Under The Radar Rookies Who Have Impressed

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Malachi Flynn_Raptors_2021_AP

Teams are constantly looking for under-the-radar guys who fall in the draft for whatever reason. They often aren’t expected to immediately contribute, but every year there are guys who are selected well past the lottery who impress. A lot of these rookies happen to be playing on bad teams, meaning they don’t receive as much notoriety as some other rookies.

Here are five guys who have flown under the radar this season, showing potential and producing when given the opportunity even in limited minutes. 

Malachi Flynn – Toronto Raptors

Flynn didn’t play much to start the season. Even with that said, he showed flashes of his potential in the preseason. His stellar play of late isn’t as surprising as the other names on the list, as many expected Flynn would be able to contribute at the NBA level. However, with extended playing time, Flynn has begun to really showcase his talent.

In the month of April, Flynn is averaging 12.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. He also happens to be shooting 40.3 percent from three on nearly 5 attempts a game. Flynn is showing an ability to hit tough shots and create for himself and others. It helps he has two All-Star caliber point guards to learn from in Kyle Lowry and Fred Vanvleet ahead of him. The Raptors have to be excited with Flynn, who was the 29th selection in the first round. 

Jaden McDaniels – Minnesota Timberwolves

McDaniels was selected one pick before Flynn and has flashed serious potential as a 3-and-D wing. He has shown an ability to switch 1-5 defensively, which bodes well for his NBA future. His defense may be his best skill to date and should keep him in Minnesota’s long-term plans. He’s still raw in some aspects, but that’s expected from someone who was selected at 28th overall.

McDaniels has shown that he’s capable of knocking down three-pointers as well. He’s shooting 36 percent from beyond the arc and a nice-looking stroke. The Raptors have to be satisfied with McDaniels who they acquired in a draft night trade. In theory, he slots in nicely with a team starving for defenders alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards. 

Chuma Okeke – Orlando Magic

Okeke isn’t a typical rookie. He was drafted in 2019 with the 16th pick but missed the entire season due to a torn ACL, which gave him a season on the sidelines. Okeke’s stats don’t jump off the page but he has shown signs of potential being a productive NBA player. He’s shown some defensive potential, scoring ability and even some passing chops. 

The Magic’s trade of Nikola Vucevic signaled that they were going full rebuild and focusing on developing their younger guys. Okeke is one guy who has and will continue to benefit from the extra touches. His development this season has been fun to watch and it seems as though the Magic hit on this pick even if they had to wait a full season to find that out. 

Naji Marshall – New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans are filled with young talent from top to bottom, even if their performance this season hasn’t been reflective of that. They signed guard/wing Naji Marshall to a two-way contract after he went undrafted. He’s only appeared in 22 games this season, but he has flashed some 3-and-D potential. He got his chance after injuries hampered the Pelicans roster, but has continued to hold a spot in the rotation due to his performance. 

The Pelicans have been starved of shooting and Marshall has helped some, shooting 34 percent from three. He has consistently made the right defensive rotations for a team that has needed it. It’s always difficult being a guy on a two-way contract, but Marshall has made the most of it. His coach Stan Van Gundy has sung his praises. 

Kenyon Martin Jr. – Houston Rockets

Martin has gone under the radar due to playing in Houston, one of the league’s worst teams. However, he’s been one of the most fun defensive rookies to watch. He has multiple highlight blocks due to his vertical leap. He’s blocked Rudy Gobert and Kristaps Porzingis’ dunk attempts as a 6’6 guard. He covers a ton of ground on that end. 

Martin is more than just a highlight reel. The numbers aren’t spectacular, but he has tons of defensive potential along with some intriguing passing skills. His offensive game is still a work in progress; his shooting ability in particular. He does happen to have a high motor and it isn’t difficult to see a role for him in the future. He was the 52nd overall pick in this past year’s draft. With some more time to develop, the Rockets could potentially have a really great defensive player.

Every rookie class has guys who fly under the radar for a variety of different reasons. These rookies have shown flashes of being rotational NBA players.