Grading Every Top 2020 NBA Rookie 1 Month into the Season

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJanuary 19, 2021

Grading Every Top 2020 NBA Rookie 1 Month into the Season

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    Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

    Slow starts would have been understandable for NBA rookies considering they only had a month to prepare for the season after summer league was canceled. But so far, the 2020-21 class is producing, and that's true from the early lottery picks to the late first-rounders.

    First impressions are out. There is no need to overreact to a month of action, but it's still worth breaking down how each rookie's game is translating.

    We graded the rookies who've emerged as regular rotation players, as well as others seeing time in limited roles. Grades were also relative to expectations based on where each prospect was selected.

Cole Anthony (Orlando Magic, PG, No. 15 Pick)

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Inefficiency at North Carolina caused scouts to cool on Cole Anthony, and he's had trouble with execution so far as a pro.

    But he's now the Orlando Magic's starting point guard with Markelle Fultz done for the season, and the eye test still shows a confident guard who looks like he belongs. For a rookie, he held his own against James Harden during the former MVP's Brooklyn Nets debut, finishing with 16 points and a season-best eight assists. 

    However, through 13 games, Anthony's jumper—arguably his most reliable weapon coming into the season—has failed him. He's just 9-of-44 from three while shooting 30.2 percent on dribble jumpers and 17.9 percent off the catch. 

    His struggles as a finisher aren't new, but it's safe to assume he'll eventually break free from this shooting slump. Perimeter shot-making has always been Anthony's bread and butter, and he's made 88.2 percent of his free throws. 

    His playmaking results have been mixed. He's doing an admirable job making simple passing reads (3.5 assists to 1.8 turnovers). But he's taking 6.2 shots per game as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and not using the screen or dribble to manipulate defenses and set up teammates. 

    Grade: C+

Deni Avdija (Washington Wizards, SF/PF, No. 9 Pick)

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Deni Avdija's production doesn't jump off the stat sheet, but it has still been easy to detect his versatility and mature approach to the game. 

    He's playing to his strengths, waiting for the right opportunities to shoot or attack. Spotting up for 39.4 percent of his possessions, he ranks in the 85th percentile, mostly due to his shooting accuracy off the catch (46.9 percent). 

    Hitting 1.5 threes per game on 45.7 percent shooting, Avdija looks comfortable behind the arc, a major plus for the Washington Wizards considering the questions teams had about his jumper. The ball is coming out of his hands cleaner and quicker than we've seen in the past.

    On the downside, he's still lacking shot-making versatility and a pull-up game, which makes him predictable and more limited scoring in the half court.

    But he's adding value as a passer, particularly in transition with his ability to handle and keep his head up.

    His defense has also been encouraging. Avdija has shown his competitiveness guarding ball-handlers and bigs, and his IQ has popped making reads off the ball. 

    Grade: B+

LaMelo Ball (Charlotte Hornets, PG, No. 3 Pick)

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    In 25.2 minutes per game as the Charlotte Hornets' bench spark, LaMelo Ball leads all rookies in assists, rebounds and steals.  

    His 11.8 points per game rank second, and despite predraft questions about his scoring and shot, he's answering them with crafty finishes and 1.6 threes per game. 

    It's still Ball's signature passing that continues to separate him. Vision, IQ, accuracy and unselfishness have led to a 38.3 assist percentage that ranks No. 8 in the NBA. His value on the floor primarily revolves around his knack for creating quality looks for teammates. 

    But he's also spent 44.0 percent of his possessions at shooting guard in a rotation with Devonte' Graham and Terry Rozier. And despite a major role adjustment, he's adapted, finding different ways to impact games through spot-up shooting, cutting and crashing the offensive glass. 

    He's already the youngest player to record a triple-double, and if he continues at his current pace, he'll become one of six rookies to average at least 10 points, six boards and six assists, a list that includes Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Ben Simmons, Michael Carter-Williams and his brother, Lonzo.

    While he hasn't been perfect defensively, Ball has showcased impressive instincts, particularly playmaking off the ball.

    Grade: A-

Desmond Bane (Memphis Grizzlies, SG, No. 30 Pick)

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    The NBA's deeper arc hasn't affected Desmond Bane, a career 43.3 percent three-point shooter through four years at TCU.

