is quickly becoming a complete lead guard.
Tyler Herro, Miami Heat
The Miami Heat are tied for the NBA's third-best record with the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz, and Tyler Herro has played a legitimate role in the team's offensive efficiency.
It's worth betting on Herro's continued improvement, given his age (turns 20 on Monday), favorable situation in Miami and established scoring ability—plus his mix of confidence and competitiveness that makes it easier to project he'll maximize his potential.
Among players with at least two catch-and-shoot attempts per game, Herro's 50.5 percent success rate leads the league. He's making 2.1 threes per contest at a 38.5 percent clip, and hitting 48.8 percent of his spot-ups and 47.8 percent of his looks off screens.
He's also become an immediate threat to score off the dribble, with 64 made pull-ups and 21 runners in 38 games. Herro plays with exceptional skill and balance in terms of getting to his spots and rising for his shots.
Tight handles and basketball IQ have also translated to capable secondary playmaking (2.2 assists per game), something we should see more of as his role and usage increase. He ranks in the 92nd percentile in points per possession generated from pick-and-roll passes.
Given the 6'5" Herro's lack of explosiveness and length, it was clear he would need time to improve as a finisher at the rim and as a defender. But his core fundamentals and strengths from Kentucky have translated to the NBA's more spaced-out floor. Herro's stats and eye-test results look awfully similar to those from Devin Booker's rookie season (13.8 points and 2.6 assists per game, 42.3 percent FG).
Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets' Michael Porter Jr. had been viewed as a star since midway through high school. Only back and hip trouble changed that perception. But he seems to be past the injuries that forced him to miss most of college and all of 2018-19.
His path to an NBA All-Star Game may be longer than the other rookies', based on his lack of reps and role for a team loaded with veterans. But even in 11.4 minutes per game this year, Porter has reminded everyone why scouts thought of him as a No. 1 overall candidate before he arrived at Missouri in 2017.
Per 36 minutes, he's averaging 19.9 points on 54.4 percent shooting, using his mix of size and perimeter skills to create mismatches and quality looks against set defenses. For a 6'10" player, Porter possesses special coordination at the rim and fluidity while shooting.
Despite the injuries, time off and limited explosion, he's finishing 69.8 percent of his shots at the rim. Over the past 11 games, with his minutes up (16.4 per game), he's shooting 42.3 percent from three.
He's a special shot-maker, whether it's from behind the arc or off one foot in the lane. Porter hasn't had many chances to play on the ball, but he has flashed enough ability while working off the dribble, slashing past closeouts and pulling up for jumpers.
A 25-point game (on 11-of-12 shooting) against the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 2 helped jump-start the conversation about Porter's star potential. It illuminated the ease with which he can get shots off and hit them from every level of the floor.
His role will fluctuate this season, as Denver manages his load while looking to compete for a title. But Paul Millsap, Juan Hernangomez and Mason Plumlee will hit free agency this summer. Porter's time is coming with a team that gives him high-level talent and quality role players to play off.
Sekou Doumbouya, Detroit Pistons
The strength of this rookie class looks like it's getting a significant boost from the 19-year-old Sekou Doumbouya, the NBA's youngest player (born Dec. 23, 2000).
Detroit Pistons head coach Dwane Casey started playing him once 2020 hit. And in eight games in January, he's averaging 14.0 points on 54.4 percent shooting and hitting 41.4 percent from three.
His scoring versatility fully came to life Wednesday against the Boston Celtics, when he went for 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting. He flashed three-point range, movement shooting, footwork off the dribble, solid post play and wheels in transition.
He has the skill set to score in a variety of ways without needing the offense to run through him.
The speed at which he's gotten comfortable creates a higher floor to work from. His 6'8" size, athleticism, inside-out skill set and time to improve that hint at a potential Pascal Siakam-like trajectory.
Between Blake Griffin's wear and tear and the unlikelihood Andre Drummond's future will be in Detroit, Doumbouya has become the Pistons' top long-term asset and priority.