Grading Every Top NBA Rookie so Far

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMarch 21, 2021

Grading Every Top NBA Rookie so Far

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The 2020 NBA draft class is looking stronger by the week.

    The No. 1 pick is starting to produce No. 1 overall results, while the perceived early-season steals continue to prove they were misevaluated by other teams.

    Ten rookies have separated from the pack so far. We graded each based on expectations set by their draft spots.

LaMelo Ball (Charlotte Hornets, PG)

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    February was the big breakout month for LaMelo Ball. And based on seven March games (19.3 points, 5.9 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 50.0 percent 3PT), the rookie's new normal is already on par with some of the NBA's better point guards.   

    Joint-41st in the NBA in real box plus-minus, Ball has regularly made an impact with his pace, willing passing and vision. The Hornets are No. 18 in offensive rating after finishing No. 28 last year. 

    But the biggest eye-opener so far has been Ball's shooting, the most questioned aspect of his game coming in. He's making 2.0 threes per game on a 37.7 percent success rate, even hitting 40.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts, a surprising number (based on last year's results) that's allowed him to play off the ball and still pose a threat to score. 

    Drafted: No. 3

    Grade relative to draft spot: A

Desmond Bane (Memphis Grizzlies, SG)

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The last pick of the first round leads all rookies in three-point percentage. Desmond Bane has given the Memphis Grizzlies consistent shooting and an efficient off-ball scorer.

    He's hit 46.5 percent of his shots off the catch, ranking in the 81st percentile among NBA players operating out of spot-up situations. 

    He's playing to his strengths, taking jumpers in rhythm and moving the ball without trying to do too much. 

    Except for his 20 points against the Washington Wizards, Bane has been quieter in March, which was bound to happen because of his role and limited creation ability. Still, even the quiet games aren't bad ones. He rarely miss in bunches or hits a wall. 

    Drafted: No. 30

    Grade relative to draft spot: B+

Saddiq Bey (Detroit Pistons, SF/PF)

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    Wendell Cruz/Associated Press

    Scoring double figures in 15 of 17 games, Saddiq Bey has emerged as a regular contributor for the Detroit Pistons' starting lineup.

    His jumper does most of his talking, with Bey now up to 2.2 threes per game on 39.2 percent after 28- and 20-point totals against the Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets this week.

    At 6'7" with a confident release that doesn't seem to change with pressure, he hasn't had trouble getting his shot off cleanly. He's also demonstrated a little shot-making versatility, showing some ability to use escape dribbles into pull-ups.

    Converting just 45.5 percent of his two-pointers, Bey has still been less effective when forced to put the ball down. Roughly two-thirds of his made field goals have come from behind the arc.

    But he's still added value elsewhere with his defensive versatility and effort, which have also helped Bey provide a more well-rounded, role-player presence.

    Drafted: No. 19

    Grade relative to draft spot: B

Anthony Edwards (Minnesota Timberwolves, SG)

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    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    It's been a breakthrough few weeks for Anthony Edwards, who officially has the league on alert after a 42-point night in a road win in Phoenix on Thursday.

    Since coach Chris Finch took over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the No. 1 pick has taken 21.4 field-goal attempts per game. He's been fully unleashed, and it's led to Edwards' best stretch of the season.

    Over his last six games, he's averaging 27.3 points on 44.4 percent shooting and 38.9 percent from three. He's put on scoring clinics that highlight a special mix of power/explosiveness, advanced creation moves and three-level shot-making.

    Aside from his streaky but potent perimeter game, he continues to create highlights with explosive leaping off drives and finishes.

    Even at 19 years old, it's clear Edwards possess elite physical talent and skill for scoring in volume. Consistency remains his top challenge, due to his preferred shot selection that's hero-jumper-heavy, and shooting accuracy that's wavered since high school. Given his burst and athleticism, you'd think he could attempt more than 2.9 free throws in 30.1 minutes per game.

    For the season, he's still at 38.5 percent from the floor, but the arrow is pointing up under Finch. And after watching him go for 27 points in a win over the New Orleans earlier this month, 34 points in a win against the Portland Trail Blazers, 29 points versus the Los Angeles Lakers and 42 over the Suns on Thursday, it's become easier to picture an All-Star scoring wing.

    Drafted: No. 1

    Grade relative to draft spot: B+

Tyrese Haliburton (Sacramento Kings, PG/SG)

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Smart decision-making and accurate shooting continue to fuel Tyrese Haliburton's effectiveness for the Sacramento Kings.

    His scoring production has fluctuated, but not his efficiency. For the season, he's shooting 41.8 percent from three, 43.0 percent on pull-ups and 43.4 percent off the catch. He has over triple the amount of assists (181) as turnovers (54).

    He's even converting 66.7 percent of his attempts at the rim. Haliburton doesn't get there often with the handle or jets to blow by. But he wisely picks his spots of when to attack, rarely forces the issue and shows touch in the paint.

    Though not known for scoring, he's still managed five 20-plus-point games in February.