    Some scouts weren't sold on his accuracy translating based on his mechanics. So far, he's 21-of-43 from three, drilling a scorching 51.4 percent of his looks off the catch and getting himself open with relocations and off-ball reads.

    He's also hit 42.9 percent of his pull-up field-goal attempts, though he hasn't used them as much or attempted many shots off the dribble. Head coach Taylor Jenkins isn't calling many ball screens for the rookie.

    Regardless of what Bane is able to add to his repertoire, his spot-up shooting looks legitimate and should be valued by the Memphis Grizzlies. It wouldn't be surprising if he's starting alongside Ja Morant by the end of the season.

    Grade: B+

Saddiq Bey (Detroit Pistons, SF/PF, No. 19 Pick)

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Head coach Dwane Casey has found quick use for Saddiq Bey.

    He's averaging 10.0 points in 21.9 minutes per game despite making just seven two-point field goals all season. Bey has been purely a shooting specialist and floor-spacer, hitting 42.6 percent of his threes and 26 total in 11 games.

    Lacking explosiveness, Bey has only shot 28.6 percent inside 10 feet while totaling eight assists all season. And we haven't seen any signs of a pull-up game after he shot just 29.6 percent on dribble jumpers last year.

    But at 6'7", he has been used to handle in ball-screen situations. And he's played effective stretches of competitive defense both inside and out. While it's worth questioning Bey's on-ball scoring upside, he's looking like a three-and-D cornerstone on whom the Detroit Pistons can bank during their rebuild.

    Grade: B

Anthony Edwards (Minnesota Timberwolves, SG, No. 1 Pick)

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Anthony Edwards leads all rookies in scoring coming off the Minnesota Timberwolves bench.

    He's had some strong takes to the rim and paint buckets, and though his shot has been erratic, he's still hit 16 threes in 11 games. Edwards cooled off after a hot start, however, an unsurprising development based on his shot selection and predraft weaknesses.

    He's shot 34.5 percent from the field since scoring an efficient 18 points in 22 minutes against the Utah Jazz during his second NBA game. Edwards is struggling with the dribble-jumper game (18.2 percent) he had trouble consistently executing at Georgia (28.6 percent). Part of that has to do with settling too much and being overconfident on hero shots. 

    He has been better shooting off the catch (34.5 percent), which is important and something he'll need to keep improving as he adjusts to a new role that calls for more spotting up. 

    This early for a 19-year-old, the highs and made shots outweigh the lows and misses. He's demonstrated the athleticism, strength and deep shot-making skill that led to Minnesota drafting him first overall. But it wouldn't be shocking to see the inefficiency continue considering his problems scoring from an off-ball role dating back to high school and college. 

    Grade: B-

Tyrese Haliburton (Sacramento Kings, PG/SG, No. 12 Pick)

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Tyrese Haliburton has emerged as a Rookie of the Year candidate, looking like a textbook fit with De'Aaron Fox and the Sacramento Kings.

    With 64 assists to just 15 turnovers, he's lived up to his reputation as a quality decision-maker. Thanks to his outstanding passing skill and IQ, he's averaging 5.3 assists despite spending 71.0 percent of his time on the court at shooting guard and registering just 2.9 minutes of possession per game. In comparison, Fox averages 5.8 assists with 6.5 minutes per game of possession (11th-most in the NBA).

    Efficient with his playmaking touches and opportunities, he's also shooting 51.6 percent from the floor and 51.0 percent from three. The most encouraging development, given that teams were concerned about his unorthodox release before the draft, has been his jumper working against NBA defenses. His pull-up was a major question mark, yet he's making 54.5 percent of them on 2.8 attempts per game. 

    Though we're only 12 games in, Haliburton has already answered scouts' biggest questions regarding his lack of athleticism and scoring off the dribble. It seems safe to assume he wouldn't slip to No. 12 if teams had a chance to redo their picks. 

    Grade: A+

Theo Maledon (Oklahoma City Thunder, PG, No. 34 Pick)

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Coming in with a unique amount of pro experience overseas, Theo Maledon has been one of the few second-round picks earning minutes.

    His versatility has been useful, and he's shown poise and passing IQ running pick-and-rolls and threatening defenses as a spot-up shooter. 

