At the beginning of the 2020-21 NBA campaign, I took a look at
how this year's lottery class began their individual
Players aren’t expected to grasp every concept and adjust to the
physicality of the league right away, so the first season is where
mistakes are made, where roles change and minutes aren’t guaranteed
(*ahem* Malachi Flynn).
Regardless, it’s a good time to recognize strengths and take
some risky bets on a rookie’s future successes.
Simply put, it’s no longer too early to note the 2020 lottery
picks who have already begun to find their NBA identity, so here’s
a list of five players doing quite well in their roles as freshmen,
or, at least as well as one can do under the circumstances
of this unpredictable, first-of-its-kind season.
Minnesota Timberwolves, No. 1 overall pick
Stats: 16.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists per game
Okay, so that Edwards dunk on the Toronto Raptors’ precious Yuta
Watanabe has been immortalized. In the initial article where I took
a look at how the rookies were adjusting to playing NBA basketball,
I wondered whether Edwards’ charisma and charm would bleed its way
onto the court, and I’m delighted to confirm that it has.
Edwards is already looking to be a poised, bonafide scorer and
has already endeared himself to NBA viewers and players alike, who
frequently praise his highlights and postgame interviews. There’s
no doubt greater efficiency will come along with reps -- he’s
shooting just 38.5% from the field. But in spite of those numbers,
the Timberwolves should be pleased with the assertiveness Edwards’
15.6 field goal attempts per game represent. It’s tough to teach
that kind of confidence.
James Wiseman, Golden
State Warriors, No. 2 overall pick
Stats: 11.8 points, six rebounds, 0.6 assists per game
I can’t think of a stranger scenario for a top prospect to end
Due to injuries that decimated the Warriors’ roster for the
2019-2020 season, the tank that followed has led to a perennial NBA
Finals contender landing the second pick of the draft. For Wiseman,
that means entering a dynastic system that employs a superstar like
Steph Curry and the championship aspirations that come with it.
Because of the franchise’s goals, Wiseman’s flaws and drafting have
been ruthlessly scrutinized since the season began. But for his
sake, let’s remove these caveats and judge his play alone.
One thing I’ve already come to enjoy is Wiseman’s understanding
of his role, when rolling to the basket.
His agility needs to improve since his build has the potential
to give the Warriors a lot of defensive versatility, but for a big
man, cleaning up his ball handling and finishing lobs goes a long
way. It isn’t where his development will end, though finding some
strength and using his athleticism early is a great
LaMelo Ball, Charlotte
Hornets, No. 3 overall pick
Stats: 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists per game
So who doesn’t love the Hornets? Who doesn’t love LaMelo’s funky
strides and funkier passes? Who doesn’t love their panicky home
team commentators and the visceral, unabashed joy in his wails? Who
doesn’t love Scary Terry and the Gordon Hayward memes that come
with any political unrest? I do, and you should too!
There was some shock when Ball wasn’t selected with the first
pick, with discourse about whether teams should draft according to
“fit” versus “best available guy” flooding feeds everywhere.
It’s too early to say whether the shock was warranted, and
either way, LaMelo has eased his way into the league and has made
his NBL professional experience obvious (only took him a few months
to tune up his lower body shooting from). The ability to elevate
team play, confuse opposing defenses and instill confidence in
lineups is every trait you want to see in a lottery point guard.
One thing to note is his decent defensive instinct. LaMelo still
has ways to go, but an ability to cut off passing lanes – evidenced
in his 1.6 steals per game -- is interesting indeed for a 6-foot-6
Patrick Williams, Chicago
Bulls, No. 4 overall pick
Stats: 9.9 points,
4.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists per game
It’s hard for me to talk about Patrick Williams without
mentioning that his video for the e-draft featured a segment
detailing his job delivering flowers for his mother’s florist
business, but I’ll try.
It’s tough to find a niche on a team searching for an identity,
which Chicago is. Williams has, though, and that’s a testament to
his steadiness. Having across-the-board efficiency with such low
usage is no small feat. Gaining a power forward with a good shot
would be an awesome addition for the Bulls and with reps, it’s
reasonable to think that Williams will be more than capable to
build on the potential he’s been flashing.
Sacramento Kings, No. 12 overall pick
12.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists per game
Haliburton has become a favorite of mine among the rookies this
If there is a formula, “first year players that execute like a
veteran on the court” is probably the easiest indication of future
success. Already a 42.3% three-point shooter (on a significant
amount of attempts), Haliburton has a knack for draining long-range
shots. Paired with his 5.2 assists (against just 1.5 turnovers) in
a secondary role while playing less than 30 minutes a game? The
possibilities for him are endless.
At 6-foot 5, his rebounding should improve, and with the
confidence Haliburton already has in excess, it’s exciting to think
of how he’ll use his positional height advantage.
Stylistically, the Sacramento Kings have an awesome contrast
between him and De’Aaron Fox. With more time alongside one another,
they can act as backcourt puzzle pieces that give plenty of
playmaking and pace versatility for the Kings’ offense.