With every new NBA season comes the excitement of a new batch of rookies looking to make their mark. Every year there are some rookies that live up to expectations, exceed expectations and fall short of expectations. This year’s crop wasn’t thought to be a strong bunch. While the class to this point hasn’t shown much star power up top, it’s not too shallow of a class. But the rookies being mentioned have gotten off to impressive starts this year.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns Jr., Center, Minnesota Timberwolves
The man who was drafted first overall is currently living up to the hype. Towns is part of a young core for the Timberwolves, who are currently near the bottom of the standings in the Western Conference.Despite his team’s lack of success, Towns is having himself a nice first campaign in the Association. He’s showed to be an all-around player, with his post moves, defense and shooting touch all looking promising. The Kentucky product is averaging 15.8 points per game, which is second among rookies. But to make that even more impressive is that he’s doing it while shooting 53% from the field, while also shooting a great 85% from the free throw line. Towns is also hauling in 9.3 rebounds a game, first among first year players. His rebounding was one of his biggest strengths coming out of college, and it looks as though he’s built on it as a pro. Towns has been no slouch defensively, as his 1.8 blocks per game is second among rookies. In his only year at Kentucky, Towns showed flashes of all of these skills in flashes, but in his rookie season, Towns has shown off his skills consistently, and looks like a star in the making.
2. Kristaps Porzingis, Power Forward, New York Knicks
What a rookie year it has been for Kristaps. He was drafted fourth overall and received the loudest boo out of any pick, by far. ESPN showed a young Knicks fan legitimately crying over the pick, but now, the young fan has changed his mind on the rookie sensation. Coming out of Latvia, there wasn’t much hype surrounding the 7″3′ big man. Porzingis was known as a good athlete and a good shooter, but was also said to be too skinny to succeed right away in the NBA. Porzingis has proved his doubters wrong up to this point in his career. His 13.9 points per game for the Knicks ranks him third among all rookies, but while he’s only shooting 33% from deep, it takes a while to adapt to NBA range. With his massive size, it’s no surprise that Porzingis has good rebounding and block totals, with averages of 7.9 and 2.0 in each category, respectively. Porzingis has his Knicks on the brink of a playoff spot, way ahead of where fans thought the Knicks would be this season. Kristaps Porzingis is still a raw rookie, which means he’s still learning what his psychical tools are and how to put them to good use. With him being this good this early in his career, Porzingis could be something special.
3. Jahlil Okafor, Center, Philadelphia 76ers
Ignoring off the field issues, Jahlil Okafor’s rookie season has been great. The gap between him and Porzingis is fractional, but it does help when your team is winning. It really does suck that he’s on the worst team ever assembled, but he’s making the most of it. Being the first scoring option from day one is never an easy thing to do, but Okafor has done just fine. He leads all rookies in scoring with 17.4 per game, but also takes the most shots among rookie players. His post game has been his calling card since high school, and it sure looks as though its here to stay. He’s got all the moves down low on the block and at the elbow. The most polished rookie post up player since DeMarcus Cousins, Okafor has all the makings of an NBA star. It’s also worth noting that Okafor is a willing and good passer out of the post, but his assists numbers won’t show it due to the lack of support around him. The Duke product uses has big body and massive hand size to corral rebounds and block shots, to the tune of 7.5 and 1.1 per game, respectively. His lack of elite athleticism may be his serious only weakness, as it forces him into tougher shots against better athletes with more length than him. But his technician like abilities on the post should allow him to get invites to more than a few All-Star games.
4. Nikola Jokic, Center, Denver Nuggets
Hands down the name nobody knows on this list, Nikola Jokic was actually drafted last season in the second round by the Nuggets, but opted to stay overseas for one more year. The second round draft choice has shown off the complete offensive game that made him a sought after prospect in 2014. He’s only shot 21 threes, but has connected on eight of them, and has showed a good looking stroke from deep. The Serbian born big man is only getting 18 minutes of action per game for the lowly Nuggets, but has made the most of them. For the season, Jokic is dropping in a solid 8.6 points (sixth among rookies) and bringing in 5.5 rebounds per game. Jokic is doing his scoring at an impressive 54% from the field and has also looked confident at the line, shooting 77%. Like most players from overseas, Jokic lacks the athleticism to become a star in the NBA. Due to his lack of hops and speed, Jokic projects poorly on the defensive end. But with a ceiling of a high quality role player, Jokic isn’t just a one-hit wonder for Denver. With Denver also looking into trading Kenneth Faried, Jokic should see his minutes, and production, increase as the season wears on.
5. D’Angelo Russell, Point Guard, Los Angeles Lakers
D’Angelo Russell has had an up and down year for the purple and gold. His minutes have fluctuated all year under Byron Scott’s command, but he’s held his head high and hasn’t expressed any ill will toward the coach. For the year, Russell has been averaging a solid 11.8 points per game, 3.9 rebounds per game, and 3.4 assists per game. The rookie from THE Ohio State was known for his smooth game, and it’s translated quite nicely into the NBA. He’s showed off his strong passing skills and his ability to put the ball right where he wants it.
I know those clips are from his college days, but those passes are just too smooth. The 6″5′ combo guard isn’t shooting the ball particularly well, but he’s a pass first, shoot second kind of player. He’s got an all around game that will continue to blossom as he matures and learns the ins and outs of the NBA game. He certainly looks to be one of the main pieces of this team going forward with Kobe Bryant being both ineffective and retiring at the end of the season. The thing that limits his super star and unique potential is his lack of elite athletic ability. Not a poor athlete by any standard, but Russell doesn’t have an explosive first step like most guards do in todays NBA, but he should manage to get by on his craftiness alone.
Honorable Mentions: Stanley Johnson- Detroit Pistons, TJ McConnell- Philadelphia 76ers, Justise Winslow- Miami Heat, Devin Booker- Phoenix Suns
Gifs via SilverScreenAndRoll and Giphy
Cover Photo via SportingNews