    Generating 0.95 points per possession running pick-and-rolls (69th percentile), Haliburton has given the Kings a ball-screen weapon and floor spacer from the wings and corners.

    Drafted: No. 12

    Grade relative to draft spot: A-

Isaac Okoro (Cleveland Cavaliers, SF/PF)

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Isaac Okoro deserves credit just for the run he's getting alone. He's playing 32.5 minutes per game, spending a lot of time guarding veteran scoring wings and forwards.

    Physical defense has been the biggest factor in the rookie's playing time, which he's getting despite notable limitations as a playmaker and shooter.

    But Okoro has looked sharper offensively over the past 11 games, shooting 44.4 percent overall and 36.4 percent from three in that span.

    He still isn't a threat to create much in the half court, and he's one of six NBA players playing 30-plus minutes and averaging fewer than 10 points. But Okoro has been out there to focus on defense and opportunistically make plays in transition, by attacking vulnerable closeouts and cutting.

    Drafted: No. 5

    Grade relative to draft spot: B

Jae'sean Tate (Houston Rockets, SG/SF)

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Impossible to label, Jae'sean Tate has emerged as a versatility specialist for the Houston Rockets.

    At 6'4", he's now logged 59.0 percent of his possessions at small forward, 30.0 percent at power forward and 10.0 percent at shooting guard. And he's managed to average 10.2 points on 60.1 percent inside the arc, using mostly his strength, athleticism, motor and improvising.

    Tate is only at 30.3 percent from three on 2.2 attempts per game for the season, but he still shows an ability to make rhythm jumpers, which can unlock surprise scoring outbursts despite a lack of creation skills. Tate went off on Tuesday with 25 points and four threes against the Atlanta Hawks.

    Still, his value to the Houston Rockets remains built around his defensive energy and potential to make a play in every situation.

    Drafted: Signed from NBL

    Grade relative to draft spot: A-

Immanuel Quickley (New York Knicks, PG/SG)

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Immanuel Quickley's signature floater hit a wall last month, but his production has kept flowing.

    He leads all rookies in points per 36 minutes (23.2), and he's still third in points per game behind LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards despite ranking No. 18 in minutes per game.

    A mix of confidence, a green light to fire away and shot-making skill have comprised Quickley's formula for potent scoring. He's drilling 2.2 pull-ups per game and hitting 45.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts.

    Quickley has still been able to execute difficult finesse runners and tough-angled lay-ups. But he relies on low-percentage precision shots too often to consistently score inside the arc.

    And while he's capable of making the savvy pass to set up teammates, he still needs work balancing shot-hunting with playmaking.

    Drafted: No. 25

    Grade relative to draft spot: B+

Patrick Williams (Chicago Bulls, SF/PF)

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Despite Patrick Williams' inconsistent scoring outputs, the Chicago Bulls seem to get something different from their rookie every game.

    Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs, it was 14 rebounds and a pair of three-pointers. Sunday versus the Toronto Raptors, it was 23 points and four assists. Earlier in the month during a win over the New Orleans Pelicans he blocked three shots in just over 26 minutes.

    And he's been efficient all season, shooting at least 45 percent every month.

    Williams' lack of off-the-dribble creativity limits his scoring opportunities. Spending 47.5 percent of his possessions spotting up, he relies on catch-and-shoot chances, quick pull-ups and driving lanes, which aren't always there.

    But he's still managed to average 9.9 points on just 15.7 percent usage by making 39.3 percent of his threes and 41.1 percent of his dribble jumpers. He's also earning himself easy-basket chances with his tools and motor. And though his 1.3 assists don't jump out, he's impressed with live-dribble passing, particularly using his left hand.

    Williams could still stand to improve his inside-touch shots, however, as he's converted just 53.4 percent of his attempts inside 10 feet.

    Drafted: No. 4

    Grade relative to draft spot: B+

James Wiseman (Golden State Warriors C)

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The bar is set high for James Wiseman, the No. 2 pick who landed in a favorable situation with the Golden State Warriors.

    He's done a nice job optimizing his advantageous physical tools on offense, using them to pick up easy baskets off the Warriors' skill players. And he's executed his fair share of body-controlled finishes off transition and face-up moves.

    Even at his floor with so much room to grow in terms of skill, he almost always manages to earn good looks and score. Per 36 minutes, his 20.4 points rank second among rookies. He's shown touch on a variety of different hooks, runners and jumpers when squared up.

    But he has struggled to execute off his own creation, converting just 38.3 percent of his post-ups. His shooting has also unsurprisingly cooled, with Wiseman making just 38.5 percent of his mid-range attempts and two threes over his last 11 games.

    For a center whose defense is expected to be a major driving force behind his value, Wiseman's awareness and reads need a lot of work. Since returning from injury on February 23, he's fouled out three times and leads all rotational rookies averaging 5.6 fouls per 36 minutes.

    Drafted: No. 2

    Grade relative to draft spot: B


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