Despite middling preseason expectations, basketball fans have seen some surprisingly good campaigns from several rookies around the league in 2020-21.
Even the most casual viewer will know how special LaMelo Ball has been this season pre-injury. But there are many others who’ve played well as the “Frosh” of the league. With Ball’s season-ending injury some believe they have a shot to take home the KIA NBA Rookie of the Year Award.
1. LaMelo Ball
The Big Dawg Ball brother has been a pleasant surprise this season, and the Charlotte Hornets benefited from the 6’8 Uber talented point guard. His elite passing is what Michael Jordan knew he was getting, but the overall floor game of Ball has been eye-opening.
His broken wrist is a devastating blow for an upstart Hornets team that he helped to the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference prior to his injury.
Along with free-agent acquisition Gordon Hayward, they began to change the course of the “Queen City” hoopers. Ball remains the only first-year player with a triple-double. He notched seven double-doubles, which is four more than any other rookie player.
He joins LeBron James and Chris Paul as the only players who have averaged 15 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and almost one triple made per game before age 21. He leads all rookies in PER (Player Efficiency Rating), VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), BPM (Box-Plus Minus), and his RPM Wins (Real Plus-Minus Wins) are nearly twice as high the next-best rookie.
There is growing optimism Ball could return this season. But if not, he may have already done enough to win the award. His numbers (15.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 6.1 apg) bark, “ROY”.
2. Tyrese Haliburton
Haliburton continues to prove that his being drafted 12th overall was a huge mistake by many teams who passed over him. I guarantee you the Kings are thankful they did. Though not as explosive as Ball or a few others taken ahead of him, he’s definitely just as versatile and much more cerebral as a player.
A real sleeper, Haliburton is averaging 12.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.3 steals per game, while hitting 41.1% of his three-pointers. He’s the first rookie to record a three-point percentage over 41 percent, steal percentage over 1.9 percent and assist percentage over 22 percent since Stephen Curry accomplished just as much over a decade ago.
His ability and upside as a playmaker and scorer make him a long-term fit in the NBA and the biggest challenger to Ball-winning ROY.
3. Anthony Edwards
As I state weekly Anthony Edwards has elite athleticism that jumps off the charts. Now that his overall floor game has begun to match that athleticism, Edwards has played at a borderline elite level here lately. Still very raw and sometimes erratic, you can see the potential which made him the No.1 overall pick. Edwards has averaged 23.9 points per game since March 1st and after the firing of Ryan Saunders.
All four of his personal-best scoring performances have come in the last four weeks. He has also notched seven of his eight highest-scoring totals during that span, including a new career-high 42 points in a March 18th win at the Phoenix Suns.
If he can stay on this trajectory perhaps he’ll be able to convince some voters to lean his direction when it eventually comes time to vote for Rookie of the Year.
4. Immanuel Quickley
Immanuel Quickley wasn’t projected to be a guy who’d help the surprising Knicks much this season. Not only has he helped he’s been their third-best player behind All-Star Julius Randle and 2019 No.2 overall pick RJ Barrett.
Under first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks have played hard and been competitive all season. Quickley has shined through and been a surprising scoring threat for the Knicks. Marred in a bit of a slump the last 8-10 games or so Quickley is showing signs up picking it up again, and the Knicks are hopeful that doesn’t change again for the worse.
5. Jae’Sean Tate
Jae’Sean Tate has been a diamond-in-the-rough for the downright putrid Rockets and first-year head coach Stephen Silas, who has been dealt a raw deal in his first year at the helm in “HTown.”
Tate has been a bright spot and a chess piece for Silas as he’s played him at every position but point guard. He’s scored and grabbed at least 3 rebounds in every game he’s played in this season. He’s also had four steals in a game on two different occasions.
His high-energy hustle has been a welcome sight for the Rockets, as he leads rookies with loose balls recovered, charges drawn, and contested three-pointers in 2020-21. Tate is a feel-good story having worked his way from Belgium then Australia and now into a starting role in the NBA.
Chima Okeke – (Magic) Since the game before the team traded All-Star Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon, Okeke has averaged 15 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 steal per game. While shooting a scorching hot 69% from three (11-16). He missed all of the 2019-20 season recovering from a torn ACL but you can see why the team had no problem moving on from Aaron Gordon.
Saddiq Bey – (Pistons) When the Pistons landed Bey, they landed an NBA-ready sharpshooting wing. He is currently just one of two rookies to make at least 100 three-pointers in 2020-21. He joins Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell and Damian Lillard as the only players to make more than (2.2) three-pointers in their first professional season.
Desmond Bane – (Grizzlies) Bane was the final pick of the first round of the draft and the Grizzlies struck gold and found them a dangerous knockdown shooter. The 22-year-old wing is shooting (45.5) percent from three. In the last 10 games, he’s averaging 10.7 ppg and 3.9 rebounds and shooting 45.6 % from three.
Desmond Bane has it going on pic.twitter.com/mXfYiYa6MB
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) April 15, 2021
He’s joined an elite group thus far as only the third rookie since 2009-10 to shoot at least (43) percent from three, on at least 150 attempts joining Stephen Curry and Jayson Tatum. He’s a great fit for a guard like Ja Morant who creates so many open looks with his quickness and attacking style.