This year’s class of rookies will not go down as one of the best of all-time, to say the least. However, there were some standout players that deserve recognition. In evaluating these players, one must consider what each player did this season, and what type of potential impact they will have for their team moving forward.
1. Michael Carter-Williams
In a season where the Philadelphia decided to tank, there were very few bright spots for the team. The brightest however was certainly Carter-Williams. Selected with the 11th pick in the draft, Carter-Williams started his career with a bang. In his NBA debut against the Miami HEAT, Carter-Williams scored 22 points, and contributed 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals in 36 minutes as the Sixers upset the HEAT, 114-110.
While the opening night fireworks faded after just three games, and the team tied the league record for losses in a row, Carter-Williams continued to display his diverse skill-set. In 70 games played this season, Carter-Williams averaged 16.7 points, 6.3 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals. These are historically good numbers for a rookie. Carter-Williams, Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson are the only three players to average at least 16 points, six rebounds and six assists in their rookie seasons. However, Carter-Williams will have to improve his outside shooting, as he made just 26.4 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
Moving forward, Carter-Williams is the 76ers’ answer at point guard, and will be coupled with Nerlens Noel as the franchise cornerstones. The 76ers will also likely have a top-three pick in the upcoming draft, which will be added to the young core. Whoever the 76ers add, it will be Carter-Williams who will lead the 76ers into the next era of its franchise, which 76er fans should be very excited about.
2. Victor Oladipo
If Carter-Williams is number one, then Oladipo is a close second. In 80 games played this season, Oladipo, picked second in the draft, logged 13.8 points, 4.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. While Oladipo’s stats are not as good as Carter-Williams’, it should be noted that Oladipo spent the entire season playing both point guard and shooting guard. Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said Oladipo was simply a “guard,” but believes that the experience he gained from this year will help Oladipo long-term.
Dwyane Wade, who played point guard in his rookie season, told NBA.com, “I love the way that his game has progressed… I could tell the frustration (of playing point guard) on him when we played them once. He was out there on the court trying to figure it out and I went through the same thing…That made me a better player and it taught me to read the game a lot better. Even though I couldn’t wait to move to (shooting guard) it made me read things better and it helped my play-making skills.’’ Regarding Wade’s comments, Oladipo said, “He tells me (about playing point guard) all of the time. I just have to be patient like he always tells me. I’m just trying to be patient, make the right plays and the right reads.’’ If the Magic select a point guard with their lottery pick in the upcoming draft, then Oladipo can move to shooting guard long-term like Wade did after his rookie season.
Oladipo may not be the long-term answer at point guard for the Magic, but in a lot of ways he is like Wade. He can handle the ball, make plays for others and score in a variety of ways. Carter-Williams arguably had a better rookie season, but no one’s future is brighter than Oladipo’s.
3. Trey Burke
The Utah Jazz, like the 76ers and Magic, went through a losing season as part of a long-term rebuild. Part of that rebuild included trading for Trey Burke, who was selected with the ninth pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Jazz sent the Wolves the 14th and 21st picks, which were used on Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng.
In his rookie season Burke has established himself as a long-term answer at point guard for the Jazz. Burke averaged 12.8 points, three rebounds and 5.7 assists this season. These stats aren’t quite as good as Carter-Williams’ and Oladipo’s, but they aren’t too far off either. Burke, like most rookies, was inconsistent at times, but had won Rookie of the Month for April, averaging 15.6 points and nine assists.
Burke isn’t far behind Carter-Williams and Oladipo and will compete with them for years to come.
4. Gorgui Dieng
The Minnesota Timberwolves arguably had the most disappointing season of any team in the league, as they were the best team to not make the postseason, besides the Phoenix Suns. When Nikola Pekovic went down with an Achilles injury, the Wolves turned to rookie Gorgui Dieng to fill the void. Dieng was a pleasant surprise. On March 20, Dieng chipped in 22 points, 21 rebounds, four assists and made 10-of-11 from the free throw line. Four days later, Dieng scored 15 points, 15 rebounds, two assists and a block. These are just two examples of Dieng’s strong contributions this season. If Dieng had gotten an opportunity to contribute sooner, he very well could have been ranked higher on this list, maybe even competing for Rookie of the Year.
The best part about Dieng’s emergence is that he offers rim protection to a team that ranks last in the league at guarding against shots at the rim. Additionally, if the Wolves lose Kevin Love, they may look to move Pekovic and his large contract and rebuild. Dieng could fill that void, and be a major piece moving forward.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Antetokounmpo did not have a huge statistical season. In fact, there are other rookies who put up better numbers that arguably deserve to be included on this list on that basis. But this list encompasses each rookie’s performance this season and the impact he is going to have on his franchise moving forward. Antetokounmpo, selected with the 15th pick in the draft, was an absolute steal and may be the franchise player in Milwaukee moving forward.
Antetokounmpo averaged 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists in his rookie season. These numbers are underwhelming, but Antetokounmpo is just 19 years old, and is the definition of raw. He has only been playing basketball for a few years, but has shown that his potential is limitless. His frame is extraordinarily long and draws comparisons to superstar Kevin Durant. If Antetokounmpo can further develop his jumpshot and ball handling skills, he may be one of the top players in the league for many years to come.