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NBA rookie power rankings: LaMelo Ball early favorite for Rookie of the Year

Krysten Peek
·12 min read
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This rookie class was thrown into the NBA with no Summer League, a shortened training camp and limited preseason. Most of these players went from not playing a competitive basketball game in nine months to battling some of the best NBA players in their first few games. Some players have played above their draft stock and have probably made some teams wish they drafted differently (we’re looking at you, Detroit Pistons). With all the COVID-19 issues the NBA is facing, it has allowed some rookies to shine and take a more active role on their teams earlier than expected.

Here’s a look at Yahoo Sports’ first edition of the NBA rookie power rankings.

1. LaMelo Ball - Charlotte Hornets

Draft pick: No. 3

11.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 5.9 apg

There was a lot of criticism surrounding the youngest Ball brother before he even played his first NBA game. In his one season playing for Australia’s National Basketball League, Ball shot 25% from 3-point range with an unconventional jump shot that resembled older brother Lonzo’s. No one knew what to expect from the 6-foot-6 19-year-old, but Ball was happy going to Charlotte, telling Yahoo Sports on draft night, “The conversations with the staff were great. They’re just excited to have me there and I’m just as excited to be there, so it’s time to get to work.”

Ball took a couple of games to settle in and didn’t score at all in his first NBA game against Cleveland, going 0-for-5 from the field and 0-for-3 from the 3-point line with three assists. He bounced back three days later and scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds in a loss against Oklahoma City. When games started in January, Ball looked visibly comfortable on the court and started to settle in with the team. He became the youngest player ever to record a triple-double when he had 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists against Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks. Ball is averaging 7.2 assists per game in the month of January and leads all rookies in assists with 100. He also leads in rebounds, grabbing 103 boards this season. The next rookie after him is James Wiseman at 101.

“I’ve never seen nobody rebound from the guard spot like how he does,” teammate Terry Rozier said. “He has a knack for finding the ball and he knows exactly where it’s going. He always gives us a lot of opportunities, whether it’s on offense or defense.”

Ball is the best rookie in the league right now and it’s not even close.

2. Tyrese Haliburton - Sacramento Kings

Draft pick: No. 12

11.4 ppg, 3 rpg, 4.9 apg

Haliburton was a bit of a mystery coming into his rookie season. He’s a 6-foot-5 combo guard who is 175 pounds with a unique jump shot. Regardless of his size, he has great court vision and a high basketball IQ. Some NBA draft experts believe Haliburton is the steal of the draft after falling to the Kings at No. 12. Haliburton is happy to be in Sacramento despite falling outside of the top 10. “It all worked out perfectly, I’m in the perfect spot. Coach [Luke] Walton called me and just talked to me about playing fast and that he loves my game,” Haliburton said. “I just want to win Rookie of the Year. That’s my biggest goal and being able to prove that I’m the best player in this class.”

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 09: Tyrese Haliburton #0 of the Sacramento Kings drives towards the basket on Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers during the second half of an NBA basketball game at Golden 1 Center on January 09, 2021 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Tyrese Haliburton is second in assists among the rookie class, averaging 4.9 per game.(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Haliburton has shown some early signs of what kind of player he’ll be in the league. He even admitted to early struggles dealing with the pace of the game and being able to slow down. Haliburton scored in double-digits in eight consecutive games and was one assist shy of a double-double in a loss against Portland, finishing with 17 points and nine assists. Haliburton is second in assists among the rookie class, averaging 4.9 per game. What’s even more impressive is his 3-point percentage, shooting 47% from deep. He is leading all rookies in that category and is ranked 11th in the league. “They said the jumper wouldn’t translate,” Haliburton tweeted after he had six threes in two games late December.

There are still a lot of games to be played, and Haliburton could be in Rookie of the Year talks by the end of the season.

