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Measuring The Upside: The Rookies

The 2023-2024 NBA season will be a proving ground for the league’s best young talent and provide inclinations on what they will do throughout their careers. In the summer of 2023, there was hysteria throughout the NBA media about who would get the #1 overall pick because of Victor Wembenyama’s potential. Brandon Miller was drafted #2 by the Charlotte Hornets, and Scoot Henderson #3 by the Portland Trailblazers. These three headlined the draft, but many underrated rookies could help their respective teams this season. 


Victor was drafted #1 in the NBA draft by the San Antonio Spurs. His potential puts him above the competition. The 7’4 big man who can dribble like a guard and pull up from anywhere on the court has captivated the masses.  His defensive prowess is also something for opposing teams to worry about because of his ability to stop a shot attempt with his wingspan. There aren’t any glaring weaknesses for Wembenyama, but he will need to add muscle to his frame for strength. He is only 19 years old, and his body will continue to develop naturally over the years.  


During his rookie season, he is currently averaging 20 PPG, 8.2 RPG, and 2 APG through six games played.  He has given the Spurs franchise new life and something to look forward to for the next decade. His arrival enticed Spurs Head Coach, Gregg Popovich, to sign a 5-year contract extension at 74 years old. In his most recent performance, he put 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 blocks in an overtime loss versus the Toronto Raptors on November 5th. 


The Charlotte Hornets have been in a rebuild for the past few years. They finally have their star for the future in Lamelo Ball, and he just signed a 260 million 5-year contract extension so he will be there long-term unless he requests a trade. This meant they had to acquire his co-star for the future, and with the #2 pick in the 2023 NBA draft, they had their chance. Brandon Miller is a cerebral offensive force who possesses the ability to shoot and slash. He also proved himself as a clutch shooter in college for the University Of Alabama during March Madness. His draft selection provides much-needed spacing for Lamelo because of Miller’s scoring threat.


He is currently averaging 13.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 1.7 APG. The shooting will complement Ball’s playmaking ability since he’s averaged 7 assists per game without having elite shooters around him. He can also drive to the rim distracting defenses for a “drive and kick” situation for Ball and many other offensive sets.  It’ll be intriguing to see how they develop alongside each other for years to come.


Scoot Henderson arrived in Portland at the right time for the franchise. The Trailblazers are in somewhat of a rebuild after trading their centerpiece, Damian Lillard, to the Milwaukee Bucks. Lillard played for the franchise from 2012 to 2022, but the team could never build a championship-worthy core around him. They received some young talent in the trade including Deandre Ayton from the Phoenix Suns and Robert Williams from the Boston Celtics to help with interior defense and scoring. 


When they drafted Henderson, it was obvious they were about to move on, and he has some big shoes to fill for the future.  As of November 9th, Henderson is currently averaging 9 Points and 5 assists a game.  He is shooting 34.6 % from the field with an average of 28 minutes.  Henderson is very athletic, but his shooting needs to improve for his team to win. It could take a little while for his shooting to be at the NBA standard for a guard in the modern era. 


Chauncey Billups will have to devise a system that could work for Henderson while he improves his jump shot, but it might take time as they form a team around him over the next few years. Henderson still has a lot of upside with everything he showcased for G-League Ingnite he just needs time to grow. 


Among the guards of the draft, the Thompson twins were two of the biggest names. They shined at Overtime Elite for the City Reapers. They impressed scouts so much that they were both chosen in the top 5 of the draft. Ausar has already impacted the Detroit Pistons with his defense and rebounding. He is a big shooting guard standing at 6’7 with a 7’0 wingspan.  After playing eight games,  he is averaging 12 PPG, 9.0 RPG, and 3.0 APG. For a rookie, he is showing great defensive promise against NBA-level competition. He is also good at grabbing offensive rebounds at an average of  2.4 per game.


Ausar joins the young core of Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, and Jalen Duren. The Pistons have an exciting future with Cunningham leading them, and now the front office is putting together a good supporting cast around their centerpiece. Thompson has fit right into his role with the team, and if he keeps up this level of play he will be in the rookie of the year race. 


Amen Thompson is still trying to find his role in Houston under Ime Udoka. He is currently averaging 6.2 PPG, 2.8 RPG, and 1.5 APG. He is shooting 41% from the field and playing good defense like his brother. His jump shot was a big question when he was drafted, and the Rockets will need to help him develop it over time. A coach like Udoka amplifies his defensive ability with his defensive game plans and zones. He’ll be alongside Jabari Smith Jr and Jalen Green for the next couple of seasons, so only time will tell how it all plays out. 


When the 2023 NBA draft came around the Dallas Mavericks knew they needed better rim protection and rebounding. Head Coach, Jason Kidd, has been critical of their defense for the past two years. They had the 12th pick and selected Dereck Lively II from Duke University. Lively has been on the team for eight games and his stats are 9.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, and 1.0 BPG. He is an athletic 7’1 center who is light on his feet. The mobility allows him to cause havoc in the paint contesting shot attempts and crashing the boards. 

 

Lively’s interior defense is something they needed for a while. Dwight Powell served as their starting center for a few years, but his primary position was power forward. Lively has been drafted into a great situation to play alongside superstar duo Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. Doncic and Irving can mentor him as he gets acclimated to the NBA level. They are currently 6-2 after missing the playoffs last year, and the franchise finally has their Center for the future.


One of the best rookies so far this season technically isn’t a rookie, but Chet Holmgren is looking good after his injury last year. During a Pro-am game during the summer of 2022, Holmgren was guarding Lakers Forward Lebron James on a lay-up attempt when he injured his foot. He was diagnosed with a Lisfranc foot injury and missed the entire season before it began.  


He was drafted #2 overall pick by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2022 NBA draft after one season at Gonzaga. He is a 7’0 Power Forward with great offensive potential and good size for the position.  He can shoot the ball from anywhere on the court and provides Shai Gilieous-Alexander with more spacing to run isolation plays and a shooter from the power forward position. Pick and pops will be an option for them since Chet is big enough to set effective screens and shoot midranges to 3-pointers.  He is currently averaging 17.3 PPG and 8 RPG while shooting 56% from the field. Most recently, he scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds when OKC played the Hawks on November 6th. 


Oklahoma’s young core will mature very nicely since they are so young and showcasing so much improvement. Josh Giddey will be Shai’s backcourt partner for years to come. Their chemistry is undeniable, and they’re leading the team every night. Now with Homlgren, they have their 3rd piece to complete a potential trio of stars for their future.


Most of the NBA’s most notable stars are all in their mid-30s now. From the Miami Heat era to the Golden State era all of the stars that ruled the previous decade will retire in the next few years. All of these rookies have a chance to be a part of the next era of stars in the league. All of their situations are centered around them, and it will interesting to see how they all deal with the pressures of the NBA individually. As of right now Victor is leading the charge of new talent, but the others can make the race competitive as the season continues.

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