10 NBA Rookies Who Could Thrive in Orlando Bubble

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJune 29, 2020

10 NBA Rookies Who Could Thrive in Orlando Bubble

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    The NBA's 2019-20 season will return to a bubble in late July, and while some teams will be prioritizing their rookies' development, others will be using them for important playoff minutes. 

    Teams unlikely to reach the postseason could use this time to give last year's picks a chance to play through mistakes. However, a number of projected top-six seeds have rookies who'll play key roles.

    Look for these 10 first-year players, a group that includes two undrafted guards, to thrive in Disney World's bubble.

Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies

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    A high-effort, low-usage off-ball playmaker, Brandon Clarke perfectly fills a need and role for the Memphis Grizzlies. He should continue to thrive moving forward as long as he's recovered from the quad injury that knocked him out during February.

    Clarke's athleticism and coordination work well for finishing and line-driving, though it's his special paint touch that helped him average 20.0 points per 36 minutes and become more than just an energizer. With his signature one-hander and body control, Clarke has developed one of the game's most accurate floaters and runners.

    Building up that three-point shot (21-of-52) would result in a major value spike for Clarke. Regardless, he figures to keep finding ways to make plays without needing dribbles or featured touches.

Luguentz Dort, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Undrafted out of Arizona State, Luguentz Dort now has a multiyear NBA contract and a role for Oklahoma City in the bubble.

    He was playing 23.7 minutes per game since being inserted into the rotation in January. Though clearly raw in terms of skill and execution, Dort is valued by Oklahoma City for his physicality and ability to pressure opponents at both ends. At 6'3", 215 pounds, he'll continue to penetrate and defend both guard positions.

    The spot-up shooting is a bonus that he's capable of delivering from time to time. Dort could ultimately become a bench hero if he's occasionally able to catch fire, as he did against the Sacramento Kings on Jan.  29 by drilling five of his six three-point attempts.

Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards

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    The bubble will serve as a developmental opportunity for the Washington Wizards' young players since the team will head to Disney 5.5 games back of the No. 8 seed. And with Davis Bertans sitting out, Rui Hachimura figures to get fed.

    He's been a productive rookie through 41 games, averaging 13.4 points and 6.0 boards on 47.8 percent shooting. His finishing and mid-range game carried over from Gonzaga. With strength and skill for two-point scoring, he can be a tough cover from the elbows, short corners and post. 

    The Wizards might as well encourage their rookie to start firing away from deep at Disney given the significance tied to the development of his three-ball. Hachimura has only hit 20 threes at a 27.4 percent clip, and he's had trouble defensively, but he seems to have a better chance at improving his shooting range based on his shorter jumpers and 82.9 free-throw percentage.

Tyler Herro, Miami Heat

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    The Miami Heat could make a run in the bubble, which would lead to an extended opportunity for Tyler Herro in the postseason.

    High stakes won't bother the rookie, whose confidence seemingly approaches levels most aspire to reach after years in the league. Before injuring his ankle in early February, Herro bounced back from a pair of six-point games in January, both times following up with 23-plus points. It's a reflection of his short memory and knack for staying aggressive, a mentality that results in both streakiness and scoring outbursts.

    He's bound to deliver some of those spurts of no-hesitation shot-making off Miami's bench if the team keeps advancing. He'll help stretch the floor for the Heat, but he's also drilling 2.0 pull-ups per game, giving the rotation some off-the-dribble scoring.

    Before the shutdown in March, Herro was averaging 12.9 points on 39.1 percent shooting from three.

Cameron Johnson, Phoenix Suns

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    Kelly Oubre Jr.'s torn meniscus opens the door for Cameron Johnson.

    One of college basketball's elite shooters a year ago, he hasn't had any trouble transitioning to the NBA's arc. He's buried 91 threes in 49 games at a 39.7 percent clip while averaging 20.3 minutes per contest, and his minutes seem likely to increase without Oubre when the NBA season resumes.

