NBA Rookie Grades: Picks 1-5


Draft night. Youthful prospects flood in from all over, awaiting to hear their name called and finally fulfill their dream of making it to the pros. As these players are selected one by one, they are immediately thrown into a new game, confronting a new monster: the NBA. Not only does the intensity go up from playing on college courts to in NBA arenas, the physicality is unmatched. Some players who seem untouchable in college come in and never live up to what was expected of them. It’s time to take a look at the top 5 players selected in this year’s rookie class and grade their first years in the league.

Zion Williamson: A+

Coming into this year’s draft, it was clear who was going to go number one overall. Zion Williamson had captured the eyes of not only fans, but of scouts as well. Weighing in at 285 lbs, people were astonished at how fast he was and how high he could jump. The LeBron James comparisons were at an all time high, and not taking Williamson at number one would have made the New Orleans Pelicans look horrible. So they took him. Everything was looking good until injury struck. During a preseason game against the San Antonio Spurs, Williamson sustained a knee injury. He got surgery, and was expected to miss 6-8 weeks of the season. Little did everyone know, Williamson’s injury was much worse than anticipated. He ended up missing more time than expected. There were even reports stating that he had to be taught how to walk again. After finally recovering from this knee injury, Williamson would go on to show superstar potential. He played in 19 games before the NBA season was suspended and averaged 24 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists while shooting an efficient 59% from the field. He even became the youngest player to score 20+ points in 10 consecutive games. One detriment to his game seems to be his jumpshot. In his debut, we saw Williamson make a couple of jump shots here and there and thought his shooting would be fine. For the rest of the games this season, Williamson did not hit a lot of outside shots. New Orleans has a lot of guys around him who can shoot well so it shouldn’t be a big problem, but Williamson could certainly improve in that aspect of his game. Aside from that, although his first season in the league was delayed and then cut short, there’s no doubt that it was impressive. The Pelican’s seem to have a future superstar on their team.

Photo: Tyler Kaufman/AP

Ja Morant: A+

During the 2018-2019 college season, Ja Morant became the first player to average 20 points and 10 assists per game. If this wasn’t enough, Morant had a terrific March Madness Tournament, not only showing off his scoring but his terrific playmaking as well. His impressive play got him noticed by scouts, leading to his selection by the Memphis Grizzlies with the second overall pick. At this time, Memphis wasn’t looking too great. After contending in the playoffs seasons before, the Grizzlies were now at the bottom of the Western Conference. They had just drafted a promising big man in Jaren Jackson Jr. and were now looking to pair him with a playmaking guard, insert Ja Morant. Morant’s presence was immediate. Everyone watching him knew that he was a future star in this league. Morant ended the season with averages of 18 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds while shooting an outstanding 49% from the field. A bad statistic for Morant was his turnovers, where he averaged three a game. A lot of rookie guards who handle the ball a good amount turn the ball over, so this isn’t a huge concern for him. Barring his turnovers, not only did he have impressive stats for a rookie, the Grizzlies were in the playoffs at the time of the hiatus. Having a player who can not only produce stats but wins is super important, and Morant did both of these for Memphis.

Photo: Karen Pulfer Focht/AP

RJ Barrett: B

RJ Barrett’s college career was nothing short of amazing. He averaged 23 points, 4 assists and 8 rebounds in his one year at Duke. This singular season would prove enough to NBA scouts, thus he was selected by the New York Knicks with the third pick in the NBA draft. As many fans know, the Knicks situation is not exactly ideal to young players like Barrett himself. A mix of bad coaching and questionable management has made this team undesirable to all star caliber players, which resulted in losing season after losing season. So when Barrett was taken by them, many knew it would be fairly hard for him to shine. Surprisingly, he had a solid rookie season for himself. Barrett managed to average 14 points, 3 assists and 5 rebounds per game. What Barrett seemed to struggle with, both in college and in his first season as a pro, had been his efficiency. Barrett only shot 40% from the field this season, which is fairly inefficient for an NBA guard. Along with this, although he showed some potential on the defensive and playmaking side of the ball, it was clear he was being held back. Aside from everything, Barrett’s season was a good one, considering where he ended up playing.

Photo: Elsa/Getty Images

Deandre Hunter: C+

When Deandre Hunter was drafted and eventually found himself with the Atlanta Hawks, many considered him to be the most NBA ready player out of his class. While at Virginia, he was most known for his abilities on the defensive side of the ball. This was one of the main reasons Atlanta wanted him. They had offensive talents like John Collins, Trae Young and Kevin Huerter. They yearned for a solid defender at that forward spot, which is what they got in Hunter. The fact of the matter is; they asked too much of him. Coming into the NBA is hard enough, but to come in and be expected to be one of the best defenders on your team is harder. This clearly had a toll on Hunter, as he didn’t play as well on defense as he had in Virginia. Along with these somewhat defensive struggles he had, his offense wasn’t the greatest either. Hunter ended the season with averages of 12 points, 2 assists and 5 rebounds on 41% shooting from the field. This isn’t necessarily a bad rookie season, but his struggles on both sides of the ball and with efficiency certainly didn’t help his case. Hunter still has plenty of time to improve and work on his game. If the Hawks are able to ease his load on defense a bit and Hunter works on his offense, he could easily be a future all star.

Photo: Jeff Haynes/Getty Images

Darius Garland: C+

Although Darius Garland’s college career was short, scouts had already seen enough of him to know that he was going to be a lottery pick. After attending Vanderbilt and only playing three full games, Garland had already set the franchise record for points scored in a game and was shooting a whopping 48% from the three point line. This caused many teams to still be interested in taking Garland. One team in particular was very intrigued: the Cleveland Cavaliers. This caused them to select Garland with the fifth overall pick in the NBA draft. Coming into the year, many fans had questions about his health. Garland proved that he could stay healthy, playing in almost every game this season for the Cavaliers. In those games, Garland averaged 12 points, 4 assists and 2 rebounds on 40% shooting. His inefficiency mixed with his struggles finishing at the basket held him back tremendously. Although Garland got better as the season progressed, it was clear some things weren’t there. His explosiveness off the dribble wasn’t evident and his decision making was questionable a good amount of times throughout the season. There is no doubt Garland will improve on these things overtime but for now, they are still detrimental to his game.

Photo: John Raoux/AP

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