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#pounditSaturday, October 16, 2021

10 NBA rookies who have surpassed expectations

Kyle kuzma

With the NBA Draft eight months in the rearview mirror, some teams are likely already wishing for a do-over.

Consider the Philadelphia 76ers, who selected Washington’s Markelle Fultz No. 1 – to unanimous applause from analysts. Though Fultz’s shoulder injury, which has kept him off the court since Oct. 23, was certainly not his fault, his shot looks broken, and that pick now looks questionable. The Sixers would certainly much rather have Donovan Mitchell or Jayson Tatum.

Meanwhile, other teams are thrilled with the results they’ve seen from their 2017 draft class. Consider the Los Angeles Lakers, who, while they’ve gotten mixed results from No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball, snagged Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart with late first-round picks. If we had a redraft, all three would likely be lottery picks.

Other teams still don’t know how to evaluate their 2017 draft. Did the Suns make a good or bad pick in taking Josh Jackson at No. 4? Did the Kings make a good or bad pick in taking De’Aaron Fox at No. 5? At this point, no one really knows.

We do know, however, that a handful of rookies have far outperformed expectations. Here are 10 who have stood out – and made a bunch of teams regret passing on them.

10. Dillon Brooks, Memphis Grizzlies
Stats: 8.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 38% 3FG, 8.5 PER

Brooks was a standout at Oregon, where he made the All-Pac-12 team twice and was the conference’s Player of the Year in 2017. Scouts wondered whether his game could translate to the pros, though, and he fell to Memphis in the middle of the second round (No. 45).

It became clearly immediately that Brooks could indeed play at the next level. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound forward cracked the Grizzlies’ starting lineup in early November, and he hasn’t left it. He is getting 28 minutes a night and doing a little bit of everything for interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

Though the Grizzlies have struggled – they’ve dropped 10 straight and apparently embraced the tank – Brooks has been a bright spot in a tumultuous time and provided consistent production. Memphis’ front office has made some seriously head-scratching moves lately (like not trading Tyreke Evans at the deadline), but the Brooks pick was a major win.

9. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Sacramento Kings
Stats: 11.5 PPG, 3.2 APG, 40.4% 3FG, 13.9 PER

Bogie was a coveted asset for years. The Phoenix Suns scooped him at No. 27 in the 2014 draft, but he elected to stick around Serbia.

Before he made it to the association, his rights bounced around. The Suns dealt him on draft night 2016 so they could acquire Marquese Chriss.

The 25-year-old Bogdanovic has really emerged in the first half of this season. His time in Europe made him NBA-ready. His impressive offensive game was recently on display in the Rising Stars Challenge, in which he scored 26 points and was named MVP, adding to a list of his accomplishments in the last nine months: Euroleague champ, Euroleague Final Four MVP, Turkish League champ, Turkish League Finals MVP, and All-Eurobasket Team member.

The 6-foot-6 Bogie got an increased role as Sacramento traded George Hill at the deadline. Though he isn’t great on defense, his offensive game is dynamic. In addition to his lights-out shooting, he’s a surprisingly good playmaker.

The Kings like their 2017 draft – Frank Mason and Justin Jackson have been pleasant surprises, and Fox has shown flashes of brilliance – but Bogdanovic has been their best rookie.

8. O.G. Anunoby, Toronto Raptors
Stats: 6.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 9.8 PER

Anunoby’s stats don’t jump off the page, but it’s his defense and all-around contributions that have made him a fixture in the Raptors’ starting lineup. The 6-foot-8 former Indiana Hoosier has a 7-foot-2 wingspan, and he’s a freak athlete – needless to say, he’s a terror for offensive players.

Anunoby suffered a scary knee injury in Jan. 2017, and there were questions about his recovery at the time of the draft, so he fell to Toronto at No. 23. He would definitely move up if teams had another opportunity to secure his rights.

His shot has fallen off of late, but that’s never been the strength of his game. He’s out there for defense, and even if his jumper doesn’t recover, he’ll still get minutes for what has been the East’s No. 1 team when the postseason arrives.

A native of London who attended high school in Missouri, Anunoby could be the next Trevor Ariza – or even better.

7. Jordan Bell, Golden State Warriors
Stats: 5.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 19.4 PER

Of course the Warriors pulled this off, right? They made what could be considered the smartest move of the draft in paying the Bulls $3.5 for their second-round pick (No. 38), which turned into Bell.

Bell hasn’t gotten as many minutes as most of the guys on this list – because, obviously, he’s playing on the best team in basketball and one of the best teams in NBA history – but he’s still cracked Steve Kerr’s rotation. Bell is playing 14.4 minutes a night and providing valuable energy off the bench.

His Player Efficiency Rating, a measurement of how valuable a player is in his minutes on the floor, is second-best among rookies, behind only John Collins (No. 4 on this list).

Bell is another guy who isn’t super dynamic on the offensive end, but he gets the job done on defense – and Golden State badly needed defensive help in its backcourt.

6. Josh Hart, Los Angeles Lakers
Stats: 6.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 39% 3FG, 11.0 PER

Hart was the final pick of the 2017 first round, and the Lakers are ecstatic he fell to them.

Hart had an outstanding four-year career at Villanova, where he was an NCAA champ in 2016 and consensus first-team All-American in 2017. Though he posted 18.9 points per game as a senior, scouts had concerns about his offensive ability.

He isn’t the most explosive player, and he is quite limited with the ball – but all that tells you is how good he is at the other facets of the game. Hart is a lock-down perimeter defender (a huge asset in today’s game) and he knocks down open shots. He’s hitting nearly 40% of his three-point attempts.

The 6-foot-5 22-year-old also has great rebounding instincts for a guard. It’s no secret that teams inquired about Hart while the Lakers were wheeling and dealing their young assets at the deadline, but L.A. was set on holding onto him – with good reason. If the Lakers plan to hold onto Lonzo Ball, Hart will provide a nice yang to his yin.

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