Predicting the 2021 NBA All-Rookie Teams

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 16, 2021

Predicting the 2021 NBA All-Rookie Teams

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    It's been a good year for NBA rookies.

    Not an all-timer or anything of that nature, but rock-solid, which is a lot better than what was expected of this class leading up to the 2020 draft.

    Frankly, there are enough freshmen that are above-average or better to give All-Rookie voters plenty to think about.

    We should know. Rather than wait to sort this all out at season's end, we broke out the crystal ball early to predict how the first and second teams will shape up. By analyzing everything from advanced and traditional metrics to team impact and the eye test, we think we've cracked the formula for identifying all 10 All-Rookie honorees.

Second Team

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies

    Billed as one of the better three-and-D wings in this draft, Bane has lived up to the label and then some. The 22-year-old owns a 45.5 percent splash rate on his long-range looks and has knocked 3.6 points off of his matchup's field-goal percentage.

    Some other players might have flashier stats, but Bane's impact on a winning team is meaningful. He is seventh on the Grizzlies in minutes per game and sixth among 2020 draftees in win shares (2.2).

               

    Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons

    Bey plays like this is his fifth season in the Association, not his first. He rotates where and when needed, keeps the ball moving on offense and boasts a reliable three-point cannon already (2.3 makes at a 38.6 percent clip).

    Bey, who leads all rookies with 124 triples, has already been labeled a "building block" by Pistons skipper Dwane Casey, per Rod Beard of the Detroit News. The Pistons then proved their commitment to Bey by reportedly turning down an offer from the Sacramento Kings for 2018's No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III, per Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes.

                    

    Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers

    Okoro was the last freshman to survive our chopping block, edging out the likes of Isaiah Stewart, Payton Pritchard, Chuma Okeke and Xavier Tillman. Consistent defense and a massive role from opening night earned Okoro the spot on the All-Rookie list.

    It's one thing to be thrown into the fire; it's another to be entrusted with the toughest defensive assignment from the jump. His willingness to compete with elites at that end paired with some recent progression on offense—9.5 points on 48.1/34.5/77.8 shooting his past 11 outings—is just enough to put him ahead of the other rookies left off the list.

                  

    Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks

    The toughest omission from the first team, Quickley has wasted no time establishing himself as one of the top point-producers in the rookie class. He ranks fourth among all freshmen in total points (599) and threes (93). Those are impressive marks on their own, but the quality behind them emerges when factoring in he's only 13th among rookies in total minutes (995).

    His role has diminished a bit of late and for a scoring guard his 38.5 field-goal percentage is sub-optimal (though his 37.5 three-point mark is strong). All that said, the Knicks aren closing in on their first playoff trip since 2013 and he's been a big part of New York's success. 

                      

    Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls

    Williams is another one who hovered around the first-team bubble before just falling short. He was drafted as a long-term project—he never started a game during his one-and-done run at Florida State—but emerged as one of the draft's top plug-and-play options instead.

    He ranks fourth among all rookies in minutes and enhances his 9.4 points per game with a tidy 47.8/38.5/76.4 shooting slash.

First Team: LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    If not for a fractured wrist, LaMelo Ball looked headed toward a debut season for the ages.

    Assuming he doesn't return before the curtains drop, he'll be just the eighth rookie ever to average 15 points, six assists and five rebounds. Even that fails to capture his impact, since he was stuck on Charlotte's second team for his first 20 outings. Narrow the lens to just his 21 starts and his line jumps to 19.5 points, 6.2 assists and 5.8 rebounds. Only Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson maintained those marks as an NBA first-timer.

    "He's special," teammate Terry Rozier said of Ball, per Lonzo Wire's Jacob Rude. "We've got a star in the making. ... I'll just tell people just enjoy it because you aren't going to see too many guys like this ever."

    Ball's 18.6 player efficiency rating ranks 13th-best all-time among rookie guards. Focus only on the 2000s, and it's better than any first-year guard not named Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons or Luka Doncic.

    Some might debate if Ball's lost time should cost him the Rookie of the Year. We're not here to debate that (plus there isn't a debate; it absolutely should not). We're predicting All-Rookie ballots, and Ball is the clearest first-team lock.

