The flashy and thrilling rookie seasons of Luka Doncic and Trae Young have been well documented. Both are well on their way to NBA superstardom. Doncic is a do-it-all handyman on offense, who can play multiple positions and handle the duties of numerous roles. Trae Young has a budding offensive game, highlighted by his unlimited 3-point shooting range and already elite passing ability.
The 2019 rookie class has been phenomenal. While Doncic and Young dominate the talk of talent within the rookie class, numerous others have stood out this season. This list will look at some of the lesser talked about rookies who have had a successful first year in the league.
G: Bruce Brown- Detroit Pistons
Few, if any, expected Brown to play much of a role on the Pistons this season, and out of the two rookies on the team, Khyri Thomas was the more likely of the two if one were to receive a meaningful amount of minutes. Nonetheless, Brown started the season opener for Detroit due to injuries on the wing that the Pistons were dealing with, and eventually cemented himself as the team’s starting shooting guard. If you just look at his stats, you’d be questioning how Brown found himself on this list, but his value doesn’t show on the stat sheet, at least not yet.
In this clip, Brown pesters Young off the inbounds and eventually blocks his shot. Brown is able to recover from a screen by John Collins and put himself in a position to contest the shot in time to block it.
Brown is the Pistons number one defender. From his first game in the league, Dwane Casey has placed Brown in that role, and he has generally done a good job. Whether it be against Young, D’Angelo Russell, or James Harden, Brown has smothered himself on the likes of these players, making their nights much harder than they would be if any other Piston were to try to check them.
On offense, he is a work in progress. He’s got a handful of games in which he’s scored in double figures but more often he finishes with less than five points on the night. He isn’t a reliable shooting from the 3-point line, as his best percentage from deep over a month was 34.8 percent in January, and he does not finish at the rim well versus contact. The ability to score inside should come for Brown, as the game starts to slow down for him and his athleticism can come into play. Shooting wise, it’s going to take a lot of reps to improve his shot.
The Pistons aren’t limiting Brown either. They’ve sometimes experimented with him at the point guard position, although that’s more a move for the future than it is the now, and are working on more to his offensive game to just scoring. They want him to become a reliable ball-handler and distributor, as he provides size and athleticism at the point guard spot that they do not have.
G: Landry Shamet- Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are plus-6.1 with Shamet on the court rather than off, the best rating on the team by far. For comparison, Lou Williams is second with a plus-3.7 rating. The 26th pick was looking to be a nice piece off the bench when he was on the Philadelphia 76ers, but since the trade has shined starting on the wing for the Clippers. The starting lineup of Shamet, fellow rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Patrick Beverly, Danilo Gallinari, and Ivica Zubac has a plus-3.1 rating. Shamet was the main player asset that the Clippers recouped in the deal that sent Tobias Harris to the 76ers, and he has come in and exceeded all expectations.
He’s shooting the ball with great efficiency from beyond the arc, at 44.3 percent. On the entire season at 41.8 percent, he ranks 14th in the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage. In an offense that already features two point guards and a great passing forward in Gallinari, he is averaging 2.1 assists per game. He also rarely turns the ball over when handling it, as he boasts the 5th best turnover percentage in the NBA at 6.6 percent.
Whether he’s open for a stand-still three or curling off a screen for a high-pressure, quick-release look, Shamet is the most reliable option on Los Angeles’ roster. He’s a hand-in-glove fit for the play style of the Clippers, and alongside Gilgeous-Alexander, projects to be part of their backcourt for the long run.
Shamet’s microwave scoring ability is a highly regarded skill that every team needs or wishes they had. His teammates know that when he’s knocking shots down, that although it goes against their style of play to feed one guy, that Shamet needs the ball. “When he gets hot, you just gotta feed him and he’s going to keep making those shots,” said starting center Ivica Zubac following a game in which Shamet knocked down seven 3-pointers in a win.
C: Mitchell Robinson- New York Knicks
For a team that plans to spend big in the offseason with the hopes of landing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, having a cheap yet effective center in Robinson is a nice bonus to have. He is one of the best rim protectors in the NBA, and will be the best shot-blocker in the NBA soon. He’s second in the league in blocks per game with 2.5 per game only behind Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Myles Turner, who averages 2.7 per contest. Yet, it’s important to note that Turner averages about nine more minutes per game played than Robinson. He’s had five games this year with five or more blocks and even recorded nine in one game.
Mitchell Robinson is averaging one block every 8.0 minutes on the court, currently the third-best such rate in NBA history by a rookie (min. 1,000 minutes).
— Justin Kubatko (@jkubatko) April 2, 2019
Outside of his elite shot blocking, Robinson has been an efficient finisher at the rim and he gobbles rebounds nearly as well as he swats shots away. In 19 games since the All-Star Break, he’s nearly averaged a double-double, scoring 9.1 points and corralling 9.4 rebounds per game. He has done this on 68.4 percent shooting from the field.
His scoring profile is extremely limited, as he has only made one field goal outside the restricted area and has only attempted two shots outside of the restricted area. His scoring comes off of open dunks, lobs, or offensive rebounds. And that’s fine as of now. He’s a rookie that is being thrown into the fire and succeeding. But he’ll have to either develop a bit of faceup or back to the basket game. It would be largely beneficial if he could learn to score a bit outside of the paint, but he needs to be given time to do that.
Robinson projects as a double-double machine that will be one of the most fearful shot blockers in the league, much like his mentor on the Knicks, DeAndre Jordan. The future is bright for the dominant big man.