This season the conversation around the NBA’s rookie class has been almost entirely focused on two players, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. Both are having monster rookie seasons and others like Brandon Clarke and Kendrick Nunn are playing well and getting recognition. Here are the NBA’s most underrated rookies.
Cameron Johnson: Phoenix Suns
PTS: 7.7 REB: 2.9 AST: 1.1 39% 3PT
Cam Johnson was quite a controversial pick when he was selected 11th overall by the Phoenix Suns in last year’s NBA draft. The 23-year-old from North Carolina was projected to go much later near the end of the first round. But Pheonix saw the potential in Johnson as an elite “3 and D” player.
So far in his rookie season, Johnson is proving that Phoenix made a solid choice. His 3-point shooting has been exactly what Phoenix was hoping for. He is currently shooting nearly 40 percent from three on 4.5 attempts per game.
His defense could still use some work but he has not been poor by any standards. Defensive metrics have him hovering around league average which is impressive for a rookie. If Johnson can continue his good 3-point shooting while improving his defense he can be a reliable player in the NBA for years to come.
PJ Washington: Charlotte Hornets
PTS: 11.8 REB: 5.5 AST: 2.1
During a rebuilding year for the Charlotte Hornets, P.J. Washington has been one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season. The Hornets drafted Washington 12th overall out of Kentucky in the hopes that he would be their power forward of the future.
Washington immediately cemented himself as the Hornets starting power forward to begin the season and has not left that role since, starting 47 of a possible 48 games. He has a well-rounded offensive game that is helped greatly by his fairly reliable 3-point shooting. He’s shooting nearly 38 percent from deep this season, a great sign in a league that continues to trend towards long-range shooting.
Washington’s most underrated asset is his defense. He averages almost a steal and a block a game, ranking in the top five among rookies in both categories. He is prone to some rookie mistakes on the defensive end but he is a promising young prospect on both ends of the court who could evolve into a very well rounded scorer who can guard multiple positions on defense.
Matisse Thybulle: Philadelphia 76ers
PTS: 4.8 REB: 1.5 AST: 1.2 1.4 STL
Some people (whoever chooses the NBA Rising Stars participants) might overlook Matisse Thybulle because of his paltry numbers and mediocre shooting percentages. But watch just a few minutes of Thybulle on the court and it’s easy to realize why he is considered one of the greatest defensive prospects in years.
For a rookie to have his level of defensive acumen is practically unheard of. Thybulle has incredibly quick hands and great defensive vision, always seeming to be in the right place at the right time to get a hand on the ball. He ranks in the top 20 in the NBA in steals, top 15 in defensive rating and defensive box plus-minus and his steal rate of 3.4 percent is the second-best in the league. Already he is one of the best defensive players in the NBA after just half a season of basketball
The Sixers found an absolute gem with the 20th overall pick and they would be wise to keep him around as a key piece for years to come.
Michael Porter Jr: Denver Nuggets
PTS: 8.0 REB: 4.4 AST: 0.7 MPG: 14.3
Remember when Michael Porter Jr was considered the best prospect in college basketball and a potential number one pick?
That all changed after injuries sidelined him for most of his lone college season and all of his would-be rookie season with the Denver Nuggets, who selected Porter 14th overall in the 2018 NBA draft.
This season Porter came in with few expectations besides to find his footing in the NBA. He has done much more than find his footing and is currently the Nugget’s most reliable scoring option off the bench. The Nuggets are still easing him back into things, he’s only played around 14 minutes a night on average, but that just makes his scoring all the more impressive. Per 36 minutes, Porter is averaging over 20 points per game and 11 rebounds, dominating numbers for a rookie.
Porter is also the deadliest 3-point shooter in his rookie class, shooting an absurd 43 percent from deep. If Porter can continue to improve his health and stamina he has the potential to become a guy who can drop 20 a night and be the third star beside Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray in Denver.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference
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