    Lacking quickness and explosion, key reasons teams were hesitant about his NBA outlook, Maledon has found ways to score on drives with touch and body control. And he's flashed the ability to make jumpers off the dribble.

    Shooting 37.7 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from three with 2.8 assists to 1.9 turnovers, he hasn't executed with efficiency in any one area yet. But this early, it's just good to see his capabilities.

    Grade: B-

Tyrese Maxey (Philadelphia 76ers, SG, No. 21 Pick)

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    The coronavirus and injuries hit the Philadelphia 76ers roster and opened a door for Tyrese Maxey. He's answered the early call, averaging 11.4 points in just 21.6 minutes per game.

    His entire arsenal was on display in a 39-point outburst against the Denver Nuggets, during which he hit three three-pointers and 15 two-pointers while using his signature floater, dribble jumpers and physical drives.

    Though he's still struggling from distance, Maxey is converting 47.6 percent of his pull-ups, and his touch off one foot has carried over from Kentucky. A shaky three-ball and lack of explosion haven't limited the 6'2", 200-pound rookie who's compensating with craftiness, an ability to take contact and versatile shot-making skills in the mid-range. 

    Shooting 47.7 percent from the floor with 33 assists to just 12 turnovers, he's taking shots in his wheelhouse and capitalizing on the extra touches without trying to do too much.

    Grade: A

Isaac Okoro (Cleveland Cavaliers, SG/SF, No. 5 Pick)

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Cavaliers have immediately valued Isaac Okoro's defense and toughness, giving him 36.6 minutes per game (No. 9 in the NBA).

    He's looked like a veteran, guarding opposing teams' top scorers, getting into them physically, forcing turnovers and making plays on the ball. Regardless of how much Okoro develops offensively from here, the Cavaliers presumably feel good about the likelihood they've added an elite defender to their core. 

    But he is limited offensively. Without much ability to create, he's playing a simplified role that calls for spot-up shooting, line-driving, cutting and finishing in transition. So far, he's averaging 8.6 points on 40.6 percent shooting from the field and a 7-of-23 line from three. It was known coming in that his shot would need time. 

    But he isn't forcing anything, and though not a playmaker, he's averaging 2.3 assists by attacking closeouts and passing on the move.

    Grade: B+

Payton Pritchard (Boston Celtics, PG, No. 26 Pick)

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    The No. 26 pick, Payton Pritchard quickly won over head coach Brad Stevens, who's played the rookie as a regular in the rotation with Kemba Walker out. 

    Pritchard's three-point shooting (43.2 percent) has been a plus for the lineup. And despite lacking size and athleticism, he's made 55.8 percent of his twos, effectively using his craftiness, body control and touch around the paint (62.5 percent inside 10 feet).

    IQ and defensive competitiveness have also helped Pritchard earn minutes.

    He could be looking at fewer opportunities with Walker back, but he's already made a strong case for backup reps at both guard spots by hitting open shots, moving the ball and playing hard. 

    Grade: A

Jae'Sean Tate (Houston Rockets, PG/SG/SF/PF, Undrafted)

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Jae'Sean Tate doesn't fit into an NBA box or come with a positional label, which may be why it's taken the Association a few years to catch on. 

    The Houston Rockets signed him from Australia after he'd gone undrafted in 2018 and spent a year in Belgium. And despite not having a first- or second-round pick in 2020, they now have one of the more productive rookies.

    Playing point guard the past two games with John Wall out, the 230-pound Tate has totaled 15 assists, operating with a different playmaking mindset than what we're used to seeing. It's a tribute to his jack-of-all-trades nature. Shooting 59.2 percent inside five feet and just 4-of-16 from three, he's still most effective attacking the rim and finishing in the paint. 

    Opponents are also scoring 10.9 more points per 100 possessions when Tate is off the floor. His defensive toughness has been obvious, and it's something that should continue to earn him minutes and paychecks.

    Tate, 25, has ultimately served as a plug-and-play energizer from all over the floor, having spent time at both backcourt spots and both forward spots. 

    Grade: B+

Patrick Williams (Chicago Bulls, SF/PF, No. 4 Pick)

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The youngest NCAA prospect drafted in 2020, Patrick Williams has started all 13 games for the Chicago Bulls and ranks No. 3 among rookies in minutes.

