Updated Grades for Every Top NBA Rookie

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterFebruary 24, 2021

Updated Grades for Every Top NBA Rookie

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    The 2020 NBA draft class has already produced a collection of rotation players and contributors, a testament to their talent after a quick turnaround with no summer league following the November draft.

    After previously grading some of the top rookies a month into the season, we took a second look now that another month has passed.

    Just like last time, we graded the rookies who've emerged as regular rotation players no matter where they were selected, not just the top picks in the draft. Grades are relative to expectations based on where each prospect was selected.

Quick Hits

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Deni Avdija (Washington Wizards, F, No. 9 Pick)

    Grade: B-

    While his raw stats won't impress anyone (6.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 22.3 minutes per game), Avdija has been solid for a poor team. Recently benched, Avdija has still started 16 games (tied for fifth among rookies), and Washington has been 4.6 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court. The 6'9" forward has shown promise as a passer and defender.


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

    Grade: C+

    Maxey's playing time has been cut in the past month, and he'll need to improve as a three-point shooter to earn a larger role next to Ben Simmons in the backcourt. He's been just as dismal on pull-up threes (26.3 percent) as his catch-and-shoot looks (28.1 percent), though Maxey's shown the ability to break down defenders off the dribble. Since moving back to a reserve role Jan. 22, he is averaging just 6.4 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game.


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

    Grade: A-

    Though the Celtics probably weren't expecting Pritchard to contribute this much this soon, Kemba Walker's rough start to the season hasn't given them much choice. Pritchard isn't all that far behind Walker in playing time (21.1 minutes per game to 28.9) and has been the more efficient shooter even following a recent cold streak. The 23-year-old was one of the most NBA-ready rookies in the class and has cemented himself in the rotation.


    Jae'Sean Tate (Houston Rockets, G/F, Undrafted)

    Grade: A-

    Tate is the oldest rookie on this list at 25 and the only one not to have been a part of the 2020 draft class (he went undrafted in 2018). Neither has stopped Tate from being one of the most important rookies, however. He has spent time everywhere from point guard to power forward, is a versatile defender and has improved the Rockets by 4.4 points per 100 possessions. A started in 18 of his 28 games, Tate has been a steal.


    Obi Toppin (New York Knicks, PF, No. 8 Pick)

    Grade: C

    Toppin has logged only 249 minutes in 21 games. He's shown promise playing off the ball, using his size and athleticism to catch passes while moving toward the basket and finishing an impressive 72.4 percent of his looks within three feet. Everything else is raw, however, especially his three-point shot (28.9 percent).

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

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    While a fractured rib has sidelined Cole Anthony, his play as the starting point guard was steadily improving pre-injury.

    In his last 11 games, Anthony was putting up 12.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent overall and 47.1 percent from three. After making just 38.0 percent of his shots at UNC (including 34.8 percent from three), the Orlando Magic have to be thrilled with his progress.

    He's far from a generational passer such as LaMelo Ball, but Anthony has been effective at making simple reads and getting the ball to veterans in their spots. He's only registering 0.78 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, however, a mark that puts him in the 33rd percentile.

    Another bad sign? The injury-ravaged Magic are just 3-14 during Anthony's starts yet 4-2 since he got hurt. His on/off rating of minus-4.3 backs up those records. (They are 6-2 when he comes off the bench.)

    While the Magic are doing the right thing by handing the keys to Anthony, he has been mostly just OK.

    Grade: C+

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

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    Is it too early to call the Rookie of the Year race?

    LaMelo Ball's strong play off the bench has only gotten better upon his insertion into the starting lineup. In nine games as a starter, the 19-year-old is averaging 19.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.3 assists with 43.6/41.9/90.0 shooting splits.

    His feel for the game was an expected strength and has only been confirmed by continuous no-look passes, full-court outlets and behind-the-back drop-offs to big men following him to the basket.

    Ball is in the ideal situation and was able to ease his way into the league by coming off the bench. He has enough scorers around (Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier) to take the pressure off him offensively.

