3 NBA Rookies Outperforming Their Draft Position

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New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley (5) dribbles past Sacramento Kings guard Cory Joseph (9) in the first quarter at the Golden 1 Center.

The rookie overreaction is a common occurrence at this point in the season. After seeing most rookies play fifteen or more games, people begin to make their minds up regarding a player’s ability. While such sudden assumptions are generally incorrect, a few rookies have proven that teams should not have passed them when they had the chance.

Knicks rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley has been one player who has stood out early on in the season. Here are three rookies who have outplayed their draft position so far this NBA season.

Immanuel Quickley, PG, New York Knicks (Selected 25th Overall)

New York Knicks shooting guard Immanuel Quickley (5) brings the ball up court against the LA Clippers during the third quarter at Madison Square Garden.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The easiest pick on the list, Quickley is shaping up to be one of the best draft selections in recent memory for the Knicks. While his initial draft projection was more towards the second round, Quickley’s play so far is showing he may have been worth a lottery selection.

In roughly 19 minutes per game this season, Quickley is averaging 12.2 points and 2.7 assists per game. He is 37% from three on 4.4 attempts per game and shooting an astounding 92.6% from the charity stripe. Every metric measuring Quickley’s play has been positive and encouraging.

The Knicks are 2.1 points per 100 possessions better with him [Quickley] on the floor, and when he shares the court with New York’s two other cornerstones, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, they are killing opponents by 14.3 points per 100 possessions. These aren’t exactly low-leverage moments, either. He’s played 37.5 percent of his minutes in the fourth quarter, and his scoring efficiency has actually gone up later in games.

Sam Quinn, CBS Sports

Quickley’s Polished Game

Offensively, there is little that Quickley can�t do. Quickley ranks in the 82nd percentile amongst all eligible players when operating as the pick and roll ball handler. On the Knicks, he has the second-highest points per possession as the pick and roll ball handler. While he operates out of the pick and roll with the highest frequency, his turnover percentage is the lowest among Knicks players. Quickley loves to put his defender in jail and then use his effective floater game to generate offensive points. Quickely forces teams to go over screens due to his demonstrated shooting ability. This opens up more space for Quickley to operate in the lane.

Quickley is a better defensive player than he is given credit for. Opponents’ field goal percentage when he is the defender is the fourth lowest amongst all rookies (min 13 games played). He is active on the defensive end and fights to get over screens. While his effort is the minimum, the results produced have been encouraging.

If Tom Thibodeau would give Quickley more minutes, it is fair to think that the former Kentucky man may be in contention for Rookie of the Year. Thibodeau has yet to start Quickley in a game, opting for the less-savvy Elfrid Payton. While Quickley will continue to assume his bench role for the foreseeable future, his performance has been proving many people wrong this season.

Desmond Bane, SG, Memphis Grizzlies (Selected 30th Overall)

Memphis Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane (22) during the game at FedExForum.
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Grizzlies front office deserves more recognition for the job they have done over the years. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and De�Anthony Melton are just a few of the players who have been drafted by Chris Wallace and the rest of the Memphis front office. While Xavier Tillman just missed the cut, it is impossible to leave Bane out of the top 3.

The former TCU shooting guard has burst onto the scene for the Grizzlies. He was the last pick of the first round and was traded to the Grizzlies from the Celtics. Scouts were concerned about his scoring ability at all three levels and his �negative wingspan.� Standing at 6�6, Bane possesses a wingspan of just 6�3. Neither issue has seemed to be problematic so far this season.

An Elite Shooter in the Making

Bane is shooting an outstanding 50.8% from three this season. While it is on less than four attempts per game, he has also shown he can convert at a similar rate on higher volume. Bane�s spot-up shooting numbers rank in the 91st percentile. His points per possession on spot-up shooting rank 6th amongst all eligible players in the league (min 3.5 possessions per game). To put that in perspective, Bane�s points per possessions rank in front of players like Joe Harris, Devin Booker, and Eric Gordon, some of the best spot-up shooters in the league.