3. James Wiseman - Golden State Warriors

Draft pick: No. 2

11.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg

It had been over a year since Wiseman played a competitive basketball game after leaving Memphis early due to recruiting violations. Wiseman was the No. 1 recruit coming out of high school and has a lot of tools to his game at 7-feet tall with a 7-foot-6 wingspan. His role became more prominent for the Warriors after Klay Thompson’s season-ending injury, and he’s had some growing pains in his rookie year so far. There are games where Wiseman has shown dominance in the lane and versatility — like his 20-point performance against San Antonio — and then there are times when he’s turnover-prone and looks a little lost in the fast-paced Warriors’ offense. After only scoring four points and playing 13 minutes in a win against the Lakers, Steph Curry shed some light on the struggles of being a rookie telling reporters after the game, “I used to get benched for Acie Law.” That’s not necessarily a dig at his former teammate Law, who played four years in the NBA, but just a statement as to how things can change quickly in the league.

The Warriors were in a win-now mode prior to Thompson’s injury but now that the mood has changed for the season, we’re seeing some patience with the No. 2 draft pick. His minutes remain inconsistent and so does his stat line. There’s no denying Wiseman’s raw, athletic ability. He’s still young at 19 years old and has a ton of upside to his game. When the game slows down for him and everything starts to become second nature, he’s going to be a dangerous player.

4. Anthony Edwards - Minnesota Timberwolves

Draft pick: No. 1

12.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg

There’s a lot of pressure that comes with being the No. 1 pick. Edwards doesn’t lack confidence, saying he could beat anyone in any sport, including tennis, swimming, golf and hockey in an interview that went viral. Edwards is the strongest guard in this rookie class and listed at 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds. He has speed and athleticism and is finding ways to bully players in the lane and get to the rim even at the NBA level. Like most first-year players, Edwards has been a little inconsistent. There are stretches of dropping 26 points in one game to not scoring at all two games later. It doesn’t seem to faze Edwards.

“I’m a rookie. They brought me here to play a role and whatever role that is, I’m going to be a star at that role,” Edwards said after being drafted. “I’m not really expecting the ball to be in my hands all the time.”

There are a lot of comparisons to Dwyane Wade with Wade even commenting before the draft that Edwards could be better than him. Edwards has a long road ahead of him if he wants to reach Wade’s level. Let’s not forget that Wade is a three-time NBA champion, NBA Finals MVP, 13-time NBA All-Star, two-time All-NBA First Teamer and scored 23,165 points in 17 seasons. Again, Edwards doesn’t lack confidence, telling Yahoo Sports on draft night, “I just want to be the best player to ever play basketball.”

5. Patrick Williams - Chicago Bulls

Draft pick: No. 4

9.4 ppg, 4 rpg

Guard LeBron James? No problem for Williams. The 6-foot-7 forward had the daunting assignment of guarding the best player in the world only 10 games into his career. James still had 28 points in the 117-115 loss to the Bulls but he had high praises for the rookie after the game.

“I think he is going to be an exceptional talent,” James said. “[He has] long arms. He has Kawhi-type of hands that I noticed out on the floor, so I knew I couldn’t play with the ball much. You can tell he is just laser-sharp on just trying to get better and better. I think Chicago has a good one.”

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) moves to the basket against Chicago Bulls forward Patrick Williams (9) during the second half at Staples Center.
Patrick Williams had the job of trying to guard LeBron James. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

There were doubts when Chicago made this pick at No. 4 because Williams came off the bench at Florida State, averaged under 10 points per game and only played 22 minutes per game. Williams has been praised early for what he does defensively, but he has a strong mid-range game and has been excellent in iso situations against smaller opponents off the switch. His feel for the game is seamless and he doesn’t look like a first-year player. King James has spoken, and the Bulls have indeed landed a good one in Williams.

6. Tyrese Maxey - Philadelphia 76ers

Draft pick: No. 21

10 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.1 apg

No one was happier than Maxey to play the game against Denver when the 76ers only had seven active players. Just look at this video of Maxey taking the court for warmups. His relaxed attitude helped him drop 39 points in a loss to Denver on Jan. 9 after nearly the entire team was ruled ineligible due to injuries or COVID-19 tracing.

Since that game, Maxey has scored in double figures in four out of the last five games and his role is expanding. Maxey leads all rookies in 2-point field goals made with 61 baskets and also 2-point shooting percentage at 52.6%. The 6-foot-2 guard out of Kentucky is looking like a steal at No. 21 for the 76ers.

7. Cole Anthony - Orlando Magic

Draft pick: No. 15

11 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.3 apg

Anthony was supposed to come off the bench this year behind Markelle Fultz. That all changed in a game on Jan. 6 against Cleveland when Fultz tore his left ACL. Prior to the season-ending injury, Anthony was only averaging 19 minutes per game. After Fultz was ruled out, his minutes have increased to 28 minutes.

“I feel like I’m very well prepared,” Anthony said of the expanded role. “I think making some shots might help but as far as everything else — defense, passing, rebounding and leading — I think I’m very well prepared.”

Anthony hit the game-winning shot against Minnesota on Jan. 20 and finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. The fact that he has the confidence to take that shot at the end of the game is a great sign for the Magic. Anthony was somewhat of a wild card coming into the league after a disappointing college season at North Carolina. The rookie has settled in and is showing critics what he can do in pressure situations.

8. Immanuel Quickley - New York Knicks

Draft pick: No. 25

11 ppg, 2.6 apg

What a turnaround for Quickley. Two years ago he was coming off the bench at Kentucky and only averaged 5.2 points per game. Fast forward to his sophomore season in Lexington where he was the leading scorer in the SEC and then was a first-round draft pick. Quickley is a phenomenal shooter with a high release and is getting good looks early in the season. He has a smooth floater in the lane and helped rally the Knicks back in the fourth quarter against Atlanta on Jan. 4, finishing with 16 points — 4-for-7 from the field and 2-for-3 from 3-point line — and got the win. Quickley had 11 points, two steals and two assists in the fourth quarter and looks comfortable with the ball in his hands on this young Knicks team.

9. Payton Pritchard - Boston Celtics

Draft pick: No. 26

7.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.6 apg

Pritchard has seen success in January after scoring 23 points against Toronto when teammates Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart and Jeff Teague were all out due to injuries. His transition from college to the NBA has been more fluid than other rookies. Pritchard was a four-year guard at Oregon where he let it fly from anywhere he wanted on the court, shooting an impressive 42% from deep and 51% from the field. He has taken three or more 3-pointers in every game in January and looks comfortable playing alongside All-Star Jayson Tatum.

Payton Pritchard #11 of the Boston Celtics drives during a game against the Toronto Raptors at Amalie Arena on January 04, 2021 in Tampa, Florida.
Payton Pritchard is out with a knee injury. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

“It’s been going great so far,” Pritchard said of his rookie season. “The NBA is such a different game than college, in terms of spacing. There’s going to be ups and downs this year but I’m mentally prepared for that.”

Ups and downs are right. Pritchard went from scoring 16 points — including three 3-pointers — in a win over Orlando on Jan. 15 to only scoring three points the next game in a loss to New York. One thing for sure, Prichard is playing above his draft stock and silencing all doubt of him being a first-round draft pick. Pritchard is out for the next few weeks due to a minor knee injury.

10. Jae'Sean Tate - Houston Rockets

Undrafted

8.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg

When James Harden got shipped off to Brooklyn to join a super team, there were doubts of what this team would be like moving forward. The very next day, Tate got his first NBA start against San Antonio and finished with 13 points, 10 assists and five rebounds. The 6-foot-4 guard from Ohio State played for the Sydney Kings last season in Australia’s NBL, where he averaged 16.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. The Rockets picked him up late in November and he looks like a seasoned veteran running the offense and finishing in the lane. He’ll need to develop his outside shot, but Tate looks to be a solid role player who could have a long NBA career.

Honorable mention:

Saddiq Bey - Detroit Pistons

Desmond Bane - Memphis Grizzlies

Precious Achiuwa - Miami Heat

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