    Like any good point guard, Ball has improved the play and shot quality of those around him. Rozier (61.5 percent), P.J. Washington (59.1 percent) and Hayward (43.3 percent) have all caught fire from outside the arc off passes from Ball, while Cody Zeller (69.2 percent) and Miles Bridges (65.1 percent) are finishing their looks inside at high rates.

    Ball has been the best rookie thus far, playing to his strengths while showing promise as a defender and outside shooter.

    Grade: A

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

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Though he fell to the end of the first round, no one who watched Desmond Bane play for four years in college should be surprised with his strong start.

    The 22-year-old is strong enough to play and defend multiple positions. He's not flashy but consistently makes smart plays and takes shots when he's open.

    His outside shooting success in college has certainly carried over, as Bane is ninth in three-point percentage (45.7 percent). He's averaging 10.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 0.7 steals in 23.0 minutes per game, primarily as a reserve.

    Unlike many rookies, Bane has improved the net rating of his team while on the floor. He's a plus-6.0 per 100 possessions, besting even LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards.

    Given his draft position, Bane is one of the best bargains of the past few years.

    Grade: A-

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

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Saddiq Bey may have the simplest role of any top rookie, but he's played it extremely well.

    Primarily used as a floor-spacer, the 6'7", 215-pounder has drilled 40.7 percent of his threes. A whopping 68.6 percent of his shot attempts have come from outside the arc, with 116 coming off the catch compared to just 17 pull-up attempts. Bey is hitting 44.8 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes, a terrific mark especially considering his volume.

    The Villanova product is also the only rookie to have won Player of the Week honors this season. He averaged 17.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 0.8 steals per game Feb. 8-14. His shooting numbers were outstanding (71.4 percent overall and 69.6 percent from three), and the Pistons went 3-1. Bey became just the second Detroit Pistons rookie to win such an award, joining Kelly Tripucka on March 14, 1982.

    While Bey is proving himself as a shooter, the next step is for him to develop his offensive game. As a defender, he has good size and quick hands and has frustrated players such as Zion Williamson already.

    Bey has been good for what he is, but we'd like to see more.

    Grade: B+

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

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    LaMelo Ball has been the best rookie thus far, but no one should be ready to crown him the best player in the class with Edwards providing thunderous highlights on a regular basis.

    Since being inserted into the starting lineup a month ago, Edwards is averaging 15.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.6 blocks in 32.4 minutes a game. He barely trails Ball in rookie scoring (14.4 points per game to 14.3) and won't turn 20 until August.

    Edwards has a good enough dribble package to break down defenders above the three-point line and only needs a sliver of space to get into the lane before loading up and delivering a devastating dunk. He's not afraid to go up and over anyone and should already be considered one of the best dunk artists in the league with his size and athleticism.

    While he's struggled with his overall efficiency (as most rookies have), Edwards should probably be taking fewer three-pointers for now (41.0 percent of his total shots), especially considering his 31.3 percent success rate.

    He's been good in isolation even as a rookie (1.16 points per possession, 86th percentile), although it only makes up for 8.7 percent of his total offense.

    Shot selection will be key, but so far Edwards looks like he could indeed be worthy of the No. 1 pick.

    Grade: B+

Tyrese Haliburton (Sacramento Kings, G, No. 12 Overall)

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    If LaMelo Ball is running away with Rookie of the Year, perhaps Haliburton is the only one who can catch him.

    The Kings' rookie is averaging 12.8 points (third among rookies), 3.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists (second), 1.3 steals (second), 2.3 made three-pointers (first) and is shooting 44.2 percent from three (second) this season, despite only starting two of his 28 games.

    Playing the sixth-man role for a Sacramento team that's been surprisingly good offensively, Haliburton has been a steady, playmaking hand who has nailed nearly half of his catch-and-shoot threes (49.4 percent).

    Everyone picking outside of the top three should be experiencing at least a little bit of regret by not drafting Haliburton, who is first among rookies in win shares (2.1).

    He'll likely need to pack more muscle onto his 185-pound frame to play the starting shooting guard role in the future, but thus far there's not much to dislike from the soon-to-be 21-year-old guard.

