The 2020 NBA Draft was unlike any in history. For the first time, the draft was fully virtual, and was not held in New York like it always is. With the draft occurring in November, it was the first draft since 1975 to not be held in June, and the second to be conducted after June, the other being the inaugural draft in 1947.
The entire process was extremely unusual, not to mention that most draft experts had this draft class as one of the more unimpressive in recent history. Lamelo Ball and James Wiseman were unusual draft prospects, but there was no denying their potential. The Timberwolves ended up taking Anthony Edwards with the #1 overall pick, followed by Wiseman to Golden State, and Ball going to the Charlotte Hornets. This draft class has been pleasantly surprising, showcasing legitimate NBA talent from top to bottom. Now that we are through one third of the season already, I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at which rookies have elevated themselves above the competition.
The clear answer for the best rookie so far has been LaMelo Ball. Ball was one of the most polarizing figures in the draft, as depending on who you talked to, he was to either be a bust or a game changing point guard. So far, it’s leaning towards the latter. Standing at 6’8, Ball has proven that he is a starting point guard in this league after getting the chance to prove himself on February 1st after an injury to Terry Rozier. In his first NBA start, Ball put up 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists in a 129-121 overtime win against the Miami Heat. Over his first 5 career starts Lamelo has averaged 22.6 points, 6.6 assists, and 6 rebounds per game.
His best NBA game came on February 8th, when he exploded for 24 points 10 assists and 7 rebounds, including seven threes made. Ball is also currently leading all rookies in points, assists, and steals per game. He’s helped lead the Hornets to the 7th seed in the East with a record of 12-14. The Hornets have been one of the more exciting teams to watch this year, and LaMelo is one of the biggest, if not the biggest reason why. It’s clear Ball has taken a step forward, and if the season ended right now he’d be the clear pick for Rookie of The Year.
The second best rookie this season has been Tyrese Haliburton of the Sacramento Kings. Haliburton was originally projected to be a top 10 pick in the draft, but he fell all the way to #12. It’s fair to say that every team before the Kings other than the Hornets and maybe the Warriors are regretting their decision big time. Haliburton is averaging a modest 12 points and 5.3 assists per game. However, the raw stats don’t tell the whole story with Haliburton. He’s shooting 45% from three, and appears to have a knowledge and feel for the game that’s rare for first year players. He’s everywhere on the floor, and can take control of the offense when he needs to, but is a savvy offball playmaker and scorer.
He’s had glowing reviews from teammates and coaches, including a comment from Harrison Barnes: “Ty has that ‘it’ factor. He’s going to be special in this league for a long time on and off the floor.” The Kings are 12-12 on the year which is good for the 10th seed in an extremely tight and competitive Western Conference. Haliburton now has a chip on his shoulder, and if his first 24 games are any indication of what kind of player he’ll be, the Kings have found the perfect running mate for DeAaron Fox.
As a Knicks fan I might be a little biased putting Immanuel Quickly on this list over Anthony Edwards or Cole Anthony, but the impact he has on games is undeniable. He’s in an awkward position in New York with guys like Elfrid Payton, Austin Rivers, and the newly acquired Derrick Rose all lobbying for minutes. So far his minutes have been limited, averaging only 19 per game compared to Lamelo’s 27 and Haliburton’s 29. In his limited opportunities, Quickley has averaged almost 12 points a game on very efficient shooting (55% True shooting percentage). He’s also second in PER for rookies only behind Lamelo Ball.
While Elfrid Payton continues to start over him, Quickley has become the catalyst for the Knicks bench unit. He already has an elite floater, and has shown no hesitation to take deep three pointers, averaging 36% from long range. Anthony Edwards stats’ trump Quickley’s on the surface, but I think contributing to winning basketball is important when ranking rookies. The Timberwolves are currently 6-19, and that’s not necessarily Edwards’ fault, but it’s hard to include him in my top 3 with how Edwards’ stats could be considered “empty calories”. The Knicks aren’t setting the world on fire at 11-15 and 9th in the East, but Quickley has helped this Knick team exceed all expectations. Hopefully Tom Thibodeau will realize Quickley’s development is more important than squeezing out every win possible, and put him in the starting lineup soon. I think if he were getting the opportunities Ball and Haliburton have been getting, it would open people’s eyes.
Some other honorable mentions include James Wiseman who’s missed a bunch of games, and appears slightly overwhelmed by NBA speed, but has still shown flashes at times. Cole Anthony is another guy who dropped pretty far in this draft and has shown that his game can translate to the NBA. Desmond Bane is relatively unknown, but is currently shooting 48% from three which puts him top 5 in the entire league. The Memphis Grizzlies continue to draft and develop their young talent in a fashion that few other teams are. Payton Prichard has also been a huge bright spot for the Boston Celtics. If LaMelo Ball continues on his current pace, he’ll run away with the ROTY award, but Haliburton could make a late run at it, and Immanuel Quickley could creep into the top 3 if he ends up starting at some point this year. For a draft class that some experts called “weak” and “underwhelming”, it’s clear that the future of the league is bright.