With the remainder of the 2019-20 NBA regular season in doubt, now is as good a time as any to release our All-Rookie First and Second Teams. Even if the league somehow finishes the schedule, there may not be enough games left to dramatically change the list of honorees.
This crop of neophytes delivered star power at the top and a deep assortment of promising role players.
A knee injury delayed Zion Williamson’s debut, but he gave the league a midseason injection of electricity when he returned in January. Meanwhile, Grizzlies teammates Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke turned heads across the Association and accelerated Memphis’ rebuilding efforts.
You could make a case for six or seven different players to make the All-Rookie First Team, and another six or seven who were potential Second-Teamers. I whittled it down to five and five, leaning toward the prospects who supplied the greatest net positive impact for their teams.
Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies G
Per-Game Stats: 30.0 mpg, 17.6 ppg, 6.9 apg, 49.1% fg, 36.7% 3fg
Advanced Metrics: 56.8% True Shooting (TS), 0.4 Box Plus/Minus (BPM), .093 Win Shares per 48 min (WS/48)
Murray State’s rising star was the easiest First Team selection. Morant uncorked a dynamic rookie campaign that pushed Memphis into the No. 8 spot in the West just as the season came to a halt. His fearlessness and creativity lifted the young Grizzlies, and his multidimensional productivity bodes well for the long term.
Morant was highly-regarded coming out of college, but given his mid-major background, there were underlying doubts about how some of his skills would translate.
He debunked the doubters early and often, proving he could compete at the sports highest level as a dual-threat guard. Morant attacked the rim efficiently and then used his slashing threat to create for Grizzly teammates. And although his jump-shooting is still a work in progress, he posted respectable numbers from beyond the arc (36.7 percent) and from the charity stripe (77.0 percent).
Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies F
Per-Game Stats: 21.7 mpg, 12.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 62.3% fg, 40.4% 3fg
Advanced Metrics: 67.0% TS, 3.5 BPM, .192 WS/48
Part of the reason Morant had such a productive season was his budding synergy with Clarke. The late first-round steal from Gonzaga enjoyed a mutually beneficial connection: Clarke shot 65.3 percent on passes from Morant, presenting a lethal receiving target.
Clarke’s anticipated offensive role was primarily catch-and-score, but he showed strong potential off the bounce as a rookie. He capitalized on opportunities to drive to the bucket when seams opened up:
He also illustrated why he was an elite stopper in college.
Clarke’s alertness, foot speed and vertical explosion boosted Memphis’ defense. He already has solid fundamentals as a one-on-one fortress and a weak-side rim protector. Clarke ranked second in defensive field-goal percentage (55.9) among all rookies who played at least 50 games.
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans F
Per-Game Stats: 29.7 mpg, 23.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 58.9% fg, 46.2% 3fg
Advanced Metrics: 62.4% TS, 2.4 BPM, .149 WS/48
If this was an All-NBA vote and salary incentives were on the line, I probably wouldn’t select Zion. He played fewer than half the minutes of most high-usage rookies. But these are the TBW All-Rookie Teams, where I can exercise my right to include the league’s most electrifying rookie regardless of sample size.
Williamson lived up to the hype and stuffed the stat sheet in his brief stint for NOLA. He led all rookies in points per game, thanks to an unprecedented combination of power, agility and deft scoring touch.
TBW’s Adam Spinella did a film study on how the Pels created avenues for Zion to attack the bucket, including football-style misdirection pitches and “Blade” kickout plays. And when Zion’s teammates did their part by giving him scoring opportunities, he almost always finished the job emphatically:
The scary part for the NBA is the ease with which he converted a lot of those plays along with his ability to knock down triples. If his shot-creating arsenal ever improves, he will be a disaster for Pelicans opponents.
Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat G
Per-Game Stats: 29.8 mpg, 15.6 ppg, 3.4 apg, 44.8% fg, 36.3% 3fg
Advanced Metrics: 54.5% TS, -2.0 BPM, 0.064 WS/48
Nunn was older than most rookies, and it showed. On offense, he operated with a veteran-like savvy and confidence, bringing inside-out scoring and facilitating to Erik Spoelstra’s offense. He looked equally comfortable as a pick-and-roll playmaker and weak-side floor spacer.
The 6’3″ combo guard consistently collapsed opposing defenses as a cutter and slasher, and he converted with great touch around the hoop (63.2 percent within three feet). He also supplied secondary facilitating when Miami needed it, displaying sharp timing with bigs like Bam Adebayo and Meyers Leonard.
Nunn’s path to an even more prominent role for the Heat is to turn up the defense. His effort and execution must get better on that end if he wants to boost his long-term value.
Eric Paschall, Golden State Warriors F
Per-Game Stats: 27.6 mpg, 14.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 49.7% fg, 28.7% 3fg
Advanced Metrics: 57.1% TS, -2.7 BPM, .062 WS/48
Villanova’s polished forward continued Golden State’s tradition of drafting and grooming successful second-round picks.
Paschall gave the Dubs juice off the bench for most of the season, exhibiting a versatile skill set and uncommon assertiveness. His shooting mechanics are a bit flawed, and that was reflected in his low three-point percentage. However, he found plenty of other ways to fill up the hoop and set up his teammates.
