By Paul Czarnecki
Before Ball's injury, LaMelo is seen ready to take a fadeaway jumper on the San Antonio Spurs in Charlotte. The Hornets have played very well without Ball, but would 'welcome his return with open arms', says coach James Borrego. IMAGE CREDITS: NBA.com
For this week of “Rookie Report”, the goal seems to be as simple as can be: Pass. LaMelo. Ball. Yes, following the brutal wrist injury from the obvious leader in ROTY voting to Ball, the playing field is now as level as can be, and rookies are attempting to make their mark on the NBA and race to the finish line for the end-of-the-year trophy. Thus, rookies are now competing hard and heavily to become a few of the best incomers in the league.
One of the most dynamic rookies taken in this year’s NBA Draft, Haliburton and the Sacramento Kings are finally beginning to find their rhythm midway through the season. In the past week, Haliburton is averaging 18.8 PPG and 4.4 APG, while comboing with explosive ball handler De’Aaron Fox in the backcourt and leading his squad to a 5-0 record (!). To cap this all off, Haliburton’s numbers from the field show how efficient he’s been since the middle of March, shooting 57% from the field and 51% from deep. The cherry on top? 90% from the free throw line in the past month. If there’s one rookie other than Anthony Edwards that has a chance to make a run at the top award, it’s Haliburton.
Former #1 overall pick Anthony Edwards squares up for a jumper while being guarded by Nets' forward Jeff Green in Brooklyn. Edwards' highlight-worthy plays have earned him very solid marks among NBA analysts. IMAGE CREDITS: NBA.com
Although it is unfortunate to see a player as skilled and versatile as LaMelo Ball go down with a potential season-ending injury, this does pave the way for the #1 overall pick to prove himself as the best rookie in the 2020 draft class. Over the course of the past five games, Edwards’ numbers have skyrocketed, as he’s putting up 21.4 points and 5.4 boards per game, not to mention his presence on the defensive end with 1.4 steals per game. To be completely honest, the only thing holding Edwards back from galloping away from a Rookie of the Year lock is his efficiency and team record. With rookies, criticism tends to resonate when their team isn’t even in the playoffs, and the Minnesota Timberwolves definitely aren’t there yet. Also, 38.6% from the field and 30% from deep won’t strike confidence into the hearts of ROTY voters come June.
The Florida State alum Patrick Williams is a prime example of a rookie that was drafted into a bad system. When it comes to the Chicago Bulls offense, it’s a shoe-in that All-Star Zach Lavine will be the primary scorer each and every game he appears in. Now, with the acquisition of former All-Star Nikola Vucevic, the Bulls find themselves attempting to land on an agenda for the remainder of the season, whether it be “win-now” mode or even another drawn out limbo year. Therefore, where does that leave room for Williams? Chicago has lost six of their last seven games, where Williams has become the starter on the wing to replace players like Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr. His averages don’t look the brightest, but give this young stud a year or two more, and there will be an influx in production and hopefully WINS from Williams and the Bulls.
Celtics rookie Payton Pritchard gets set during an away game against the Detroit Pistons. Pritchard's technique on turnaround jumpers and brilliant passing has translated to a playoff-level season for Boston. IMAGE CREDITS: NBA.com
Not many seniors get drafted as high as 26, but former Oregon Duck Payton Pritchard won the hearts of the Boston Celtics front office in the offseason and general manager Danny Ainge took a chance on the kid from Washington. Now? Pritchard is getting real, clutch-time minutes in the league as a backup to former All-Star Kemba Walker. With the playing time he’s been receiving, Pritchard has been shooting 47.1% from deep over the past week, the best on the team. With the recent release of veteran guard Jeff Teague, expect an increase in not only Pritchard’s playing time, but his playmaking on pick-and-rolls with Celtics big Robert Williams III.
It’s really, REALLY tough to pick out a bright spot for a team despite being one of the coldest in the league, fresh off a Rockets franchise record 20-game losing streak. However, undrafted rookie Jae’Sean Tate has been turning a lot of heads during this season, and playing for a downright horrible Houston Rockets team is getting him the NBA experience he deserves. In his last five games, Tate is averaging 15.0 PPG and 6.6 RPG, not to mention his 1.0 steal AND block per game average, showing his perimeter defense off quite nicely. If there was a prospect that could become one of the best undrafted players in league history, Tate is well on his way to being in that conversation.