I wrote a similar article detailing the 7 NFL Rookies with the most to prove – so it’s only fair I did a basketball version.
However, these articles differ quite greatly.
I don’t think NBA Rookies transition to the league as smoothly as their football counterparts. A lot of people expect them to be good, but not great. Only once in awhile do we see a Rookie be great, and most of the time it’s one or two in a draft year.
So, without further ado, here’s the list of 7 Rookies with the most to prove in the NBA next year.
7 – Rui Hachimura
Position – Power Forward
Team – Washington Wizards
Drafted – Round 1, Pick 9
Hachimura finds himself as the standout for the “I’ve been drafted early” award in most people’s eyes. Unfortunately that’s not an achievement that helps when it comes to enhanced pressure. The Washington Wizards surprised a lot of people drafting Hachimura when they did, and apparently this was off the back of not having interviewed or tried him out on a court. Strange.
The Gonzaga standout was expected to be a first rounder for his size, consistent scoring and maturity shown on the court for having only picked up the game in his teens. However, there were doubts over his 3-point shooting and offensive versatility. The Washington Wizards have probably the least sough after roster in the league next year, so it won’t help with all eyes on Hachimura to provide some optimism. Also being the first Japanese-born player ever drafted in the NBA raises his profile even more.
6 – Cam Reddish
Position – Small Forward
Team – Atlanta Hawks
Drafted – Round 1, Pick 10
The Atlanta Hawks had a sneaky successful NBA draft campaign that saw them take two Top 10 players this year. De’Andre Hunter, the consensus best defensive prospect in the draft, was taken at #4. The Hawks elected to take Duke Big 3 feature Cam Reddish at 10. Reddish played mostly in the shadows of teammates Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett at Duke. It brought more attention to his games, but his diminished role didn’t sit well with most draft experts.
Reddish was a 5-star High School recruit and the third ranked prospect in the country entering college. He failed to show much promise at Duke with less usage, not relishing much in a 3 and D role applied to him. It hurt his draft stock, but many believe he can still be a top player in the NBA with the right system. He might not be the highest player picked by the Hawks in this year’s draft, but he has the most to prove without doubt.
5 – Tacko Fall
Position – Centre
Team – Boston Celtics
Drafted – Undrafted
What in the world. We have an undrafted player in this list? Why yes. When you’re 7 foot 6 and show up on everyone’s Instagram feeds on a daily basis, you’ve got a lot of eyes watching you. UCF’s Tacko Fall was a borderline late second round prospect in this year’s NBA Draft but no team opted to take him with a pick. This led the Boston Celtics to swoop in and sign him to their Summer League team. Boy, did he not disappoint.
Fall unfortunately falls in to the ‘Gigantism’ bracket when it comes to taller prospects in the NBA. If you’re the right side of 7 feet, most believe you’re not switchable enough to play good minutes in the league. Injuries have played a factor in a lot of bigger men’s careers, but Tacko Fall will hope to distance himself from that bracket. He’s shown quite fluid movement for a man of his size in Summer League. If Boban has a role in the NBA, there’s no doubt in my mind Tacko Fall can, so it will be interesting to see how he fits.
4 – Bol Bol
Position – Centre
Team – Denver Nuggets
Drafted – Round 2, Pick 44
From one skyscraper to another. Bol Bol came into the draft as easily one of the better known prospects given his size, but first and foremost his NBA roots. Bol is the son of former NBA veteran Manute Bol, who lit the league on fire with his sheer size and block ability. The late Manute was listed as 7 foot, 7 inches tall – and Bol Bol is just 5 inches below that mark. Height aside, Bol Bol was one of the more polarising picks in the draft, but not many saw him fall so far on the night.
Bol Bol played college basketball with the Oregon Ducks, but his college career was only to be cut short with an injury early on. He only played 9 games for the Ducks – but put up an impressive 21 PPG and 9.6 rebounds with 2.7 blocks to round it off. He shot over 50% from the 3 – showing his ability to space the floor as a big. For big man injury reasons listed above, and doubt over his health issues, teams passed on Bol Bol on draft night. But many will tune in this season to see if he’ll prove he should have been picked higher.
3 – Ja Morant
Position – Point Guard
Team – Memphis Grizzlies
Drafted – Round 1, Pick 2
The Memphis Grizzlies have their future building blocks now. After taking Jaren Jackson Jr last year – they’ve got themselves the best PG prospect in the draft to go with. Morant lit up people’s newsfeeds at Murray State with his exciting plays and maturity in the NCAA tournament. He wasn’t playing for one of the bigger college teams, but draft writers saw enough from Morant to determine he was the clear #2 pick in this year. He avergaed 24.5 PPG and 10 APG over 33 games in college.
I can’t help but feel a little Allen Iverson in Morant going into this year. He’s got a degree of underdog status about him, given he wasn’t a ranked recruit coming out of High School, and his college scholarship came from being discovered at a 3-3 pickup game. With the departure of veteran PG Mike Conley to the Jazz – the Grizzlies have paved the way for Morant to play big minutes next year. The rest will be left up to him.
2 – RJ Barrett
Position – Shooting Guard
Team – New York Knicks
Drafted – Round 1, Pick 2
It’s an interesting dynamic when the #3 pick is ranked ahead of the #2 prospect in terms of pressure on them next season. It’s easy to begin the RJ Barrett narrative with talking about the whole ‘in the shadows’ dynamic playing with #1 pick Zion Williamson at Duke. But Barrett before his Duke days was the consensus #1 ranked High School prospect entering college, and a lot of people will expect him to produce next year.
The separating factor for Barrett and Morant here falls greatly on Barrett’s drafted team. He’s now ‘the guy’ in New York, at least don’t tell Julius Randle that. After a devastating free agency period that saw the Knicks fail to pick up any marquee free agents – they’ve very much set themselves deeper into another rebuild. Much like Hachimura above, Knicks fans will look to Barrett to provide them with some sort of hope for what has been years of misery behind, and looks to be years of misery ahead.
1 – Zion Williamson
Position – Power Forward
Team – New Orleans Pelicans
Drafted – Round 1, Pick 1
Zion’s pressure gauge is helped by the arrival of Lakers young talent Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram in the offseason. However, if you’re called the best draft prospect since LeBron James, you’re bound to end up at the top of this list. Zion was a highly sought after High School recruit, but not ranked #1. His days at Duke served him well, as he became a viral sensation for his emphatic dunking ability. Zion is much more than a dunker, he also has defensive versatility, a decent jump shot and high basketball IQ to add to his game.
This year’s NBA Lottery was a memorable one. Most teams knew if they got the luck of the draw, A.K.A the #1 pick, their franchise would change in the course of history. That’s exactly what happened the New Orleans Pelicans who it’s fair to say – were coming off a pretty miserable season given all the AD drama. Doubts have been placed this off-season over Zion’s NBA fitness going forward, having only played 9 minutes of Summer League. Ultimately the pressure will derive from the hype placed on young Zion’s shoulders – and they’ve placed him on a higher pedestal compared to any other rookie.