NBA: Five Under the Radar Rookies to Watch
So far the 2018 NBA Draft Class has done pretty well for itself as the All-Star break nears. Guys who were expected to be instant difference makers have lived up to the expectations. However, with all the well-known rookies such as Luka Doncic and Trae Young, there are quite a few rookies making a difference for their teams that aren’t on the national spotlight. This article will highlight some rookies who are flying under the radar that are impacting their squads in a positive way.
The New York Knicks are in full “Tank for Zion” mode this season as they currently hold one of the worst records in the NBA. Allonzo Trier has been one of the lone bright spots on the season, however. Trier signed out of Arizona and burst onto the scene for the Knicks during the preseason with some strong performances. Trier currently ranks in the top 10 in scoring amongst rookies at about 10.5 ppg. He also contributes about 3 rebounds and 2 assists per game in about 22 minutes. The Knicks tanking has definitely benefited Trier as Fizdale has said that he is playing the young guys more to see what they have. Lost in the some-what boring allure of James Harden‘s 61 points against the Knicks was that Trier dropped a career-high 31 points along with 10 rebounds that night. He was a big reason why they were still in that game. He’s been the reason they’ve been in quite a few games this season.
What’s good about Trier is his fearlessness. No matter who is guarding him, he doesn’t seem phased or backs down. He has an attack mentality and plays bigger than he appears. And even if he isn’t scoring he’ll give you effort on the defensive end and with hustle plays. It’s for these reasons that the Knicks ended up signing Trier, who was on a two-way contract, to a 2 year, $7M deal with a team option for the second year back in December. It’s clear the Knicks front office sees Trier as part of their immediate future. And even if they don’t, Trier has shown he can be a serviceable guard in this league.
Although this season has been full of nice surprises for the Brooklyn Nets, arguably one of the biggest has been the play of rookie Rodions Kurucs. Drafted in the 2nd round, the 6’9″ 20-year-old from Latvia actually started the season on the Long Island Nets, Brooklyn’s G-League affiliate. After a bunch of early-season injuries to the Nets roster, Kurucs found himself called up to the big leagues and has run with his opportunity. In 35 games on the season, he’s averaging just over 9 points and 3 rebounds per game. He has even started a handful of games while the Nets roster has been decimated with injuries to key guys. So far on the season, his career high is 24 points which he reached twice.
His length and surprising quickness allow him to guard most wings and even some guards. He is even a pretty sound shooter from 3 point range as he shoots it at around 30%. And from the free throw line, he shoots it at 90%. What makes Kurucs’ play so much more impressive is the fact that he is giving quality minutes on a team in the midst of a playoff run. When the Nets finally get healthy it will be interesting to see how much Rodions’ role will change. But so far it’s clear he was the biggest steal of the draft.
Drafted with the 26th pick in the NBA Draft, Shamet has turned into a pretty significant role player for the Sixers. At Wichita State, Shamet was one of their leading scorers and a true threat to shoot from deep. When the Sixers traded away Robert Covington and Dario Saric for Jimmy Butler, one of the concerns was that the team would lack 3-point shooting outside of J.J. Reddick. However, Shamet has turned out to be a reliable 3 point threat for Philadelphia. He leads all rookies in 3-point shooting percentage and is second in total 3 pointers made.
On the year he’s shooting an impressive 40% from beyond the arc and shooting 44% from the field in general. In just about 20 minutes per game Landry is averaging just over 8 ppg. He’s not just a spot up shooter though. Landry has the athleticism to drive the basket and also create space for others. His season high on the year was 29 points in a win against the Wizards. A game in which he made a career-high eight 3-pointers. With Reddick already keeping defenses honest with his shooting ability it will be interesting to see lineups involving both of them on the court at the same time.
Robinson is another one of the lone bright spots in a season full of turmoil for the Knicks. Still extremely raw, Robinson has shown he has the potential to be a significant big man in this league. The Knicks drafted Robinson with the 36th pick in the draft. Before this season his last competitive play was in high school. Although he committed to Western Kentucky he never suited up for them. His talent may be raw you can’t teach size. The 7’1 Robinson weighs in at just over 230 pounds, has a 7’4 wingspan and a 9’3 vertical reach. He is also extremely athletic and he puts that athleticism on display every time he’s on the court.
His size and jumping ability allow him to be a presence in the paint. He’s currently2nd amongst NBA rookies in total blocks at 70 but has only played in 34 games on the season. Jaren Jackson Jr leads all rookies in blocks with 77 but has played about 17 more games than Robinson just to give of comparison of how impressive his shot blocking ability is. Over his last 7 games, he is averaging over 2 blocks per game. His leaping ability is also on display every night as he’s constantly on highlight reels catching ridiculous alley-oop or put back slams. Robinson is a project player that will take some time. However, when it’s all said and done, Knicks fans hope it’s something special.
Behind all the shine and stardom of fellow rookie Trae Young, Kevin Huerter is quietly showing he has what it takes to be a quality player in this league. Drafted with the 19th pick out of Maryland, Huerter provided a nice boost off the bench. However, his excellent play has put him in the starting lineup. Out of 45 games, he has started in 29 of them. Although he may not look it, Huerter is a scorer and knows how to get to his spots on the floor. He averages 9 ppg as well as 2.6 apg and 3.6 rpg in 27 minutes per game. From the field, he is shooting 40% and shoots it at about 37% from 3-point range. The Hawks are currently in a rebuild mode with quite a few young pieces like Young, John Collins, and Taurean Prince. Now you can add Huerter to that list.
Are there any other rookies that are flying under the radar in the NBA? Leave a comment below.
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