NBA Rookie Watch: Where Is Ja?

Rookies are tricky to evaluate in most sports and that is certainly true in the NBA. Role is a big part of any evaluation but, for first-year players, it can make things even more difficult. Some rookies will be thrust into high-usage, high-visibility roles and, because those players are usually on bad teams, the infrastructure isn’t always pretty. Then, others can be put into better situations to thrive in supporting roles, simply carving out playing time by doing a few things well and not taking much off the table.

With that in mind, we’ll endeavor to rank the top ten rookies each week and, after nearly two weeks of game action, the results are pretty interesting in the NBA right now. Without further ado, let’s roll through some honorable mentions and get to the list.

Honorable Mentions

  • Goga Bitadze – Bitadze has a pair of DNP-CD’s already this season and the situation is going to limit his upside unless injuries continue to plague Indiana. Honestly, though, he’s looked the part of the draft-day steal that many believe he was.
  • Darius Garland – With the role he is in, it is possible or even likely that Garland rises quickly on this list. Right now, though, he’s shooting 31 percent from the floor and not doing much else.
  • Cam Reddish – Offensive efficiency has been a problem for Reddish dating back to Duke and his 28 percent true shooting so far isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. He’s been (very) impressive defensively, though, and the versatile forward has flashed passing acumen.
  • Matisse Thybulle – He’s a significant negative on offense, but Thybulle has 14 steals and seven blocks in five NBA games. That’s insane.
  • Coby White – White has been better than Garland to this point, but the efficiency and defense just aren’t there.
  • Zion Williamson – The ROY favorite hasn’t played yet so we’ll punt and put him here for now.

10) De’Andre Hunter

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After a preseason that included some eye-popping offensive plays, Hunter has cooled off in the early going of the regular season. That isn’t terribly shocking for a player that was drafted primarily for his defensive contributions, but Hunter has still been more effective on offense than most of his rookie counterparts. Throw in a defensive skill set that is already paying dividends for the improving Hawks, and he lands here despite 49 percent true shooting and low usage.

9) Nicolo Melli

Melli isn’t playing that much for the (very) deep Pelicans and it’s already weird that he’s on this list at the age of 28. Still, he brings a floor-spacing element that any team needs and his opening night performance wasn’t a fluke. He can shoot the basketball.

8) Eric Paschall

The Warriors aren’t going to be fun to watch for quite some time, with Stephen Curry on the shelf and all hope basically lost. Paschall has been Golden State’s best rookie to this point, though, and the Villanova product is producing at a high level in his age-23 season. The total package with Paschall has relatively limited upside, but he gives effort on defense and he’s shooting 61 percent in the first two weeks.

7) Rui Hachimura

Hachimura is playing a lot and the counting stats are coming. He ranks in the top six among rookies in points and rebounds but, with relatively low efficiency and spotty defense, this is where he fits for now. The Wizards have every reason to give him more exposure, though, on a team with limited options.

6) Brandon Clarke

No one that watched Brandon Clarke closely last season would be surprised by what he’s doing. The rookie from Gonzaga is posting a 61 percent true shooting percentage and, in five games, he has eight blocks and six steals. Clarke is just good at basketball and, though he’ll be overshadowed by a rookie teammate, he’s a stud.

5) Tyler Herro

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There will be plenty of highs and lows for Herro this season. When he has it going with his jump shot, Herro is virtually unguardable and he’s already had a few stretches where that is the case. The question is what happens when he’s not cooking and the jury is out. The overall numbers are very good, though, and that is worth noting.

4) PJ Washington

Washington is second among rookies in minutes per game and he’s averaging 15.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. He’s also competing defensively and scoring with impressive efficiency. What’s not to like?

3) RJ Barrett

This is going to be a fascinating Rookie of the Year candidacy. Barrett hasn’t been efficient (49 percent true shooting) but the box-score numbers (18.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists per game) paint the picture of a potential ROY winner. The Knicks did him no favors in constructing a thoroughly perplexing roster, with zero spacing and a bunch of mismatched pieces. Still, Barrett’s question marks are still question marks and, honestly, everyone knew he would compile numbers — especially as Fizdale plays him 37 minutes per game.

2) Kendrick Nunn

Nunn has been fantastic on the court so far this season, leading all rookies in scoring (19.5 points per game) and acting as a surprising engine for Miami’s offense. Will it continue at this level? Probably not, but Nunn is now a legitimate sleeper for ROY and the 24-year-old out of Oakland is surprising everyone. It is worth noting that some of the shine of a “great story” has to be lost for a player that has a history with domestic violence but, on the hardwood, it’s been good.

1) Ja Morant

Morant is the leader in the clubhouse, with strong efficiency to go with a massive workload. He’s averaging 18.8 points, 5.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game with eight steals in five appearance. The shooting will cool off at some point but Morant’s passing vision and creation ability are real. That is already confirmed.