Sometimes it can be hard to realize that the NBA is more than just the dazzling play of a few superstars. For every LeBron James, there are a host of players working behind the scenes to help their teams win games. This series will focus on these players, guys whose good play has slipped through the cracks and deserves some recognition. Today we will be taking a look at three underappreciated NBA rookies and why they deserve more credit.
5.9 PTS, 3.9 REB, 0.6 AST, 10.3% ORB
While his numbers might not pop off the page, in fact, they look quite pedestrian, Precious Achiuwa is quietly putting together a set of skills that could make him extremely valuable to the Miami Heat moving forward.
After a stellar season at the University of Memphis, where he performed admirably without James Wiseman, Achiuwa slid all the way to the 20th pick in the NBA draft. This was due mainly to being one of the oldest top-tier prospects in his class as well as his perceived lack of size for an NBA big man.
But so far Precious has slowly, albeit quietly, proved the doubters wrong.
His size has rarely hindered him on an NBA court. Despite being listed at just 6-foot-8, Achiuwa is tenacious on the boards, routinely out hustling bigger forwards for rebounds. Look at this play over MVP-frontrunner Joel Embiid for example. Achiuwa is able to take advantage of a poor boxout from Embiid and immediately turn it into second-chance points. His offensive rebound percentage of 10.3% ranks in the top 20 in the entire league and is best among rookies.
At his best Achiuwa is a hyper-physical, high-energy player who can provide quick buckets inside and great rebounding from the power forward position. His game at the moment is most reminiscent of a less offensively gifted yet more rebound-oriented version of Montrezl Harrell. Both are small yet physical big men who are reluctant passers and need the ball in their hands to provide meaningful value on offense.
For Achiuwa to take the next step towards being a key piece for the Miami Heat he needs to develop more elite skills outside of his rebounding. He’s been able to work without the ball on offense through a steady diet of lobs and putbacks but is going to need to add more to his arsenal to be an effective scorer. But even in his current form, Achiuwa is a valuable part of the Heats rotation who deserves recognition and should earn more playing time as the Heat look to solve their offensive rebounding woes.
9.6 PTS, 2.6 REB, 1.4 AST, 44.9 3P%
The Memphis Grizzlies have been impeccable with their late first-round selections in recent years and Desmond Bane has been no exception.
Bane was a standout during his four years at TCU, making two All-Big 12 teams and leading the conference in three-pointers made during his senior season. As a well-rounded two-guard who can do a bit of everything, he would have been more highly touted if not for his age. But as things stood, Bane fell all the way to the last pick of the first round and into a great situation with the Memphis Grizzlies.
What makes Bane such a good fit on the Grizzlies is his compatibility with their best player, Ja Morant. Morant is primarily a slashing guard, rarely taking shots from deep, and loves to kick the ball outside off the drive for open looks. In order for such a strategy to work Memphis needs to surround Morant with a host of elite spot-up shooters and Bane certainly fits the bill.
Although Bane spent a lot of his time in college with the ball in his hands, he’s been able to quickly adapt to primarily playing off-ball. His deadly three-point shooting has transitioned seamlessly into the NBA without a drop in efficiency despite the extended range. His 44.9% shooting from long range ranks first among rookies and 11th in the entire league.
Bane is already a key piece of the Grizzlies rotation and in serious contention for a spot on one of the all-rookie teams. All with little coverage from the national media. If he continues to develop effectively, expect him to be an effective role player in the league for years to come.
9.8 PTS. 5.2 REB, 1.7 AST, 53.7 FG%
During the Houston Rockets’ ten-game skid into the dredges of the Western Conference standings, Jae’Sean Tate has been one of the team’s lone bright spots. Although he took a winding road to the NBA through three separate continents, he’s finally broken out as a unique defensive multitool with the skillset to help any team in the league.
Tate originally plied his trade at Ohio State, where he spent four years as a valuable member of the Buckeyes starting lineup. After going undrafted, Tate had a shot at making the league right away when he was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks for the 2018 NBA Summer League but an injury forced him out of contention for a roster spot. It would take two seasons of work abroad, one for the Antwerp Giants of the Belgian League and one for the Sydney Kings of the Australian National Basketball League before Tate finally got his shot with Houston this season.
What makes Tate such a valuable asset is his hustle and expertise on the defensive end. Although he stands at just 6-foot-4, his 6-foot-8, wingspan allows him to cover larger players while still having the quickness to clamp down guards. Tate is also an incredible hustle player, reminiscent of former Rocket Shane Battier. His constant extra effort and diving for loose balls has made him an early fan favorite in Houston and earned him a reputation as a formidable defensive player.
In recent weeks Tate has made his presence known on the offensive end as well. He’s averaging 12 points per game in the month of February on 56% shooting, providing an extra scoring touch to a Rockets offense that desperately needs it.
At 25 years old, Tate is already reaching the prime of his career and we should see his best basketball sooner rather than later. As it stands he’s been one of the best rookies this season and has a real claim to being on the all-rookie first team despite receiving scant attention from the critics.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com
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