Defensively, Bane has been a pleasant surprise. He ranks first amongst all rookies in defensive win shares. He defends well on the perimeter, with opponents shooting 34.4% from the outside with Bane as the defender. The two-man combination of Bane and Memphis point guard Tyus Jones, a defensive-minded guard, has a point differential of +3.4 points over 170 minutes played. Bane’s presence in the backcourt for the second unit has been crucial for the Grizzlies’ success this season.

Tyrese Haliburton, PG, Sacramento Kings (Selected at 12th Overall)

Sacramento Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton (0) drives to the basket as Miami Heat forward Kelly Olynyk (9) defends on the play in the first quarter at American Airlines Arena.
Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

While he is not necessarily outperforming his draft position, it would not be fair to leave Haliburton out of the top 3. The Kings rookie was one of the highest touted prospects coming into this year’s draft. However, he was close to slipping out of the lottery before being selected by Sacramento at 12. A redraft would easily have Haliburton within the top 10.

While only starting one game so far this season, Haliburton is averaging 11.2 points and 5.4 assists per game. Despite his unconventional jump shot, Haliburton is shooting a proficient 42.3% from beyond the arc on over five attempts per game. His 0.91 points per possession as the pick and roll ball handler is best amongst all Kings players (min 3 possessions per game). Haliburton also accounts for over a third of the Kings’ total assists this year. He has proven early on that he can be a secondary playmaker alongside De’Aaron Fox.

While measuring in at 6’5, Haliburton possesses a 7-foot wingspan. This was one of his physical traits that excited scouts about his defensive potential. So far, that potential is paying off in a big way for the Kings. Haliburton has used his long arms to disrupt opponents on the perimeter and in the lane. Opponents are shooting just 33.9% on mid-range jumpers when guarded by Halliburton. This mark is the 5th-lowest in the entire league. His 22 steals and 12 blocks are also testaments to Haliburton’s’ defensive prowess.

Outperforming Fellow Rookies

Haliburton has performed well compared to his fellow rookie guards. While LaMelo Ball has definitely been better than Haliburton, the same can’t be said for guards like Detroit’s Killian Hayes and Washington’s Deni Avdija. Hayes suffered a significant injury and has not played in a game since January 4th. However, even before the injury, the early signs from Hayes had not been encouraging. Avdija has struggled to fit in alongside Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal in Washington. It still is early in both Avdija, and Hayes careers, and they have both have the talent to be solid NBA players. However, after seeing Haliburton’s performance so far this season, both the Pistons and Wizards might be wishing they had selected Haliburton before he fell to the Kings at twelve.

Honorable Mentions

Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) defends against Boston Celtics guard Payton Pritchard (11) in the third quarter at TD Garden.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Payton Pritchard, PG, Boston Celtics (Selected 26th Overall)

A tough omission from the top 3, the rookie point guard out of Oregon excelled in Kemba Walker�s absence early on in the season. In the first 12 games of the season where Walker didn�t play, Pritchard averaged 9.3 points and 3.1 assists per game. While not the most eye-popping numbers, Pritchard was a difference-maker for this Celtics team in Walker�s absence.

His savvy play in the pick and roll generated easy buckets for teammates. His 58.9 effective field goal percentage ranks 4th amongst all rookies (min 20 minutes per game). Celtics coach Brad Stevens clearly trusts him in crunch time. Pritchard hit the game-winning layup to beat the Heat back in January. Undersized guards who stay four years in college have fared well in the league, and Pritchard is the latest example.

Xavier Tillman Sr., PF/C, Memphis Grizzlies (Selected 35th Overall)

Tillman Sr�s play hasn�t been good enough to warrant a spot in the top 3, but the former Michigan State man has been impressive to start the season. After being inactive for the five games, Tillman has played at least 17 minutes in every game. Offensively, Tillman has a nice touch in and around the basket. With the jump shot a work in progress, Tillman has made most of his points off hustle plays, like tip shots or cuts to the basket.

His athleticism is evident on the perimeter as he moves his feet well to contest three balls from guards. While the stats may not suggest a significant impact, the Grizzlies appear to have found another value pick up in the second round.

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