Woah boy, the NBA is finally back! Don’t get me wrong, I love watching football, but it was time for some variety. While the focus of this season will inevitably be on the cataclysmic shifts in stardom throughout the league, let’s take a moment and acknowledge how some of the NBA’s newest faces are doing.
We’ll take a peek at how NBA rookies performed in their opening games. For the sake of consistency, we’re confining our focus to games played in October. That will limit the sample size to four or five games for every player and keep things somewhat even. I have highlighted my top seven rookies in the main body of this article, but there’s also a section with three extra players to watch below. Now, let’s get to it.
Top Seven Rookies in October
1. Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat
After going undrafted in 2018, Nunn spent a year in the G League. Now, he’s secured a starting spot on Miami’s roster and leads all rookies in scoring. Yes, he’s a rookie in the Ben Simmons sense of the word, but that’s how the NBA defines rookie. Deal with it.
Nunn truly has been impressive though. In his first five games, Nunn has scored 22.4 points per game while shooting 51.8% from the field and 48.4% from three. He’s not going light on the threes either because he’s taking six per game. His 62.9 true shooting percentage is also impressive.
2. PJ Washington, Charlotte Hornets
Did the Hornets actually hit with their first-round selection this year? It looks like that’s the case through the team’s first five games. With the team being a mess, Washington was able to start right away. He didn’t waste any time introducing himself to the world, scoring 27 points and knocking down a record seven three-pointers in his debut.
Washington is averaging 15.8 points per game to go along with seven rebounds, which is tied for the most among rookies. He’s attempting five three-pointers per game and hitting a blistering 52% of those attempts. His 67.3 true shooting percentage stands out even among the league’s most efficient scorers.
3. RJ Barrett, New York Knicks
With Zion Williamson out, his former Duke teammate has taken over as the school’s top rookie. I thought to go into the season that Barrett would shoulder a solid volume of shots immediately at the cost of some efficiency. That has been the case through New York’s first five games.
Barrett is scoring 18.2 points per game, which ranked second among rookies in October. He’s also playing 36 minutes per game. No other rookie is even playing 34. It makes sense that Barrett would be thrown right into the New York spotlight.
The third overall pick is making 47.4% of his 15.2 field goals per game. For people who worried about his three-point shot, Barrett is making 42.1% of his deep shots. His 51.8 true shooting percentage is more in the expected range for a rookie than Nunn’s or Washington’s.
4. Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards
Hachimura was a draft prospect that teams struggled to evaluate. Some thought the Japanese native had extremely high potential. Others thought he’d fizzle out in the league. So far, it looks like the former was right.
In his first four games, Hachimura averaged 18 points per game, the third-most among rookies. He also tied with Washington for the lead in rebounds per game with seven. Like Morant, Hachimura is making an even 50% of his field-goal attempts. His three-point game isn’t on the same level as those of the other players we’ve covered though. Hachimura is only making 27.3% of his three-point shots.
5. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
The second overall pick in the draft averaged 17.5 points per game in October, the fourth-most among rookies. He also led all rookie in turnovers, committing five per game. It’s only Morant’s first five games though, so he gets a little slack. He is leading rookies with five assists per game.
While Murray State’s pride and joy is making 50% of his field goal attempts, Morant’s most impressive showing has to be the tape he put up against Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. Morant dropped 30 points, over half of which came in the fourth quarter, and blocked Irving late in overtime. Memphis won the game.
6. Tyler Herro, Miami Heat
Miami’s youth movement is in good hands if Herro and Nunn keep up their stellar play. Herro started three of his first five games, playing 32.2 minutes a night. He’s scoring 16.4 points per game while adding 5.8 rebounds and two assists.
Herro’s 35.7% accuracy from three-point range sets him a mark below the top three players on this list. Still, he scored the third-most points by any rookie in October. Part of that was due to playing five games instead of four, but you get the point. Herro has a 57.0 true shooting percentage.
7. Coby White, Chicago Bulls
In 23.2 minutes per game, White is racking up 12.6 points per game. He’s also contributing 2.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game. After a hot start though, he’s cooled off already. While his low turnover rate, less than one per game, is impressive, his field goal percentage leaves something to be desired.
White is making 40% of his field goal attempts and 30.8% of his three-point shots. His true shooting percentage is 49.2. I’ll give White credit for what he flashed early, but that won’t hold up much longer if he continues to struggle.
Keep your eyes on
1. Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia 76ers
I’ve always held the mentality that if you can play defense, there’s a place for you in the NBA. Thybulle is proof of this. Through four games, the Washington product is averaging three steals per game, which led the league in October. He’s done this while playing just 21.8 minutes per game.
He might not contribute much on offense, but his defensive rating is 84. For reference, Rudy Gobert, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, has an 88 defensive rating in October.
2. Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets
Another “rookie” from a previous draft class, the often-injured forward appeared in one game for the Nuggets in October. He went five of eight from the floor, scoring 15 points in 21 minutes. Porter was a ridiculously hyped prospect heading into his freshman year at Missouri. If he can stay healthy and recapture some of that promise, there’s a role for him in Denver.
3. Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies
When he was at Gonzaga, Clarke was one of my favorite players in college basketball. He’s had a solid start to his professional career. Clarke is averaging 10.5 points and five rebounds per game while playing 23.3 minutes per night. He’s also averaging 1.5 blocks per night and is tied for the most among rookies with six.
Clarke isn’t the kind of forward you can stick out by the three-point line, he’s only making 20% of his limited three-point attempts, but the ultra-athletic forward can make a difference inside for his team. Overall, Clarke is making 52.8% of his shot attempts and has a 56.3 true shooting percentage.