Final 2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year Rankings: Luka Doncic, Trae Young top deep, talented class
Doncic and Young got much of the spotlight, but this appears to be a deep rookie class to remember
Well, folks, the 2018-19 NBA season is in the books, and that means most of the rookies we've been following in these rankings all season will be embarking on their summer programs to try to improve their games. With that in mind, it's time to turn our attention to the Rookie of the Year race.
As you could tell if you paid attention to the Rookie Rankings, this season's class was dominated by Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, the former looking like the runaway Rookie of the Year winner early, with the latter closing strong with unbelievable, clutch performances. In the end, Doncic and Young finished very close, but Doncic wins out as our Rookie of the Year pick for reasons outlined below.
Whereas the season-long rankings were a heat map of which players had the best week, this version takes into account the season as a whole and ranks the top 10 rookies. As you can see, this class is incredibly deep and goes well beyond Doncic and Young, who were the rookie faces of the season, but remarkably might not even end up being the best players in the class.
Here are the 2018-19 season's final NBA Rookie of the Year Rankings.
Luka Doncic Dallas Mavericks SF
Stats: 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 43% FG, 33% 3PThe good: Playmaking, court vision, rebounding, scoring, star quality
Needs improvement: Conditioning, defense
Bottom line: You learn everything you need to know about Luka Doncic when you listen to NBA players and coaches talk about him. My favorite quote from this year was Draymond Green, one of the best defenders in the league for years, saying, "That dude good. Yeah, he got it. He gonna be a problem. He already a problem," after facing him for the first time. But he was just one of many to sing the Slovenian star's praises. Doncic showcased an ability to be the focal point of an offense, both as a scorer and facilitator, and aided his transition game by crashing the glass consistently. He became the only NBA rookie besides Oscar Robertson to average over 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game, putting him in rarefied air. Trae Young made a late push, but the Rookie of the Year trophy has rightfully belonged to Doncic all season long.
Trae Young Atlanta Hawks PG
Stats: 19.1 points, 8.1 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 42% FG, 32% 3PThe good: Elite passing, 3-point shooting, floater game
Needs improvement: Defense, efficiency
Bottom line: After a month or so it looked like the Mavericks had pulled off a major steal by getting Doncic from the Hawks on draft night in exchange for Young, but now it looks like Atlanta's in pretty good shape. Young exploded onto the scene in the second half of the season, putting up huge point and assist totals, but it was his clutch performances that really showed his superstar potential. Young scored 3.3 points per game in clutch situations (games within five points with five minutes left) according to NBA.com, putting him up there with players like Paul George, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. His 33 percent 3-point shooting in the clutch was also among the best in the league for players shooting at least one per game. All this to say, Young is already a very good NBA player with a massive upside, and in any other season he'd likely be the Rookie of the Year.
Deandre Ayton Phoenix Suns C
Stats: 16.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, 58.5% FGThe good: Efficiency, rebounding
Needs improvement: Rim protection, consistency
Bottom line: Ayton was lost in the depressing Valley of the Sun for his rookie season, but he put up monster numbers in an efficient, low maintenance manner (58.5 percent from the field), showcasing a solid mid-range jumper with the potential to eventually extend his range. He became the only NBA rookie other than Shaquille O'Neal to average over 16 points and 10 rebounds while shooting over 55 percent from the field, so Ayton was no slouch. The concerns about his defense proved valid, particularly as a rim protector, where he allowed 1.087 points per possession according to Synergy Sports Technology, toward the bottom of the league among centers who get as many minutes as Ayton does. That being said, he blocked nearly a shot per game and improved his pick-and-roll defense over the course of the season. He may have been outshone by Doncic and Young, but Ayton proved himself to be more than a solid building block for Phoenix moving forward.
Jaren Jackson Jr. Memphis Grizzlies PF
Stats: 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 51% FG, 36% 3PThe good: Defense, efficiency, 3-point shooting
Needs improvement: Avoiding foul trouble, rebounding, consistency
Bottom line: Jackson was in a strange position in his rookie year on a Grizzlies team that got off to a 12-5 start, then entered tank mode late. His season was cut short due to a quad injury in late February, but Memphis -- and the rest of the NBA -- saw enough of Jackson to know he's going to be a special player. His length and defensive instincts are off the charts, he's able to anchor a defense both in the paint and on the perimeter, and his offense repertoire is much more polished than expected for the second-youngest player in the NBA. He shot a respectable 36 percent on 2.4 3-pointers per game, twice making four in a single contest. Doncic, Young and Ayton appear to have hit their stride a bit earlier, but there are people who will tell you Jackson is still the best prospect of them all due to his age and upside.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Los Angeles Clippers PG
Stats: 10.8 points, 3.3 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 48% FG, 37% 3PThe good: Maturity, mid-range game, limiting turnovers, defense
Needs improvement: Strength, playmaking
Bottom line: Gilgeous-Alexander's stats don't reveal exactly how much he does on a basketball court. He wouldn't have cracked Doc Rivers' starting lineup for good in just his 10th NBA game if he wasn't helping the team win. As it stands, he's a starter on a playoff team -- something no other rookie can say this season other than his own teammate, Landry Shamet. He gets credit for team success in these rankings, and also for his two-way ability. It's rare for guards to be successful defenders in their rookie season, but SGA was a force with his length and size. He plays with a maturity beyond his years and is certainly an essential asset for a Clippers team looking to make big moves this offseason.
