Shiny & New Theme Week

Ayton, Doncic among 10 key rookies to watch in 2018-19

Bevy of talent from 2018 Draft stands to impact coming season

Drew Packham,

What’s more Shiny and New than a raw, talented class of rookie class ready to show off what it’s got?

The beauty of the NBA is that every season brings a fresh crop of young talent, many of whom are able to step in and contribute in big ways right away.

So which of this year’s rookies will shine brightest? Here’s a look at five leading candidates for Kia Rookie of the Year (and a few others to keep an eye on).

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Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

All eyes will be on the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 Draft immediately, and not just because of his size. The chiseled center will be the focus of the offense immediately with current star Devin Booker still rusty to start the season coming off a hand injury. Ayton, at 7-foot-1, has the size and athletic ability to make an instant impact on a franchise that doesn’t have a long list of dominant centers. Through the Suns’ first three preseason games, Ayton is averaging 21.3 points and 12.7 rebounds in 30 minutes per game. He’s finished several alley-oops off pick and rolls and shown the ability to knock down the mid-range jumper. He likely won’t approach those numbers – especially when Booker returns — but about 15 points and 10 rebounds a night isn’t hard to imagine. The Suns are still far off from challenging in the crowded West, but Ayton should at least be in the running for Kia Rookie of the Year.

Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Doncic is just 19 years old, but thanks to his experience playing in Spain, many see him as the favorite to take home Kia Rookie of the Year honors. And it’s not hard to see why. The Slovenian playmaker comes to the league with a reputation as a ballhandling floor general in the mold of Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, but with outside range to match. So far in the preseason, that range and passing ability has been on display. At 6-foot-7, Doncic is a tough matchup for opponents. Slower defenders can’t handle his ballhandling or 3-point range, and he has the size to bully smaller defenders. The Mavs are starting him as a forward, but his versatility allows him to do a little bit of everything based on the matchups. With the Mavericks likely to be out of the playoff mix in the loaded West, Doncic should have every opportunity to put up big numbers. He’ll definitely be a must-see on NBA League Pass all season.

Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

Thanks to the Hawks’ Draft night trade with the Mavericks, Young will forever be tied to Doncic and enters the season facing immediate pressure. Did Atlanta make the wrong move? Should they have stuck with Doncic? Only time will tell, but Hawks fans will be constantly checking box scores to compare the pair. Young will have every chance to prove his worth right away as the starter for a team lacking a superstar but filled with unsung young, athletic talent. John Collins has breakout potential, giving Young a big man to connect with — Young is averaging five assists per game in the preseason — but there’s not much else to get excited about. It ultimately will be Young’s ability to knock down shots that will determine his future. So far, the results have been underwhelming for the 6-foot-2 guard, who struggled in NBA Summer League and is hitting at a 35.9 percent clip (25 percent on 3s) through three preseason games. Until he can figure out how to score in the NBA as an undersized guard, those shooting numbers will likely continue. However, scoring and playmaking should be there and keep Young in the spotlight and in consideration for the Kia ROY.

Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls

The Bulls are expected to be at the bottom of the Eastern Conference this season, which means they will likely turn more and more to their big man from Duke. He’ll start the season coming off the bench to spell Robin Lopez at center (Fred Hoiberg says Carter will play exclusively at center), but he could see more time — including crunch-time minutes — as he continues to grow. With Lauri Markkanen out to start the season, Carter will be able to contribute right away. His numbers from NBA Summer League — 14.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2.6 bpg, 55.1 FG pct. — have Bulls fans excited to see what’s next for the 19-year-old. Carter has already won over his fellow rookies, as they tabbed him in’s Rookie Survey as the player who will have the best NBA career. We’ll have to see how that plays out, but it’s likely Carter could end up being a steal as the Draft’s No. 7 pick.

Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James is gone, and so are the Cavs’ hopes to come out of the East. They’ve still got veteran talent with Kevin Love, George Hill and Kyle Korver, but if things go south (as some expect), Sexton should find himself playing more of a central role. Already he’s projected to play heavy minutes — whether starting alongside Hill or backing him up — and should put up decent numbers. He’s a scoring point guard more than a distributor, averaging 19.2 ppg (compared to 3.6 assists per game) in his lone season at Alabama. Sexton, of course, was the primary scoring option for the Crimson Tide, who relied on him to be a playmaker who could get to the rim — which is how he scored most of his points. The knock on him entering the Draft was his outside shooting, so if he can improve in that arena, he could find himself making a name for himself.


Kevin Knox, New York Knicks: With Kristaps Porzingis still out, Knox will have a chance to shine right away. He’s got the size and outside touch to make a mark at Madison Square Garden and become a starter and building block for the Knicks.

Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings: The No. 2 pick should contribute right away, thanks to an NBA-ready body and a Kings team looking for a star. Bagley has the size and athleticism to compete in the post, with an outside shot that will only improve. He very easily could approach double-double averages.

Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies: The No. 4 pick has the size (6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan) to give Memphis a rim protector on defense and the shooting touch to knock down the outside shot. He might not see as much playing time as other rookies right away, but he has the added bonus of being mentored by Marc Gasol, which should help his long-term prospects.

Mo Bamba, Orlando Magic: Bamba will make his mark this season on the defensive end, which should please new coach Steve Clifford. Bamba has the size and athleticism — and wingspan — to give Orlando a true rim protector (alongside Jonathan Isaac) down low. He won’t likely put up big offensive numbers, but he should be top five among rookies in rebounding and blocks.

Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets: Bridges will see plenty of playing time thanks to his ability to play multiple positions. New coach James Borrego is already raving about Bridges’ versatility and his quick learning curve. He should help anchor the second unit and could approach double-digits in scoring thanks to a high motor and ability to step out and hit from beyond the arc.

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