Four rookies to watch in the 2018/19 NBA season

Luka Doncic

On October 16, 2018, the NBA regular season will begin.

There have been some big and ultimately emotional movements as of late, notably LeBron signing with the Lakers and one of the most colourful players who revolutionised athleticism in the NBA, Manu Ginobili, retiring.

16 NBA seasons later, the Spurs have been left with an altogether different future, without the big-three of Ginobili, Duncan (who retired in 2016) and Parker, who signed a two-year deal with the Charlotte Hornets. Parker has however, vowed to retire as a Spurs player.

Again, after an injury-laden and distant season with the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard has moved to the Raptors – finally giving Toronto a complete roster of dynamic talent, particularly for wing-defenders.

Recent movements within the Suns and the Bulls, who have suffered in the last seasons, are looking very enticing too. The power dynamics of the game have been shifted.

Then comes the question of rookies, and this season looks to be a remarkably interesting one, with numerous rookie players with the Rookie of the Year award in their sights. As with every season, a punchy rookie can make a sizeable difference to a team, and the draft this year was bursting with sheer talent.

Here are four of the most interesting rookies, some stand-out and some sleepers, ahead of the 2018-19 regular season.

Luka Doncic

Of course, without a shadow of a doubt, the Slovenian who helped his national senior team win its very first EuroBasket title in 2017, has been a delight to witness and will no doubt be a power player in the 2018-19 NBA season. Not only this, but he was the youngest player to receive MVP in the Euroleague whilst playing for Real Madrid in Spain.Embed from Getty Images

The trade was a nice little coup for the Mavs, upon trading Trae Young (another potential ROTY contender) for Doncic from the Atlanta Hawks. This swap will be very interesting to reconsider once the season is underway.

Most notably, his strengths include his dynamic and intelligent floor vision and off-the-glass grab and goes, and alongside the fact he has been gifted a good amount of minutes, things are looking good.

However, numerous analysts have questioned his athleticism, with the change of speed in the NBA game potentially becoming an issue. He also only shot 30 percent from outside the three in his most recent season, and with more difficult shots being a guaranteed factor in the NBA, this may be another chasm he will have to avoid falling into.

Whilst it is almost guaranteed that Doncic will not simply be another Alex Len or even a Darko Milicic bust, who was drafted in 2001 to the Pistons and admitted to getting drunk before practice, it will be interesting to see how Doncic fares in the upcoming season. It’s worth noting that Doncic likened himself to Ben Simmons, a terrific player who has just come away from a ROTY campaign.

Overall, the Mavs are looking exceptionally strong with a very dynamic roster and potential to reach the playoffs, and quite possibly Doncic may end up taking the helm from Nowitzki in the future.

DeAndre Ayton

Ayton is another strong contender. He is widely regarded as the big decisive factor for his team, the Phoenix Suns, who drafted him as a firstround pick. The Suns have suffered terribly over the last three seasons, and their 21 wins in the last season was in fact the second lowest in franchise history, almost beating their record low 16 wins in 1968-69.

Whilst Devin Booker is without a doubt the most adept player for the Suns, Ayton will be playing to shape a rather volatile team. Ayton’s size and build is tremendous, with a 7 ft 6 wingspan, and he has only gone and increased his mass and muscle in time for the NBA season. He can play defensively, setting imposing screens and being ever-prominent in the paint. On the other hand, his offensive game is also one of wonder, averaging around 61 percent shooting in his season with Arizona.

This did however drop in his NBA summer league performance, his first time donning a Suns jersey. In Ayton’s first game, he nailed 10 points and eight rebounds in a total 22 minutes, and despite this being considerably lower than his Arizona performance, his ability to rise to the rim and score was evident.

Yet, rookies can just as easily suffer a lack of minutes or cave-in at the pressure of an altogether different game in the NBA. Cause for concern originally lay within Brandon Knight, as he was looking to make a return to the starting five after a torn ACL, and his prior performances have been excellent for the most part.

However, as of 30 August, Knight was traded alongside Marquese Chriss to the Rockets for 10-year veteran Ryan Anderson and another terrific rookie, De’Anthony Melton.

Whilst this trade initially looked positive for Ayton to get some good minutes, Suns manager, Igor Kokoskov, who has actually never acted as NBA head coach, may opt to play Booker, Jackson, T.J. Warren and Trevor Ariza with Ryan Anderson as a starting power forward. They have also mentioned this trade was made with hopes to play Shaq Harrison more in the season ahead.

One could dream and hope for a potential big-three of Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton and Josh Jackson. It is safe to say the Suns have an interesting season ahead of them, and it will be fascinating to see just how many minutes Ayton receives. If he is awarded some solid minutes, there is definite potential for ROTY.

De’Anthony Melton

The last two picks are a given when considering the next great NBA rookie, but looking beyond the betting odds lie some players with great potential. Interestingly, there have been some surprise trades over the last few days which have made for a potential Melton and Ayton rookie rivalry.

Melton was originally drafted at number 46 to the Houston Rockets, and was considered to be an incredibly valuable asset. However, after his recent trade to the Phoenix Suns, he will now be contending with Ayton – and quite possibly fighting for minutes between the two new rookies despite playing different positions. Time will tell if any more trades arise, as the Suns are reportedly looking for a starting-level point guard.Embed from Getty Images

Melton is in this list due to his performance in the summer league, where he displayed raging athleticism, physicality on defence and his team vision with some great passing. Melton looks to be an all-rounder, allowing 0.778 points per isolation possession.

After his trade to the Suns, it will again be interesting, as with Ayton, how many minutes he will receive. It would be a great shame to see both these rookies go to waste, as there is good potential within them both.

Wendell Carter Jr

The days of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler are behind us, and the Chicago Bulls had a rough season last year, with a 27-55 record. Head coach Fred Hoiberg is utilising this as motivation this year, and with Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen on the front-line of offence, the Bulls are looking much stronger.

Carter Jr earned first team honours in the summer league, and despite his lacking three-point shot after shooting just 28 percent on the field, his versatile play allowed for 14.6 points, 2.6 blocks and 9.4 rebounds on just five games. He has a prominent presence in the paint, and his 16 points, 9 rebounds and five blocks in the winning performance against the Cavs is evidence of this.

Despite being number 7 in the draft, he is proving to be something very special despite initial doubts about his athleticism, which is not near that of Ayton’s.

His 80 percent on the line does bode well however, and his recent summer league performance displayed his rounded game. He may not have an elite and standout skill, but he is good at almost everything. He also very nearly went to Harvard, and this intelligence is greatly reflected on the court too, something that can be severely lacking in rookies.

Alongside Markkanen, Carter Jr will be one to watch in the season ahead. Not to mention that he has been polled to have the best rookie career above everyone else by NBA.com. Only time will tell.

A rookie roster of immense talent

Of course Kevin Knox, New York Knicks, Collin Sexton, of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks, deserve a mention, as these three are particularly exciting to watch.

The list could go on, with a vast array of talented rookies entering the league this year. No doubt, it is going to be a special season, and one not to be missed.

About Joseph Locker 6 Articles
Joe is a huge fan of sport, particularly basketball. He follows everything from the NBA to the Euroleague and the BBL. He reads, writes about and also coaches basketball, and has been published in numerous national and regional newspapers. Usually found reminiscing the good old days when Derrick Rose was in his prime and not injured.