First Team: Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    You don't have to agree with the Timberwolves' decision to make Anthony Edwards the first overall pick last year to understand the thought process and what they were seeing.

    His game oozes electricity. It might arrive in the form of a monster dunk, slick ball-handling or an aerial erasure, but the highlights are always bound to happen one way or another.

    They're usually attached to some jaw-dropping production, too. He might wrestle with inefficiency for the foreseeable future, but he's still the top scorer in this draft by a comfortable margin. He's been good for 18.1 points per night so far; all other rookies are averaging less than 16.

    Edwards also ranks second in three-pointers (2.2), fourth in steals (1.1), eighth in assists (2.6) and 10th in rebounds (4.4).

    "He's the Rookie of the Year," Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said, per Rookie Wire's Cody Taylor. "I don't know what else to say. He has proven it in the history books, he has proven it to his teammates and he has proven it to this league, I believe, why he was picked No. 1."

    Rookies, especially those on cellar-dwelling teams, tend to be relatively forgiven for a lack of efficiency if the volume is loud enough. When it comes to volume, Edwards is among the noisiest in the class.

First Team: Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Tyrese Haliburton was the 12th pick in the draft, which means there might be at least 10 teams now seeing him as the one that got away.

    His slide didn't make sense at the time—even if he lacked elite athleticism or a stand-out skill, his versatility and intelligence were likely to translate—and it looks even sillier as the season progresses. The Kings haven't had many consistent contributors around Haliburton, yet he's still tied with Ball atop the 2020 draft class with 2.9 win shares.

    Haliburton is the only rookie other than Ball averaging 12 points and five assists. He's also just the sixth freshman ever to average 12 points, five dimes and two threes. Haliburton, who has 15 starts to his name, also could be a few hot streaks away from 50/40/90 enshrinement as he's at 47.2 percent overall, 40.8 percent from deep and 84.4 percent at the line.

    He recently showed up on ESPN's ranking of the top 25 players under 25, where he checked in 21st overall. Ball (third) and Edwards (19th) were the only other rookies selected.

    Haliburton should slot alongside the same duo in the Rookie of the Year voting.

First Team: Jae'Sean Tate, Houston Rockets

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Eight rookies are averaging double-digit points. Four are tracking down five rebounds a night. Four are averaging one steal.

    Only two freshmen are doing all of the above: Ball and Jae'Sean Tate. The former was last offseason's No. 3 pick and a player many argued should've gone No. 1. The latter capped his four-year career at Ohio State in 2018, then took his talents to Belgium and Australia before finally securing an NBA spot in Houston.

    But Tate's long road to the league prepared him for this moment and he isn't missing his chance. He debuted with 13 points in 37 minutes as a reserve, grabbed a starting spot about two weeks later and hasn't let go of it since.

    He is most notable for his hustle and physicality on defense, but it's hard to just throw the hustler label on him when he has three games with 20-plus points, seven with five or more assists and six with at least three three-pointers. He leads all rookies in win shares and wins above replacement, per FiveThirtyEight, and he trails only Edwards in total minutes.

    Tate might have entered this season as an NBA unknown, but he'll leave it as an All-Rookie first-teamer.

First Team: James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The Warriors didn't exactly know what they were getting when they made James Wiseman the second overall pick considering he suited up just three times at Memphis. They still can't be certain of what they have, but it's clear there's something there.

    With his season ended early by a torn meniscus, he walks into his first offseason with per-game averages of 11.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 0.9 blocks. Those numbers don't scream stardom at first, but they were only compiled in 21.4 minutes per night. Put them on a per-36-minutes scale, and they jump to 19.3, 9.7 and 1.6, respectively.

    That's not the same as actually posting those elevated numbers, of course, but just for context, only eight rookies have ever averaged 19 points, nine rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Seven are in the Hall of Fame, and the only one not enshrined (yet, at least), Elton Brand, was a two-time All-Star who averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds in four different seasons.

    Wiseman produced at a special rate when he made it inside the lines, all while showing an obvious lack of polish and dealing with multiple absences. He ranks third among rookies in rebounds and fifth in both points and blocks.

    His future could be much better than his present, but even now he did enough for All-Rookie first-team honors.

                

    All stats current through April 14 and courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.