Marvin Bagley III Sacramento Kings PF
Stats: 14.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 50% FG, 31% 3PThe good: Efficiency, offensive rebounding, shot-blocking
Needs improvement: Interior defense, post-up game
Bottom line: Bagley became must-watch TV following the All-Star break as a super-sub for the breakout Kings. He averaged a near-double-double of 18.5 points and 9.2 rebounds while shooting 39 percent on 3-pointers in less than 28 minutes per game in his final 19 games of the season. His motor and tenacity, particularly on the offensive boards, are unquestionable, but he struggled mightily protecting the rim, with opponents averaging a whopping 1.291 points per possession against him around the basket, putting him among the worst in the NBA according to Synergy. As great as he was offensively as a rookie, he still has room to grow. Despite shooting well from the field, Bagley wasn't efficient with his post-ups. That will likely improve as he puts on weight and gets used to NBA interior defenders. Some would argue that the Kings still shouldn't have passed on Doncic, but Bagley is a fantastic addition to the team's young, promising core.
Collin Sexton Cleveland Cavaliers PG
Stats: 16.7 points, 3.0 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 43% FG, 40% 3PThe good: 3-point shooting, explosiveness
Needs improvement: Playmaking, efficiency, defense
Bottom line: Sexton wasn't in the best situation as a rookie -- a high-usage player on a tanking team that fired its coach six games into the season -- but he gradually improved and was playing pretty good basketball toward the end of the year (20.8 points per game on 48 percent shooting post-All-Star break). He made 3s at a much higher rate than most expected, but struggled around the basket and initially took too many mid-range jumpers. He was awful defensively for a historically bad Cavs defense, but the most glaring and immediate area of improvement for Sexton is his playmaking -- a point guard averaging 3.0 or fewer assists with his usage and minutes is almost unheard of, which has led some to believe he profiles more as a two-guard in the future.
"It's something that he'll get better at," then-Cavs coach Larry Drew said of Sexton's playmaking after an April 5 loss to the Warriors. "He'll start to understand what defenses are doing against him. He'll understand how teams collapse on him when he does drive the basketball, and understand where his open outlets are once he does drive the basketball. ... He's a score-first point guard, that's who he is. But I have all the confidence in the world that he'll get those assist totals up once he gets a real understanding as far as how teams are playing him."
Kevin Huerter Atlanta Hawks SG
Stats: 9.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 42% FG, 39% 3PThe good: 3-point shooting, playmaking, rebounding
Needs improvement: Defense, finishing around basket
Bottom line: Huerter was thrust into big minutes in his rookie season, and helped turn the Hawks into one of the most exciting teams in the league toward the end of the year. A big guard who pairs well with Young in the backcourt, Huerter immediately proved that he was the knock-down shooter the Atlanta brass thought he was, connecting at a high percentage not only in spot-up situations, but also off the dribble (1.063 points per possession on jumpers off the dribble is among the league leaders, according to Synergy). Huerter also showed an adeptness at putting the ball on the floor and getting teammates involved, which gives him a ceiling of much more than just a shooter. He struggled defensively, as most rookies do, but Huerter established himself as a potential longtime pro in his first NBA season.
Landry Shamet Los Angeles Clippers PG
Stats: 9.1 points, 1.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 43% FG, 42% 3PThe good: 3-point shooting, off-ball movement
Needs improvement: Finishing around rim, playmaking
Bottom line: The 6-foot-5 Wichita State product found a role immediately as a rookie with the 76ers and played it to perfection, running off screens and dribble hand-offs like a JJ Redick clone, then he got traded to the Clippers and played even better. Pretty much every shooting metric available was off the charts for Shamet, who became a permanent fixture in the Clippers' starting lineup almost immediately after his arrival. His quick release and ability to work off screens is vital for movement and floor spacing, and the next phase of his game will be learning how to attack closeouts and create for teammates. But as for now, Shamet had about as good of a rookie season relative to expectations as you can hope -- and he'll gain valuable playoff experience as well.
Mitchell Robinson New York Knicks C
Stats: 7.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 69% FGThe good: Elite shot-blocking, rebounding, rim-running
Needs improvement: Offensive repertoire, defensive discipline
Bottom line: The 7-foot-1 rookie became a shot-blocking legend after rejecting nine shots in just 22 minutes in a November loss to Orlando. That seemed to be the only area where he showed much promise, until he started getting more playing time toward the end of the season and revealed a much higher ceiling. Robinson nearly averaged a double-double after the All-Star break, and put up 11.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game in seven starts to close the season. His streak of 29 consecutive games with multiple blocked shots, which came to an end on the last day of the season, put him alongside greats like David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo. Robinson is extremely raw -- he pretty much only dunks offensively and is apt to leap at even the subtlest of pump fakes, like many young shot-blockers -- but he showed incredible potential to close the season.
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