We’ve told you about which NBA teams to keep an eye on and why NBA games are so fun to attend, but now you should know a little bit about the new players entering the big leagues this season. Every year, NBA teams draft and trade new guys to get some fresh blood on the team and change up the dynamics of the veterans. There’s a lot of pressure on these guys to perform… and to make it worth those big signing bonuses. But it can take a little while to get off the bench and really feel the vibe of the NBA. This ain’t college ball after all. So who are the best NBA rookies this season? Here are a few young guys we think you should watch.
Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks
If you couldn’t tell by the name, Luka Doncic is not from the US. After playing in the EuroLeague for Real Madrid (and nailing the title of MVP last year), this talented 19-year-old guard was drafted overall number three by the Atlanta Hawks. He was then traded to the Dallas Mavericks, signing with the team this summer. According to head coach Rick Carlisle, they think Doncic is a “franchise foundation piece.” He’s already living up to the hype too. Against the Minnesota Timberwolves on October 20th, he scored 26 points, becoming the youngest 20-point scorer in franchise history. Then on October 29th against the Spurs, he posted 31 points. Despite being a rookie, Doncic is playing tough and his teammates trust him. Due to his professional career, he’s used to a difficult traveling schedule too. He didn’t play in this year’s summer league (due to a late release by Real Madrid), but NBA general managers have overwhelmingly picked Doncic as their favorite for Rookie of the Year.
DeAndre Ayton – Phoenix Suns
The number-one overall draft pick this year, Ayton’s appearance on this list is a given. Well, that and the fact that he’s got skill, talent, strength, and a build of 7’1” and 250 pounds. This center put up some big numbers during the summer league in scoring, rebounding, and blocking, averaging 14.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game with an accuracy of 60 percent. His numbers are only getting better during the regular season, despite only averaging around 27 minutes of playing time per game. In Ayton’s last seven games of the regular season, he’s managed to put up an average of 17.3 points per game and 9.9 rebounds while shooting 64 percent. If Ayton keeps increasing his numbers, which he’s likely to do with more playing time, that could put him up there with the likes of Shaquille O’Neal. He does need to improve his defense though, considering he’s over seven feet tall and all…
Kevin Knox – New York Knicks
This guy played amazing in the summer league, leading the rest of the rookies and averaging 21.3 points per game, but he hasn’t dazzled us as much in the regular season so far. However, part of that could be due to the fact that the Knicks are playing 15 players right now so he’s not getting as much time with the ball. After being selected as the ninth overall pick, Knox started out draft night getting booed by Knicks fans who didn’t agree with that selection – so he came out with something to prove. He’s also one of the youngest players in the NBA, having just turned 19 this August (he only played one year at Kentucky before entering the draft) which is something to consider. He has time to improve. Knox can also shoot the three, so he’s an athletic all-around player like the Knicks hoped for. While he occasionally turns the ball over and takes some questionable shots, the talent and confidence are there.
Trae Young – Atlanta Hawks
Another guy who’s (most likely) destined for fame, Trae Young is in a bit of a slump right now, hitting only 27% of his shots… and only 5% of his three-pointers, which he was known for at Oklahoma. That’s bad. We’ve seen him hit double digits though, and in his breakout game against the Clippers he put up 25 points and 17 assists. Young just tends to go through hot streaks of playmaking, passing, and scoring. He was the fifth overall pick – swapped for Doncic by the Mavericks – and the Hawks picked him up hoping for a franchise player a la Steph Curry or Steve Nash. It’s still early to determine whether this is just a shooting slump or whether his college play style doesn’t translate to the NBA. Already though, we’re seeing signs of improvement. He hit four three-pointers against the Hornets on Sunday.