By Austin Santiago
Published: November 28th, 2018
We are just over a month into this NBA season and it has already proven to be a season like no other. Between LeBron James bringing “show time” back to the Lakers, questions of chemistry in Golden State, and an action packed Eastern Conference that is up for grabs, NBA fans have a lot to be excited about.
With so many storylines unfolding this season, it is easy to miss out on storylines that are usually the forefront of an NBA season. Perhaps the biggest storyline that has taken a backseat to all of the drama in both conferences is just how incredible this year’s rookie class has been.
Of course, it is far too early to tell if this year’s class will be as influential as the 2003 draft class, but this year’s class has many NBA fans feeling hopeful for the future of the league.
With many of the superstars from the 2003 class getting ready to retire, it is good to know the league is in good hands thanks to rookies like Luka Dončić.
Taken third overall in the 2018 NBA draft by the Atlanta Hawks, Dončić was traded that same night to the Dallas Mavericks, a franchise that has struggled to stay relevant in the star-studded western conference the last several years.
Dončić has served as a shot of adrenaline for the Mavericks, averaging 19 points per game, to go along with 7 rebounds and 4 assists, he has become the offensive center for a team that was desperate for an offensive option.
Dončić isn’t the only rookie making waves this NBA season, the player he was traded for on draft night, Trae Young, has also been heating things up down in Atlanta.
When the Atlanta Hawks traded for Young on draft night, they were hoping to get the sharpshooter that wowed college fans during his stint at Oklahoma, while his shooting thus far has not been as consistent (33% from the field, 15% from three point range), Young has shown some serious flashes of his potential.
Despite his streakiness, Young has shown that his volume production close to the rim can outweigh his inefficiency from deep. Young is shooting 56% at the rim on 15.6 attempts, among 31 players averaging 10 or more drives per game, only Giannis Antetokounmpo, Russell Westbrook, and Caris LeVert are converting at a higher rate.
Standing at only 6’2 and 180 lbs, Young has proven that he can be effective despite his lack of size. The shooting can only improve, so look for Young to become an offensive force in the years to come.
In the case of Dončić and Young, the success is expected.
They were both highly touted coming into the draft, and were both top five picks. The real magic of the NBA draft comes from the players that are progressing faster than anyone thought they would, players that make a name for themselves without the boost from their draft number.
That is the case of Clippers point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who continues to be the starting point guard for a Clippers team that is currently the third best team in the Western Conference.
It must be difficult to play point guard for the Clippers, considering the last relevant player to man that position for the team was future hall of famer Chris Paul, but Gilgeous-Alexander has shown that he can hold his own. Possessing incredible ability with his long arms and quick hands, he has become a defensive anchor for the Clippers.
To go along with stellar defense, Gilgeous Alexander is sporting a 46.8% shooting percentage and is knocking down 40% of his pull-up jumpers.
He may not be Chris Paul, but he is making a difference.
The truth is, that is really all anybody can ask of NBA rookies, that they make a difference for the team that drafted them. This season we have been spoiled with incredible rookie play form these three, and others such as Deandre Ayton in Phoenix, or Marvin Bagley in Sacramento.
Instead of crushing these young players with expectations, perhaps it is best we just enjoy the show these rookies are putting on this year, it’s safe to say they are enjoying performing for us.