    The Suns will need another shot-maker, and Johnson can give them one who's also a low-maintenance 24-year-old and a fitting complement to featured scorers Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. They could use the extra spacing, and Johnson ranks in the 82nd percentile out of spot-up situations.

Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

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    If Ja Morant's rookie season to date represents his floor—17.6 points and 6.9 assists per game with a 49.1 field-goal percentage and 36.7 three-point percentage—he could be an All-Star by 2020-21, particularly because his stats haven't been empty. 

    He's led a young Grizzlies team into the playoff picture, and he figures to continue putting pressure on defenses with his open-floor speed, shiftiness off the dribble, crafty finishing package and passing with both hands.

    Predraft questions about his jumper and thin frame have been quickly squashed by Morant's functional athleticism, skill execution for creating and converting around the basket, vision and comfort level shooting when set. 

    Last year, the postseason's spotlight brought out the best in Murray State's point guard as he averaged 27.5 points, 7.8 assists and 7.3 rebounds in four games between the conference and NCAA tournaments. Given his personality and his status leading an underdog Memphis team that's seemingly playing with house money, it's easy to picture Morant continuing to strengthen his Rookie of the Year case at Disney.

Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat

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    During the Miami's Heat's final 10 games before the NBA shutdown, Kendrick Nunn was averaging 17.4 points on 44.1 percent shooting from deep.

    Head coach Eric Spoelstra will be counting on the 24-year-old rookie for minutes and production in the bubble. He gives Miami another ball-handler to create and make shots, and he ultimately takes pressure off Jimmy Butler.

    It's tough to accurately label Nunn—point guard, combo, scorer—but he's developed into a valuable piece with his three-point shooting (2.1 threes per game), pull-up game (43.3 percent) and secondary playmaking (3.4 assists per game).

Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets

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    The time off should have helped Michael Porter Jr. and set him up to thrive in the bubble.

    He'd been playing through an ankle injury, bouncing in and out of the rotation. Head coach Michael Malone could use the seeding games to build Porter's comfort level and confidence before the postseason. If the Denver Nuggets want to keep advancing, they'll want the rookie's scoring punch for an extra edge.

    Before the shutdown, he was shooting 42.2 percent from three, giving the Nuggets a shot-maker and face-up weapon from the 4 and, occasionally, the 5.

    His role will likely fluctuate based on how each game is going and whether Denver needs offense or defense.

Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Even with well-documented offensive limitations, Matisse Thybulle could play a key role for the Philadelphia 76ers at different points of the postseason. 

    His objective: making the game tougher for opposing wing scorers.

    Head coach Brett Brown will call on Thybulle, last year's Defensive Player of the Year in college hoops whose instincts have shown up regularly in the pros, to focus on slowing down players like the Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown or the Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder and Duncan Robinson.

    Thybulle has a unique ability to anticipate and react. He's the only NBA player averaging at least 15 minutes with steal and block rates both over 3.0 percent. 

    Whether he can consistently play—and play longer stretches for Philadelphia—comes down to whether he's making spot-up threes. A non-creator, Thybulle shot a respectable 35.2 percent on 2.5 deep attempts per game through his first 57 appearances.

Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

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    While most teenagers entering the league must adjust to the NBA's length, strength and athleticism, teams have had to adjust to Zion Williamson's unparalleled mix of power, quickness and explosion.

    He missed his first 44 games as a rookie and still put up similar stats to the ones he logged at Duke when he registered the highest player efficiency rating (minimum 20 games) in a decade of college basketball. 

    Time off didn't bother Williamson months ago before his eventual pro debut, and it won't affect him heading into the bubble, either, particularly since he hasn't had any injury to focus on rehabbing. 

    Healthy, refreshed and presumably anxious given his signature competitiveness, Williamson could look even scarier to opponents in the bubble. And as we saw from January to March, he won't need a jump shot to dominate.

                       

    Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference.