The NBA Draft has established a hierarchy among the rookie class but pick order only means so much. Who is actually in the best position to succeed next year?
By virtue of going No. 1, Anthony Edwards will start next season with a level of pressure and attention that no other rookie will have. But that doesn’t always translate to recognition. In the last two decades, the No. 1 pick as one the Rookie of the Year just seven times. If history is our guide then, it’s more likely that this season’s Rookie of the Year will be someone other than Edwards.
Stats drive awards and Edwards, whose primary skill is scoring, will be competing for shots with Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell. James Wiseman, who was taken No. 2 by the Warriors, is more of a project and will be playing a smaller role on a veteran team with championship aspirations. The further we go down the draft board the murkier it gets. But here are the players who seem to be in the best position for a Rookie of the Year win.
Which NBA Draft selection should be the Rookie of the Year favorite?
After taking the job, new Piston’s GM Troy Weaver expressed a desire to keep rolling with Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin as key pieces next season. But trading Luke Kennard and piling up picks on draft night sure imply a youth movement is coming. The Pistons have traded both Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown and even if Derrick Rose is still around, Killian Hayes will have plenty of opportunities to grow into a lead role.
Hayes was near the top of several draft boards because of his high floor and versatile skill set. He can work on and off the ball, has the size and defensive instincts to handle multiple backcourt matchups, knock down spot-up jumpers and create in the pick-and-roll. He also has the benefit of significant professional experience, having debuted with Cholet’s senior team at the age of 16 and spending last season playing nearly 30 minutes per game for ratiopharm Ulm in Germany’s top league.
Of all the top prospects in this class, Hayes is among the readiest to contribute right away and has landed in the best situation to both have opportunities to put up big numbers and the veteran help to scaffold his development.
On the one hand, Ball will be splitting shots and creation opportunities with two other young and extremely productive guards — Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier. On the other hand, their scoring abilities may give his most important attribute (passing) an even greater chance to shine. Ball also has a flair and creativity that’s simply unmatched in this draft class and however much he’s contributing to wins, his game is compelling in a way that demands and holds attention. He’s going to win Rookie of the Year votes with his scoring and assist totals but also with jaw-dropping highlights and style.
Marcus Morris and Julius Randle aggressively absorbed offensive possessions last season to a degree that certainly seemed detrimental to the growth of R.J. Barrett and Kevin Knox. Randle is still in the picture but it seems likely that Toppin’s offensive skill set won’t be as easy to push aside, especially because he can feast in transition, on the offensive glass and even spotting up about around primary actions.
All that is to say, there’s a good chance Toppin puts up some serious point totals in New York next season. If an injury or trade moves Randle out of the way earlier than expected, Toppin and Barrett could begin establishing their two-man dynamic. The Knicks won’t win a lot of games and Toppin is going to be exploited on defense but no one really seems to care about wins or defense when it comes to Rookie of the Year voting.
D.J. Augustin is a free agent and Evan Fournier has exercised the player option for the last year of his contract, which could make him a trade chip as the season moves a long. There are going to be backcourt minutes available to Anthony and if Fournier is traded, he and Fultz could finish the year as the Magic’s starting backcourt.
Anthony had an absolutely miserable season at North Carolina but there are still things he does well and those things won’t take long to manifest in the NBA. If he’s healthy, he has value as a spot-up shooter and secondary creator on a team that was short on both last season. He’s probably not going to take the league by storm but averaging double-digit scoring with a decent 3-point percentage and a few assists per game is certainly plausible. If some of the other top picks falter, that could be enough to really make him stand out.
5. Deni Avdija, Washington Wizards
Deni Avdija is going to be a thoroughly complementary player as a rookie, with John Wall, Bradley Beal and maybe even Thomas Bryant and Troy Brown taking offensive primacy. But Avdija’s ceiling is as a high-level role player, the kind of two-way connective tissue good teams thrive on and we could begin to see that manifest this season. The Wizards have playoff hopes and Avidja could help keep them in the postseason race, improving their team defense, taking the opponent’s best scorer and filling a role on offense with his passing, sharp cutting and high basketball IQ. Box score stats usually win the Rookie of the Year but getting Washington back to the playoffs and helping Beal and Wall be the best versions of themselves would certainly make a compelling case.