    He's earning extended time with his shooting and energy. Williams has hit 14 of his first 28 threes, a surprising development considering he shot 16-of-50 from deep at Florida State last year. 

    The flashes of versatility, power and effort were expected. He's shown the ability to handle in the open floor, attack closeouts and finish or pass off the dribble. 

    Defensively, his mobility, motor, athleticism and nose for the ball have translated to 11 steals and 10 blocks. And while he's fouling too much and occasionally vulnerable around the perimeter, he's competed at a high level while guarding the NBA's biggest stars like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Luka Doncic.

    Grade: A

James Wiseman (Golden State Warriors, C, No. 2 Pick)

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The Golden State Warriors have kept it simple for James Wiseman. Twelve other rookies are playing more minutes per game. But he's fourth in scoring, producing with his spectacular, signature physical tools, as well as some offensive skills he seems to have sharpened during the extended layoff.

    Wiseman has already created a number of dunks that highlight his elite finishing potential thanks to his ability to take off from behind the dotted circle and still throw down above the rim. A 7'6" wingspan has also helped the 7'0" center block 1.6 shots per game, a starting point that suggests he could eventually rise to the top of the leaderboard with Myles Turner and Rudy Gobert.

    The most promising early development has been the flashes of open-floor ball-handling and shooting. He's looked fluid initiating the break off defensive boards, and the occasional elbow jumper and spot-up three have been encouraging for his scoring potential. 

    He doesn't always show the greatest feel for which shots to take in the paint. His 52.1 field-goal percentage inside 10 feet is relatively low for a big with his size and athleticism. And he still has plenty to learn on defense, where he's averaging 3.3 fouls per game (5.6 per 36 minutes). 

    Still, the Warriors have to feel good about their No. 2 pick if this is the floor. 

    Grade: B+

Low-Minute Rookies

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Precious Achiuwa (Miami Heat, PF/C, No. 20 Pick)

    Grade: B+

    Averaging 8.2 points and 5.7 rebounds in 17.8 minutes per game, Achiuwa has carved out a role using his tools, athleticism and motor to earn easy baskets, win loose balls and get defensive stops. We haven't seen the jumper yet, but he's quickly added value to Miami's rotation as an energizer.


    Isaiah Joe (Philadelphia 76ers, SG, No. 49 Pick)

    Grade: B+

    Averaging 1.9 threes in 19.1 minutes per game, Joe has given the 76ers a shooting specialist and capable defender off the bench. He just hasn't offered much else, having totaled four two-point field goals and 12 assists. 


    Aleksej Pokusevski (Oklahoma City Thunder, PF, No. 17 Pick)

    Grade: D

    Pokusevski's highlights are eye-catching, and there is still exciting upside tied to his dribble-shoot-pass skill set for a 7-footer. But he's only making 26.9 percent of his field-goal attempts with a 21.2 turnover percentage. The NBA's youngest player doesn't look ready for the early reps.


    Immanuel Quickley (New York Knicks, PG/SG, No. 25 Pick)

    Grade: A-

    Quickley has been a key spark for the Knicks with his dangerous floater game and confident shot-making. He isn't the likely answer at point guard long-term, but he does look like a keeper with his shot-making and energy. 


    Isaiah Stewart (Detroit Pistons, C, No. 16 Pick)

    Grade: B

    Fourth in rebounding among rookies (5.7) while playing just 17.1 minutes per game, Stewart's strength and motor have carried over to the NBA paint. His offensive skills are lagging, and he doesn't offer defensive versatility, but he's making a case for minutes with his energy, activity and competitiveness.


    Xavier Tillman Sr. (Memphis Grizzlies, PF/C, No. 35 Pick)

    Grade: B+

    The arrow is pointing up for Tillman, who's totaled 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists over his last two games. Though a limited scorer and shooter, he's producing with paint touch, passing skills, offensive boards and defense. 


    Devin Vassell (San Antonio Spurs, SF, No. 11 Pick)

    Grade: B

    Known for his three-and-D game out of Florida State, Vassell has shot 36.0 percent from deep while looking as advertised on defense. He's hitting just 39.3 percent of his looks inside the arc and still has a long way to go creating and scoring from two-point range.


    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports, and and accurate through games on Jan. 17.