The NBA is back after a break that lasted less than three months, and so far the league appears more competitive than ever. Rookies from the 2020 draft class have already made significant contributions to contenders and rebuilding teams alike, and many of them have exceeded expectations during their first month in the Association. Pundits characterized this class as shallow, especially in comparison to the upcoming 2021 and 2022 classes, but its members have already begun discarding that label.
The Rookie of the Year race remains a tight one this early in the season, but here are the top five most promising newcomers so far.
5. Patrick Williams | Chicago Bulls
Florida State product Patrick Williams received little fanfare compared to his fellow top-five draft picks, but he has impressed so far. The Bulls’ fourth overall pick has started all 11 games this season, averaging 10.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest while shooting 47% from the field and 46% from three.
The Bulls have gotten out to a 4-7 start, but they have one of the most exciting backcourts in the league, comprised of Williams, Coby White, and Zach LaVine. Injuries to Tomas Satoransky, Ryan Arcidiacono, Otto Porter Jr., and Chandler Hutchinson have opened up more minutes and touches for Williams, and he’s taken full advantage of them. He has also shot the three markedly better than he did in college, where he made just 32% of his attempts from deep.
Williams’s hot start bodes well for Chicago, and he could find himself still in the ROY race this summer if he continues to produce.
4. Precious Achiuwa | Miami Heat
Once again, the Miami Heat have managed to find themselves a diamond in the rough who just so happens to fit perfectly into their long-term plan. The team chose Memphis big man Precious Achiuwa with the 20th overall pick, and that selection has already started to pay dividends. In just 18.4 minutes per game this season, Achiuwa is putting up 8.5 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting an efficient 61.8% from the field.
Injuries to Bam Adebayo and Meyers Leonard have decimated a Miami frontcourt that was already thin, but Achiuwa has stepped in and performed like a veteran in his first month in the league. Though he’s undersized at the center position at 6-foot-8, his constant energy and leaping ability make him a capable finisher and defensive menace. Unlike most rookies on this list, Achiuwa will likely find himself getting real playoff minutes this summer.
3. Tyrese Haliburton | Sacramento Kings
Draft experts originally projected Tyrese Haliburton as a high lottery pick. The Sacramento Kings are certainly pleased he fell to No. 12. The 6-foot-5 guard from Iowa State has provided a much-needed boost for their second unit this season. Haliburton is contributing 12.6 points, 5.7 assists, and 2.9 rebounds in 29 minutes per game. He currently leads all rookies in minutes per game, and he’s also shooting an uber-efficient 54% from the field and 52% from three.
The Kings are just 5-7, but it’s not from a lack of effort from Haliburton, who knocked down a tough game-winning three-pointer against Toronto on Jan. 9. His unconventional shooting motion hasn’t limited his ability to hit shots over NBA defenders, and his length on defense has caused problems for the Kings’ opponents. Haliburton could easily find himself raising the ROY trophy at the end of the season if he keeps up this pace.
2. James Wiseman | Golden State Warriors
The Warriors desperately needed a dynamic center to anchor their rotation this season. James Wiseman has filled that role admirably through 11 games. Questions marks surrounded the seven-footer after he played just three games of college ball at Memphis, but his consistent production and uncanny poise have silenced the doubters.
Wiseman has started all 12 games for Golden State, and he’s putting up 11.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks in 21 minutes per game. He’s also shooting an impressive 47% from the field and 40% from three, proving that his jump shot did indeed translate to the next level. The Warriors got off to a rocky start and dealt with some injury issues, but they’re finally healthy again and currently sit at 6-6.
Wiseman’s potential has never been more clear, and he should have plenty of opportunities to showcase his skills throughout the rest of the season.
1. LaMelo Ball | Charlotte Hornets
The Rookie of the Year award is currently LaMelo Ball’s to lose. The number three overall pick has been a fast-paced, freestyling presence off the bench for the Charlotte Hornets, making everyone on the floor with him better. The exceptional court vision and passing ability that made him such a sought-after prospect have also been on full display, especially when throwing lobs to high-flying teammate Miles Bridges.
Through 13 games, Ball is putting up 11.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.6 steals in 25.4 minutes per game. His shooting has been wildly inconsistent so far, but he’s currently making 40.6% of his attempts from the field and 33.3% of his threes.
Ball made history in a win over the Hawks on Jan. 9, becoming the youngest player in league history to produce a triple-double with 22 points, 12 boards, and 11 assists. Gaudy numbers like those have propelled an often mediocre Charlotte squad into postseason consideration, with the Hornets currently sitting in seventh place in the East at 6-6.
If Ball cleans up his shooting and continues to stuff the stat sheet, he should run away with the ROY race.
Follow Jake Peter on Twitter @JakePeter_
Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images