I don’t have the time to follow NCAA basketball nearly as closely as I watch the NBA, so every year’s draft class comes in as a blank slate to me. Even I, however, safely ensconced in my NBA bubble, knew that this year’s class was supposed to be garbage.
Instead, it might go down as a top-three draft of all time.
This draft looks to be chock full of long-term contributors taken from all over the draft. Usually, the second All-Rookie team includes at least a few filler selections; this year, there would be quality contributors left off a hypothetical third team (even despite the fact that All-Rookie teams have no positional quotas, unlike All-NBA teams).
Perhaps most surprisingly, there was a bevy of quality NBA defenders. Rookies, as a rule, are lost on defense. NBA actions are exponentially more complicated than the college offenses they are used to facing. The amount of shooting on the floor means that they receive less help, and the players they guard are significantly faster, stronger, and more skilled. It usually takes years for rookies to learn how to navigate the defensive waters.
This year, however, we have a handful of players who have been top-notch contributors since Day 1. Evan Mobley and Herb Jones have been borderline All-Defensive Team candidates. Cade Cunningham, Franz Wagner, Davion Mitchell, Jalen Suggs, Ayo Dosunmo, and Scottie Barnes have shown strong flashes, and Jose Alvarado is out here performing some of the silliest NBA maneuvers I’ve ever seen. Seriously, this is some Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner stuff (watch the whole clip for some LOLs):
Players are hiding behind refs to get steals now. What a time to be alive!
It’s unclear if any of these rookies will ever be MVP-caliber, but it is obvious that we’ll be talking about several of these guys for a long, long time.
All-Rookie First Team
Cade Cunningham, Pistons
Evan Mobley, Cavaliers
Scottie Barnes, Raptors
Franz Wagner, Magic
Herb Jones, Pelicans
Cade, Mobley, Barnes, and Wagner are locks. All four were top-eighth picks who have been solid two-way players in different ways. Cade, an oversized point guard, struggled offensively to begin the season but looks like a future two-way star, potentially a rich man’s Lonzo Ball. Mobley is a defensive destroyer who should develop into a quality finisher around the rim. Barnes is harder to compare; he’s one of the most versatile defenders in the league (although his individual defense, as befits a typical rookie, comes and goes), and he’s played a lot of point-forward for a good Toronto team. Wagner is already an above-average 3-and-D guy who’s shown a few moments of surprising athleticism:
The last spot is wide-open and came down to Jones, Jalen Green, and Josh Giddey.
Herb is shooting 48% from the field and 34% from deep on low volume and is already an elite perimeter defender. The shot has looked better than many expected, and he should be an ideal complement to Zion Williamson if he can ramp up his three-point production.
Green, the second overall pick, was destined to be bad this season: Offensive-minded high-volume chuckers always face a steep adjustment period to NBA defenses. Green was no different, and with few veterans around to help him learn how to be a professional, he floundered for much of the season next to another young, shoot-first guard in Kevin Porter Jr.
But something changed after the All-Star break, and Green’s shooting 47/39/75 since then (compared to 39/31/82 before). He just finished a stretch of five straight 30-point games, the first rookie to do so since Allen Iverson 25 years ago, and he may well lead the league in scoring one day. He can also jump out of the gym:
Giddey has been one of the many pleasant surprises in this class. He’s a giant point forward with exceptional court vision who became the first rookie since Oscar Robertson to record three straight triple-doubles. An injury limited him to just 54 games, however.
Jones will end up playing about ten more games than Green and twenty more than Giddey, and he gets the final first-team nod. But it won’t be a shock if Green becomes the best player in this entire draft class.
All-Rookie Second Team
Jalen Green, Rockets
Josh Giddey, Thunder
Ayo Dosunmo, Bulls
Chris Duarte, Pacers
Alperen Sengun, Rockets
Green and Giddey are locks. I am surprised to see Ayo Dosunmo being left off ballots elsewhere. He was unexpectedly thrust into Chicago’s starting lineup after injuries to several guards, and he responded by putting up 10.5 points, 5.3 assists, and 3.5 rebounds in his 39 games as a starter.
He plays unrelenting defense and never gives up on a play:
Duarte has missed some time this season with injury, but he started most of the games he played in and shot 37% from three on high volume. He played huge minutes virtually from day one and showed a little more off-the-dribble bounce than expected. He will be a key part of Indiana’s revamped squad next season.
The last spot was, again, very difficult, with three very different players potentially filling it: Alperen Sengun, Houston’s sweet-passing center; Jonathan Kuminga, the high-flying wing for the Warriors; and Bones Hyland, Denver’s bomb-dropping point guard. Sengun was the choice, mostly because I have a weakness for centers with passing flair:
Sengun believes he’s Jokic, which leads to some incredible dimes but also some “what was he thinking?” turnovers. He’s a strong rebounder with a shot that should improve as he gets older.
Bones Hyland has come on strong over the last few months as a trigger-happy combo guard to pair with Jokic. He’s done a solid job distributing the ball since taking over more point guard duties while still showcasing some nice off-the-dribble shotmaking capabilities.
Jonathan Kuminga is an athletic freak who has provided energy and played tremendous defense in spurts for the Warriors. He isn’t perfect on that end, and he needs to develop his offensive game beyond cutting and dunking, but his ceiling is as high as anyone in this class. At just 19 years old, he seems primed to make a leap as soon as next year.
Bones Hyland, Nuggets; Jonathan Kuminga, Warriors; Davion Mitchell, Kings; Jalen Suggs, Magic; Jose Alvarado, Pelicans; Ziaire Williams, Grizzlies; Austin Reaves, Lakers
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