While the Celtics’ Payton Prichard has enjoyed a surprisingly strong rookie season, he may have trouble getting on to one of the two All-Rookie teams because this season has produced a bumper crop of first-year players.
Let’s take a look at the league’s top rookies and the favorites for Rookie of the Year:
Anthony Edwards, Timberwolves
Edwards, the favorite for the award, has quietly put together a strong first season because the Timberwolves have been mostly insignificant. Edwards averaged 24.2 points in March and has improved steadily as a scorer and distributor. Minnesota is playing better of late, with two wins over the Jazz and one over the playoff-charging Warriors. It will be interesting to see if management can add a quality free agent to join Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns to bring Minnesota back to respectability.
LaMelo Ball, Hornets
He was the favorite before a wrist fracture derailed a sparkling season. There were questions about whether Ball could adapt quickly to the NBA having not played in college. But he showed he’s just as good of a playmaker and passer as older brother Lonzo, as well as a strong rebounder and reliable scorer. Ball is a cornerstone for the suddenly intriguing Hornets, who are expected to get Ball and former Celtic Gordon Hayward back for the postseason and could be a difficult first-round opponent.
Tyrese Haliburton, Kings
He was tabbed as the most NBA-ready player in the draft and he has proven that with a sparkling season for the underachieving Kings. Haliburton is averaging 12.8 points, 5.3 assists, and shooting 40.5 percent from the 3-point line. He will eventually team with De’Aaron Fox to form a formidable backcourt and he’s impressed with his maturity and ability to handle the offense. There were questions about to whether Haliburton’s low-release jumper would be an issue, but he’s turned into an above-average shooter.
Immanuel Quickley, Knicks
Taken right before Pritchard in the first round, Quickley has become a dependable backup point guard with the ability to score in spurts. He’s averaging 11.7 points in just 19.5 minutes per game and has helped stabilize New York’s bench. It’s one of the reasons why the Knicks have been a surprise team in Tom Thibodeau’s first season as coach.
James Wiseman, Warriors
He was taken second overall, and because of that he will always draw comparisons to Ball. (Could you imagine Ball teaming up with Stephen Curry?) But Wiseman produced a solid season before a knee injury ended it. He impressed teammates with his ability to run the floor and score at the rim, and he was quickly learning the Warriors’ culture. With Klay Thompson returning next season and the Warriors potentially adding a free agent, Wiseman can become part of a championship-caliber core.
Saddiq Bey, Pistons
Celtics fans can confirm the Villanova product can shoot from the perimeter, and he has been a reliable player for coach Dwane Casey. There’s a reason why the club negotiated a buyout with Blake Griffin. It wanted Bey to get more playing time in the frontcourt. In 27 games since the All-Star break, Bey is averaging 13.4 points as the Pistons try to build for the future. Bey has also made 143 3-pointers, an unexpected bonus.
Desmond Bane, Grizzlies
Celtics fans should know this guy’s name because he became the draft pick Boston traded to Memphis for future considerations because it didn’t want another guaranteed contract on the roster. What has Bane done as a rookie? He’s shooting 45.5 percent from the 3-point line and averaging 9.1 points in 22 minutes per game. Bane was an attractive pick because like Haliburton, he was NBA-ready and physically prepared for the highest level. He has turned into another quality piece for the young Grizzlies.
Patrick Williams, Bulls
The Bulls immediately turned him into a starter and defensive stopper, and he’s delivered. His offense will come along, but he’s a physical defender and a glue guy for Billy Donovan. The Bulls don’t need scoring with Zach LaVine, Coby White, and Nikola Vucevic on the roster. But they did need a premium defender. Williams was one of the reasons Chicago was able to stymie the Celtics in a win last month at TD Garden.
Isaiah Stewart, Pistons
The first-round pick from Washington has turned himself into a rugged player in the middle and a strong rebounder. Just 20 years old, Stewart could remain in the league for at least a decade by playing strong defense and hitting the boards. He’s averaging 6.7 rebounds in just 20 minutes and gives the Pistons a reason to be hopeful, along with Bey and Killian Hayes.
Payton Pritchard, Celtics
Taken 26th overall after a four-year career at Oregon, Pritchard entered the draft with question marks about whether a 6-foot-1-inch guard without elite athleticism could become a roster staple. He dispelled those doubts in training camp when he earned a minutes as a reserve. Since then, Pritchard has become a dependable scorer and tallied a career-high 28 points in this past week’s loss to Oklahoma City. Pritchard has experienced a couple of slumps, but he has become a mainstay in Brad Stevens’s rotation.
Isaac Okoro, Cavaliers
Another first-year player who has been overshadowed by his team’s lack of success, Okoro joined Darius Garland and Collin Sexton in the starting lineup as the third option and has become a defensive ace and solid finisher at the rim. Okoro’s offense still needs developing, but he’s an emerging defender and solid complement to a young backcourt.