Early Season Rookie of the Year Candidates
A week or so ago, I wrote about the most impressive rookies from the 2020 NBA draft class through the pre-season. Now that we have seen these rookies through the pre-season as well as the first 3–4 games of an NBA regular season, we can start to make the very preliminary predictions on which rookie will walk away with the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award.
Through the first two weeks of the NBA’s regular season, there have been a few clear candidates that have performed well for their respective teams. The clear Rookie of the Year candidates from the 2020 NBA Draft class are; LaMelo Ball (Charlotte Hornets), Tyrese Haliburton (Sacramento Kings), James Wiseman (Golden State Warriors), Patrick Williams (Chicago Bulls), and a dark horse… Payton Pritchard (Boston Celtics).
LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
LaMelo has been electric so far in his rookie season. While his play has not been consistent, specifically his scoring, he has made plays that seasoned NBA veterans could not make. His basketball IQ is well beyond his years. Once he adds some muscle to his scrawny frame, he will be a problem for opposing point guards who are assigned to guarding him. I would like to see him become a more consistent scoring threat, but as of right now, he has played above expectations. He has shown the ability to utilize his length on the defensive end to get into passing lands and help out on the boards. LaMelo makes his teammates better when he is on the floor and that is a clear sign of great things to come.
Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings
Haliburton has turned many heads through his first few weeks in the NBA. His shooting form was in question leading up to draft night and it saw his draft stock take a bit of a hit. However, it looks like the Sacramento Kings got a steal with Haliburton. He is another player, like LaMelo who makes his teammates better when he is on the floor. He has a very high basketball IQ and uses his size at the point guard position to his advantage specifically on the defensive side of the ball. The most impressive thing has been his ability to knock down the open 3-point shot with much consistency. He took to twitter after a 3–4 3-point shooting performance and said ‘They said the jumper wouldn’t translate’. He heard all of the critics regarding his funky shot form, but has proven them all wrong. His play thus far through the young season plants him firmly in the ROTY conversation.
James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors
While Wiseman did not play in the pre-season and only played 3 games at Memphis, he has looked as advertised if not better through his limited play in the NBA. He has anchored the Center position for a Warriors team who has lacked a paint presence for many years now. His athletic ability allows him to block shots or at the very least, change shots at the rim. However, where he has really impressed is his jumpshot and scoring ability on offense. While it helps to play with Steph Curry, Wiseman has looked like a solid young star in the making. Although his shooting form is a bit wonky, it goes in. Wiseman should have plenty of opportunity to prove his worth and solidify himself as a ROTY candidate as he will get plenty of playing time on this Warriors team.
Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls
Patrick Williams was a shock to many when the Bulls selected him #4 overall in the 2020 NBA Draft back in November. While he has not lit the scoreboard on fire, he has done things that do not show up on the stat sheet. His ‘Motor’ and energy on both sides of the floor have been as advertised. He never stops moving. He is another player who has a high basketball IQ at 19 years old. He makes quick decisions on offense which is invaluable. He decides whether he wants to shoot, pass, or drive to the hoop within half a second of catching the ball. While his scoring has been a consistent 9–13 points, he plays solid defense and is improving every game. Throughout the course of this season, he will probably fly under the radar in the ROTY conversation, but anybody who watches him closely will see how he is oozing with potential.
Payton Pritchard, Boston Celtics
Payton Pritchard, the 4 year guard out of Oregon has impressed throughout the young NBA season. On a Celtics team that doesn’t need him to be a superstar, he fits in perfectly with the role he has been given. Celtics head coach, Brad Stevens trusts him immensely this early on. That says all you need to know. Payton plays tenacious defense on opposing point guards and runs the Celtics offense very efficiently with the 2nd unit. He can get to the hoop and finish at the rim, knock down the open 3-point shot, but most importantly, he plays smart, unselfish basketball. You could tell at his time in Oregon that he would be a pest in the NBA… He has been just that. While he will most likely not be in the ROTY conversation, he is another guy that will have a long NBA career with his defensive ability alone. Expect Pritchard to be a part of a winning team no matter which franchise is lucky enough to have him coming off their bench.