Most Impressive Rookies Through the Pre-Season
The NBA Pre-Season tipped off last week. Many teams are getting their first taste of NBA action since March while others are re-cooping from an unusually short offseason. Either way, each NBA team has some new faces on the roster or throughout the organization and this is our first chance to see how things may look moving forward.
The 2020 Rookie class was significantly downplayed leading up to draft day back in November. This could be due to many factors. One factor could be the obvious pandemic laden offseason where teams could not put prospects through workouts as they would during normal circumstances. However, the main factor behind the underhyped, overlooked draft class of 2020 was the cancellation of the NCAA March Madness Tournament. March Madness provides an opportunity for organizations to get a better look at the draftees on one of the biggest stages in sports. The cancellation of this annual tournament not only hurt the reputation of the 2020 draft class, but it also hurt the draftees who were counting on their play in the tournament to see a rise in their draft stock. This led to players who should have been drafted in the second round to be overlooked and wind up signing with a team as an undrafted free agent.
Nonetheless, the NBA’s abbreviated pre-season allows the 2020 rookie class to show what they are made of and the impact they can have at the NBA level. Through the first week or pre-season, there have been a handful of rookies that have turned a lot of heads around the NBA and talent evaluators.
Here are the rookies that have made an immediate impact on their respective teams throughout pre-season thus far.
The first player is Isaac Okoro of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Okoro was criticized for simply being too athletic. NBA analysts… (and myself) thought Okoro has just been more athletic than everybody he has played against coming up through high school and college. He did not shoot the 3-pointer well in college and scouts figured his poor percentages from beyond the arc would translate to the NBA. Well, so far, he looks like a great pick for the Cavaliers. He has consistently hit the 3-pointer throughout the pre-season and has a scoring ability that we did not see when he was at Auburn. His elite athleticism and quickness allow him to have an immediate impact on the defensive end as well. If he continues to grow offensively, he could have a real shot at Rookie of the Year honors.
The next rookie that has impressed is LaMelo Ball. The 3rd overall selection by the Charlotte Hornets has proven to be an elite playmaker in the NBA. His vision is unmatched. Even his Hornets teammates have praised him for his passing ability. They know that when he has the ball, you must pay close attention because it may just be in your lap without you even knowing. The types of passes he has made early on in his NBA career remind NBA analysts of John Stockton or even Magic Johnson. He has a very high basketball IQ for a rookie and his rebounding has been a pleasant surprise. While the scoring has not come around just yet, it is obviously very early in his NBA career. Once the game slows down a little bit more for him, the scoring will come. However, as a member of the Ball family, he will have a target on his back each and every night. He will have to overcome some tenacious defense from opposing teams who will look to expose him. He will also have to prove his worth on defense as he will be attacked on that end of the floor from his counterparts. However, he has shown signs of being a good defender. His length and quickness allow him to stay in front of other guards as well as small forwards. However, he will need to put on some muscle because he is prone to being exposed in the paint.
The last rookie I wanted to touch on was Patrick Williams of the Chicago Bulls. Patrick Williams was selected with the #4 overall pick by Chicago and it came as a surprise to many around the league. While his stock skyrocketed leading up to the draft, it could have gone up further had he been able to showcase his talents in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulls had their eye on Williams and when he was there at 4, they jumped on the opportunity to take him. He has impressed in the pre-season with his confidence level, NBA ready frame, and his poise on the court. Williams is never in a rush. Unlike other rookies who may force things at times and create unnecessary turnovers, Williams seems to have a calm demeanor about him, even with the shot clock winding down. He has also shown great confidence for being so young. The second youngest player in the draft class, but his confidence on the court would lead you to believe that he is much older. His first NBA basket in the pre-season was a pull-up jump shot on the break. The way he pulled right up and shot the ball so confidently was a very welcoming sight for Bulls fans and the organization. Aside from his confidence level and poise on the court, he has an NBA ready body. His hands are so large, he makes the basketball look like a grape-fruit. His long, lanky body makes his defensive potential higher than any other rookie in the class. He has used his body in the pre-season to play solid defense and get to his spots on the floor no matter who is defending him. So far, Patrick Williams has looked like a great fit for the Chicago Bulls and I am excited to see how his game progresses moving forward.
Overall, the rookie of the year race should be a tight one. This draft class has already made analysts re-think what they had said about them leading up to the draft. Had the NCAA Tournament not been cancelled, I don’t believe this draft class would have received so much disrespect. These rookies are coming into the highest level of basketball during a global pandemic and they have been balling out. I can’t wait to see which rookies emerge as top candidates for the Rookie of the Year award. The 2020 Draft Class is going to be looked back upon as one of the most underhyped overlooked draft classes in the history of the NBA. MARK. MY. WORDS.