We're a few weeks into the 2020-21 NBA season, so it's time to kick off this year's weekly rookie rankings. Unlike last season, where Zion Williamson and Ja Morant ruled the headlines for the majority of the season, this crop of rookies doesn't have one surefire player to steal all of the limelight. That will make it far more interesting to watch as under-the-radar, first-year players try to burst onto the scene in the league.
In a draft class that was heralded as not being as enticing or as deep as the previous couple drafts, we've already seen some pleasant surprises. Payton Pritchard has stepped up to the challenge for the Boston Celtics off the bench, as Kemba Walker still recovers from a knee injury. LaMelo Ball has more than lived up to the hype that's followed him around since high school, and Tyrese Haliburton is proving all those who skipped over him the draft incredibly wrong.
These rankings will reflect a rookie's performance on a week-to-week basis, not the collective season, so these aren't Rookie of the Year standings. With that straightened out, here are the first Rookie Power Rankings of the 2020-21 season.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft has looked impressive in the early going this season. His standout performance thus far was in the Timberwolves' latest game against the Portland Trail Blazers, where he put up a career-high 26 points off the bench, to go along with four boards and two steals. There's a level of confidence that comes with Edwards' game that isn't typical for most rookies, and he's living up to the label as the most dynamic scorer in his draft class. His most exciting play came against the Blazers, as he showed off his athleticism and blew past his defender on the wing to take off for an emphatic dunk over two Portland players. Oh, and also that dunk over Nikola Jokic, where his head touched the underside of the backboard (!!) in the process.
His 3-point shooting isn't quite where it needs to be just yet, as he's shooting a lowly 28.8 percent from deep, but his smooth shooting form and the green light he's been given to take those shots means that he'll eventually start to knock those down.
There wasn't a more hyped player coming out of this draft class than the youngest brother of the Ball family. An elite scorer with court vision just a tier below his brother's, Ball hasn't shied away from the big moments so far this season. He's been coming off the bench for Charlotte, due to the logjam of guards that the Hornets have in the backcourt, but so far it's worked for the best, as this team has pulled out some impressive early-season wins over the Mavericks, Nets and Hawks. That win over Dallas, has been Ball's most eye-opening performance to date. He put up 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists to finish the game a plus-8, and shot a ridiculous 7-of-10 from the field, and 4-of-5 from deep.
What's been most impressive about his game, has been his rebounding. In that game against the Mavs, he fought for an offensive board and was able to get a shot back up to beat the buzzer at the end of the first quarter. He's shown that he's not afraid to get down in the paint and fight for rebounds, similar to what Luka Doncic does with the Mavericks, and because of Ball's 6-7 frame, he has the size to actually come away with a decent amount of rebounds each game. His shooting is actually in a better place than many expected it to be early in his career, and despite having an awkward shooting form -- similar to his brother -- his quick, and high release allows him to get it off with no problems.
People will be talking about how Haliburton fell to the Kings for years to come, after tumbling down draft boards and landing with Sacramento as the No. 12 overall pick. He's been an absolute treat to watch, and after missing two games due to a wrist injury, his performance against the Bulls showed that he hadn't missed a step at all. He finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block, while shooting over 45 percent from both the field and 3-point range. It was a master class in what Haliburton can offer the Kings, which is a little bit of everything. Oh, and the icing on the cake, his fall-away stepback corner 3-pointer with 13 seconds left sealed the game for the Kings over the Bulls.
The funny thing about Halibruton's ridiculous performance to start the season, though, is that if he continues to play like this, it will be hard for Sacramento to keep him out of the starting lineup. Given the fact that Sacramento just got out of a situation where it had three great backcourt players and only two starting spots, the Kings may find themselves in a similar position later on this season. Even when things are good for Sacramento, it still manages to find itself in difficult situations.
Expectations were not high for Wiseman to start the season, having only played three games in college and not being able to fully participate in training camp or preseason due to isolating for COVID-19 protocols. However, he's more than cleared the incredibly low bar set for him so far. Wiseman has started in all eight games he's played this season, in part because Golden State has been incredibly short-handed, but also because he's earned it. At times he looks like the second-best -- and sometimes best -- player on the floor with the Warriors, as Stephen Curry struggled early on to shake off some considerable rust this season. His size and athleticism are obvious, but he's been a threat from 3-point range early on this season, something not many people expected to see so early on from him. He's a constant lob threat, he can step out and give you 3s, and he can put the ball on the floor and navigate through traffic.
