Zion Williamson has captivated the world since playing in high school. The most highly touted NBA prospect since perhaps LeBron James, he was drafted first overall in the 2019 NBA draft to the New Orleans Pelicans. Everyone will be keeping an eye on him, especially after a strong start in preseason.
Unfortunately, Zion is expected to miss at least 6 weeks due to a torn meniscus. So we are going to have to wait a little longer to see him in NBA action.
Zion’s injury leaves the door for the Rookie of the Year award wide open. Other big names in the draft are Ja Morant (Grizzlies) and RJ Barrett (Knicks) drafted second and third respectively. They will also get a lot of attention on teams that should provide them with a lot of playing time. These two will be early candidates for the award.
Personal bias would lead me to write about the Gonzago trio (Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, and Zach Norvell Jr.) that was drafted this year and mainstream journalism would lead me to write about the other top 10 picks (Sorry Coby White). I want to include some other names that I believe can become breakout stars in the league.
Keep in mind that the only action we have seen from these rooks is from preseason, but they provided some glimpses of what we might be able to expect from them this season.
Tyler Herro, Miami Heat
Keeping outside of the top 10 picks from the 2019 draft, we turn our attention to the University of Kentucky alum, drafted 13th overall by the Miami Heat. Based on buzz from Heat camp and due to his preseason performance, there is a possibility that Herro cracks the starting lineup for Coach Spoelstra. In five preseason games he averaged just over 14 points per game while shooting 51.9% from deep on over 5 attempts. His sharpshooting combined with his shot creating ability is a perfect marriage for modern-day basketball. He shows signs of becoming an elite scoring guard, taking some of the offensive load from Jimmy Butler as the Heat look for playoff position in a depleted Eastern Conference.
Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia 76ers
Philly’s 20th pick has the tools to become the league’s next elite defender. The city is already high on his potential. In just 19 minutes, Thybulle averaged 2.6 steals and 1.4 blocks, while his defensive awareness is impressive for a rookie. As he gains his footing in the league, he could terrorize offensive schemes in a way few players in the league can. The offense will come, especially as he has a star studded offensive cast to play off of.
Carsen Edwards, Boston Celtics
Edwards put the league on notice with a 30 point preseason outburst in which he drilled 8 straight three-pointers in the third quarter alone. His scoring prowess was on display in the 2019 NCAA tournament, in which he scored 42 points on two separate occasions. He also set the tournament record of three pointers made (28). Although selected in the second round, he has a knack for scoring that could prove very valuable off the bench for Boston. He put up 15 points per game in preseason on 51% shooting, and 45% from behind the arc.
Lonnie Walker IV, San Antonio Spurs
Does this guy count? Apparently he played in 17 games last season but I don’t remember a single one of them. After spending a lot of time recovering from injury I believe that people will remember this 2018 first round pick. Another interesting Spurs team guided by Pop will find a way to get him minutes. He doesn’t qualify as a rookie but in my opinion he is still a newcomer to watch.
This rookie class is looking exciting. There are a lot of players with a lot of potential. While Zion will most definitely be in the spotlight when he is playing, there are plenty of other rooks looking to make their mark on the league and rest assured we will see some great performances from them as well.