    Grade: A

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

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    The raw numbers would tell you Okoro is having a dismal rookie season, especially with the amount of court time he's receiving. While he's struggled offensively, his defensive talent has already shown through for a Cavs team that was in desperate need of wing stoppers.

    Okoro leads all rookies with 33.3 minutes per game and has started all 26 of his contests this season. With Collin Sexton and Darius Garland serving as two of the worst defenders in basketball last year, the idea was to use Okoro as a defensive presence on the wing to help limit the damage, despite his offensive shortcomings.

    The Cavs have thrown Okoro into the fire immediately, sticking him on players like LeBron James and James Harden and living with the results. While he's been torched on some nights (James' 46 points in a Jan. 25 Lakers win), Okoro has been outstanding in others (Harden's four points on 1-of-2 shooting in the fourth quarter of a Cavs win on Jan. 22).

    His 6'5" muscular frame allows him to stick to guards and forwards alike, and his impressive footwork has already been on display.

    While the offense is very much a work in progress (7.9 points and 1.8 assists on 48.1 percent true shooting), Okoro has shown flashes as an effective cutter. Cleveland's patience in him will eventually pay off.

    Grade: C+

Immanuel Quickley (New York Knicks, G, No. 25 Pick)

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    Brad Penner/Associated Press

    While Obi Toppin hasn't shown much as the No. 8 overall pick, the Knicks struck gold by getting Quickley 17 spots later.

    Possessing a 6'8" wingspan as a point guard allows him to finish over and around defenders on his way to the rim, especially with a beautiful floater that can be unleashed anytime he crosses the free-throw line.

    Quickley is making 43.5 percent of his floaters, a number that seems quite low compared to the eye test. He has terrific touch on his shots, including a 41.0 percent success rate on catch-and-shoot threes.

    Quickley's on/off rating swing of plus-3.4 is one of the best on the Knicks despite the fact that he hasn't started a game, and his production has remained solid even with the addition of Derrick Rose.

    He has to be careful not to completely fall in love with the floater, however, as just 5.0 percent of his total shots have come within three feet of the basket. For comparison, that's about how often 36-year-old JJ Redick has gotten to the rim since signing with the New Orleans Pelicans.

    Quickley has been one of the better rookies this season, especially when considering where he was selected.

    Grade: A-

Patrick Williams (Chicago Bulls, F, No. 4 Pick)

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Williams was handed the starting small forward job from the start of the season, and he's responded with averages of 10.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.6 blocks in his 28.1 minutes.

    The Bulls should be pleased with his overall game, a versatile 6'7" forward who's spent most of his time at the 4. He's still only halfway between his 19th and 20th birthdays, with potential serving as his best quality despite his other strengths.

    Williams' shooting splits are quite good for a rookie (45.6/38.7/80.3), especially one who didn't start a single game in college.

    Despite the positives he brings, the Bulls are still getting killed in Williams' minutes. Chicago's net rating is 11.1 points per 100 possessions worse with Williams on the floor than when he's not, a poor mark even for a rookie navigating his way in the league.

    Like with Isaac Okoro, Williams is probably being asked to play too large of a role this early, something that hurts the team in the present but should benefit it long-term.

    Grade: B

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

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    While he's missed all of February thus far with a wrist injury, Wiseman is expected to return soon to a Warriors team that desperately needs his size.

    The 19-year-old leads all rookies with 1.3 blocks per game and is tied with LaMelo Ball in rebounds (6.1 per game).

    He held his own in 16 games as a starter (11.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 50.3 percent shooting from the field in 21.4 minutes) yet looked even more effective in four games off the bench (13.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.0 blocks, 50.0 percent shooting in 19.0 minutes). The Warriors looked better with Wiseman off the bench as well, going 3-1.

    The physical tools were always going to be impressive, as Wiseman only needs a few steps out of the high pick-and-roll to get to the rim and throw down the high alley-oop. What we didn't see coming was the outside shooting, as he's hit on nine of 22 three-pointers (40.9 percent).

    Wiseman remains the key to extending Golden State's championship window and should only continue to grow as a defender with Draymond Green constantly in his ear. For now, a terrible on/off rating (minus-11.3) holds Wiseman back from achieving A status.

    Grade: B+


    Stats via NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.