While we'll have to wait until at least next season to see what Wiseman looks like with the Warriors at full strength once Klay Thompson returns, he's already proving to be their franchise center just eight games into his rookie year.
It's not every day you find a flamethrower late in the first round of the draft, but that's exactly what the Pistons did by picking Bey. He tied Luka Doncic for hitting the most 3s in their first seven career games in NBA history (19), he tied Allan Houston for most 3s made in a single game for a rookie in Pistons history (6) and in Detroit's most recent game against the Bucks, he posted his first career double-double with 20 points and 10 boards. These aren't just wide-open, spot-up looks, either. He's hitting contested shots, hitting defenders with a side-step dribble to create more space and has shown flashes of being able to knock them down off the dribble, too.
The downside here, though, is that while Bey has been phenomenal from deep, he's connecting on just 15 percent of his 2-point shots. That will quickly need to change in order for him to more than just a 3-point threat.
Not many people were too thrilled with this draft pick when it happened, but Williams has been a stud so far. He attacks the game with a poised presence that not many rookies have, and has already been compared to Kawhi Leonard, based on his defense, size of his hands and all-around demeanor. His defense has caught many people's attention, but his offense is nothing to gloss over either. His mid-range game is already stellar, as he uses his size against smaller defenders to get to his spots with ease, similar to Leonard, and he can also knock down 3s at a solid clip. His IQ on both ends of the floor is ridiculous for a first-year player, and he's shown that he can do a little bit of everything for Chicago.
Well, this still seems extremely trivial. But here's what Patrick Williams did last night while most of you in Chicago were sleeping, with some brief notes jotted down.— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) January 7, 2021
Going to try and keep these Williams packages to ~1 min and release them periodically throughout the year. pic.twitter.com/arbTjN1nOk
A new season, a new Grizzlies rookie impressing the masses. Last year it was Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke, this time around it's Bane's turn to shock everyone. He's scoring from everywhere on the floor: 3-point range, pulling up for mid-range jumpers and getting buckets around the rim. He can do it with or without the ball in his hands, and his stocky frame allows him to absorb contact when driving to the basket.
While he can get to the rim, though, he'll need to work on his finishing rate around the basket, as he often leaves shots too short. As he gets a better feel for the game, that should improve, making him even more dangerous on offense for the Grizzlies.
While Anthony's numbers show that he's been a decent contributor for the Magic, he's also been wildly inefficient in his shooting. He's shooting just 19 percent from deep, and a not much better 30.3 percent from the field. However, considering that in college he was known as being a dynamic scorer, those numbers shouldn't be too worrisome yet. Now that he'll be thrust into the starting lineup in absence of Markelle Fultz who suffered a torn ACL in the Magic's last game, he'll get plenty of reps and opportunity to improve his shooting numbers. While his shooting numbers aren't where they should be, though, Anthony's defense has been impressive so far, like this play where he manages to stay attached at the hip to Collin Sexton then finishes off the possession with a block.
He's still staying locked in on defense, and getting his teammates involved on the other end, which should be an encouraging sign for Orlando.
No one had Pritchard high on their draft boards, much less actually getting picked in the first round, but the Celtics saw potential with the undersized guard and so far their analysis of him is paying off. Pritchard's minutes have increased with each passing game, as he's become the de facto backup point guard while Walker is sidelined and Smart was moved to the starting lineup. In Boston's win over the Raptors, he put up 23 points and eight assists and against the Heat he drilled the game-winning putback layup.
He made the usually lockdown Raptors defense look like rec league at the local YMCA, and his defensive effort has also been top-notch. It's clear that he's been a steal for the Celtics thus far, and he looks to be like the needed spark plug off the bench for Boston.
It's difficult to make an impact on a championship-contending team as a rookie, but he's managed to make the most of the minutes he's given. Against the Pistons, he put up 11 points and went a perfect 3-of-3 from deep, showing that he can be a contributor off the bench for the Bucks squad. He can hit the stepback 3-pointer, can knock it down in the corner and put the ball on the floor and make a play off of the dribble.
He may see an increase in minutes over the course of the season if his play continues to trend in the right direction, but for now, he's making plays when he's called upon and that's really all you can ask of a rookie.