With the NBA season stopping on March 11 because of COVID, then picking up in “Disney’s Orlando Bubble” in late July and not finishing until October, it’s been a strange time for every player.
Imagine being a rookie trying to get acclimated to the pro game during these times. The draft didn’t take place until November, which in turn meant there’d be no “NBA Summer League”, which is a place for those rookies to get into shape and begin to see how different the NBA game is from the college or overseas game.
With this 2020-21 season being rushed to begin just two months after last season ended, rookies have been basically thrown into the fire without the preparation afforded to past rookies.
So here we are, on the verge of NBA Opening Night and one week into its preseason.
Isaac Okoro (Cavaliers)
First, let’s start with former Auburn swingman Isaac Okoro who looks really good. Drafted for his 3-and-D capabilities he’s also shown some real pop in getting to the rim and even making 3s, which is something he struggled with mightily during his one year at Auburn.
He’s just a natural athlete capable of wreaking havoc on both ends, and once his offense catches up to his already stellar defense he’ll be even more of a problem.
Malachi Flynn (Toronto Raptors)
Flynn is another rookie who’s impressed and I actually thought he would because he played three years at San Diego St and because of the organization he was drafted into.
I felt going to the veteran-laden, battle-tested Raptors would really help Flynn from the jump and that looks to be true early on. Those three years on campus really helped him develop into a very polished ball handler capable of running your offense or crafty enough to get his own, with range.
Flynn has always shown to be quite adept at the ever-vital pick and roll game which is huge in the NBA. He knows when to go to the midrange pull-up or step behind for the three. Also adept at getting into the seams to either finish for himself or others.
He can really be a quality asset for “We The North” as a backup to either Kyle Lowry or Fred Vanvleet and capable of playing with either to allow them time off the ball or vice versa.
Cole Anthony (Magic)
Greg’s son has gotten out of the NBA gate quickly. Many people doubted his ability because of the injury he suffered at UNC, but the NYC product is proving the naysayers wrong already
Anthony Edwards (Timberwolves)
The rookie has surprised some with his stroke, but overall will probably struggle with his shot most of his rookie season as that has been the knock on him. He’s a streaky shooter at best right now but capable of going off. His strength is his elite athleticism and defensive capabilities which he showed in guarding MVP favorite Luka Doncic.
He really agitated Doncic, and he didn’t look like he cared if it was just preseason or not. He’ll be a third/fourth option behind Towns, D Russ and maybe even Malik Beasley right now but once he develops and figures it out, look out because the sky is the limit.
James Wiseman (Warriors)
The big man hasn’t seen the floor just yet in the preseason but he has practiced and rumors are, he and the loquacious Draymond Green have solid synergy. That’s a welcome sign. Head Coach Steve Kerr said he sees a little of David “The Admiral” Robinson in Wiseman, who could start the opener against the Brooklyn Nets and former Dubs star Kevin Durant.
LaMelo Ball (Hornets)
Along with Wiseman, Melo has the most upside of any rookie. The youngest of the Ball brothers is 6’8 with elite vision and playmaking from the lead guard position. Where he needs to improve is shooting and that begins with shot selection and playing under control.
1) James Wiseman GS
2) Anthony Edwards MIN
3) Lamelo Ball CHA
4) Obi Toppin NYK
5) Deni Avdija WAS
6) Immanuel Quickley NYK
7) Patrick Williams CHI
8) Onyeka Okongwu ATL
9) Theo Maledon OKC
10) Killian Hayes DET
11) Devin Vassel SAS
12) Cole Anthony ORL
— Sully (@pwME_Sully) December 21, 2020
His whole floor game is what’s intriguing as he had a game with 10 rebounds and another with 7 assists. Then scored 18 points in another game. This is the potential he has and I see stardom for this kid.
He should fit well with either Terry Rozier, Devonte Graham or Malik Monk in the backcourt. Also get used to hearing this: “Melo to Bridges” on the alley-oop. They have to be clamoring for when fans are back and they can really make “Buzz City” a buzz.
Rookie Deni Avdija (Wizards) had a nearly perfect showing in his debut says head coach Scott Brooks. He went for 15 points and didn’t miss a shot from the field. Avdija has also played well in other preseason games and looks the part of a starting small forward that fits well off the ball. He’s a great compliment to ball-dominant guards, Bradley Beal and the newly acquired Russell Westbrook.
Most Knicks fans didn’t want the Brooklyn native Obi Toppin. They were looking for a splash guy like LaMelo to light up “MSG” on a nightly basis.
BEST Of Obi Toppin's NBA Preseason Debut! https://t.co/CLFkV30woY via @YouTube
– Obi looks very polished, already at a solid starter/sixth man level. Has that confidence due to his older age than most rookies, handle needs work though. High floor midrange ceiling in my opinion.
— Thomas (@_FreeTRow) December 16, 2020
Toppin, however, is a solid, gritty player who hustles and leads, encompasses everything New York has traditionally been about. His defense doesn’t look nearly as bad as advertised. He’s a high riser, who can pass. He’ll need to improve as a shooter and until then will need others to create for him more often than not. All in all, there should be some solid optimism amongst the team’s uniquely-constructed “Big Apple” brass.
The real deal jumps off on Tuesday and I’ll have more rookie updates throughout the season.