Paschall was an aggressive slasher from the wing, relentlessly pursuing the hoop and never missing a chance to punish smaller defenders:
Paschall also offered schematic adjustability because he was also comfortable in the mid-post. He should fit superbly with the Warriors’ core of stars once they all are fully healthy, providing some interior scoring prowess to complement Kerr’s shooters.
On defense, Paschall did a nice job sticking with scorers on the perimeter, holding them to 35.7 percent outside of 15 feet and 34.6 percent from three-point range. His interior numbers weren’t as good, but that’s partly because Golden State’s team defense was vulnerable. Opponents earned a bunch of favorable looks in the paint every night.
R.J. Barrett, New York Knicks G
Per-Game Stats: 30.4 mpg, 14.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 40.2% fg, 32.0% 3fg
Advanced Metrics: 47.9% TS, -4.3 BPM, -0.015 WS/48
Barrett was perhaps the toughest rookie to rank this season. He delivered spurts of substantial production as well as self-inflicted damage, often on the same night.
An erratic scoring touch from all levels remains one of Barrett’s most pressing concerns, but he shouldn’t take all the blame for his woefully inefficient numbers. His supporting cast didn’t have enough talent or chemistry to consistently compete, and the Knicks had a volatile season on the sideline and in the front office.
Barrett remains a high-ceiling prospect because he can impact the game in a variety of ways. His size and agility enable him to score inside and out while also guarding multiple positions on the other end.
Plus, he showed intermittent glimpses of playmaking finesse last season:
P.J. Washington, Charlotte Hornets F
Per-Game Stats: 30.3 mpg, 12.2 ppg, 5.4 apg, 45.5% fg, 37.4% 3fg
Advanced Metrics: 54.7% TS, -1.6 BPM, 0.054 WS/48, -58.5 TPA
After showing tremendous improvement during his sophomore year at Kentucky, Washington continued to grow as an NBA rookie. He executed smoothly in James Borrego’s offense, serving as a catch-and-score threat near the hoop, a weapon off the dribble and a useful three-point option.
While not spectacular in any of these areas, he’s competent enough in all of them to provide schematic flexibility.
Washington’s shooting is particularly encouraging. He has acclimated to the NBA three-point arc this season, shooting 37.4 percent on a substantial volume (230 attempts in 58 games). His next steps as a scorer are to improve his shot selection in traffic and boost his free-throw percentage—he shot just 64.7 percent this season.
Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards F
Per-Game Stats: 29.7 mpg, 13.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 47.8% fg, 27.4% 3fg
Advanced Metrics: 54.3% TS, -3.0 BPM, .066 WS/48
Many draft evaluators thought the Wizards reached a bit when they drafted Hachimura at No. 11. He backed up the lottery status and looked like a worthwhile investment last season, albeit on a lackluster team.
He’s done a better job creating ways to get his shot off than I thought he would.
Hachimura still isn’t an advanced ball-handler, but he’s quickly learning how to use his athleticism and take advantage of the high release point on his jump shot. He also sniffs out opportunities to drive against one-on-one coverage when help defense is lacking.
The Japanese prodigy still has some substantial weak areas, however. He must continue to work on his three-point efficiency, as well as his defensive consistency.
Overall, he made good strides as a rookie for a franchise that’s in flux.
Tyler Herro, MIAMI HEAT SG
Per-Game Stats: 27.2 mpg, 12.9 ppg, 1.9 apg, 41.4% fg, 31.4% 3fg
Advanced Metrics: 53.4% TS, -2.3 BPM, .033 WS/48
Herro’s rookie-year success is a product of his surplus of confidence and the shot-making talent to back it up. It also didn’t hurt that he landed in a healthy ecosystem that gave him the right balance of responsibilities.
It’s a shame that he missed 18 games, mostly due to his midseason foot injury.
Like many Wildcats before him, Herro was more creative from day one as a pro than he was at Kentucky. He showcased a ball-handling repertoire that unlocked step-backs, floaters and drives all the way to the cup. While he needs to become more efficient on his forays in the paint, it’s encouraging to see his aggressiveness.
TERENCE DAVIS, TORONTO RAPTORS SG
Per-Game Stats: 17.0 mpg, 7.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 46.3% fg, 39.6% 3fg
Advanced Metrics: 59.8% TS, 1.3 BPM, .133 WS/48
The last spot in the All-Rookie Teams was a tough decision between Chicago Bulls guard Coby White, Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., Philadelphia 76ers guard Matisse Thybulle, and Davis. Even though Davis played the second-fewest minutes of that quartet, he gets the nod due to his positive impact on an upper-echelon club.
It’s no small feat to jump into a title-contending rotation as a rookie.
The Ole Miss standout quickly became a valuable peripheral weapon, giving Toronto’s stars a dependable catch-and-shoot target. Davis also has a little shake in his off-the-dribble game, and he’s physical enough to finish plays through contact.
He wouldn’t have appeared in 64 games for Nick Nurse if he couldn’t hold his own on defense. Davis was more than competent on the perimeter, balancing aggressive gambles with positional discipline better than most rookies. His usefulness on that end suggests he’ll have a key long-term role with the franchise.
Dan is a TBW staff writer. After playing college ball at Franciscan University, he covered the NBA and NBA Draft for Bleacher Report for four years and the FRS Network for three years. He now co-hosts the Unlimited Range podcast and continues to campaign for Doris Burke’s promotion to lead analyst at ESPN. Follow him on Twitter: @DanO_Bball