The 2018 NBA Draft is likely to produce at least a few stars, especially with the top-three picks looking as advertised in Deandre Ayton (No. 2 for rookies in PER), Marvin Bagley III (making strides with a few monster games lately) and Luka Doncic (he looks incredible and seems a near lock to win Rookie of the Year).
But there’s some talent emerging from players selected deep in the draft, and even from players that went undrafted. Let’s take a look at five rookies who weren’t selected in the first round that are making an impact this season.
Mitchell Robinson, C, New York Knicks
The New York Knicks are tied with the Phoenix Suns for an NBA-worst 12 wins this season, and would even be a few games worse if not for the positive contributions from a second-round pick. Mitchell Robinson — selected 56th overall out of Western Kentucky — has been outstanding in his rookie campaign. Robinson leads all rookies in Player Efficiency Rating at 21.14, and has been valued at 3.3 Win Shares.
The 7’1″ center is third among all NBA players in blocked shots per game, with 2.2. That’s despite playing only 18.0 minutes per game. In blocks per 48 minutes, Robinson ranks first in the NBA at 5.87. And over the last 15 games, he’s averaging 5.5 blocks per 36 minutes.
When asked this week how many blocks Robinson thinks he could average with normal minutes, he said, “Probably around six.”
Knicks rookie Mitchell Robinson says he could get six blocks per game with more minutes.
Right now he’s at 2.2 BLK in 18 MPG 😳
— Bleacher Report NBA (@BR_NBA) February 26, 2019
Well, the numbers lately would suggest Robinson’s comment isn’t ridiculous. That number would more than double the current league-leading blocks-per-game total of 2.74 (Myles Turner).
Robinson is already an elite rim-protector and has the upside to get much better, especially on the offensive end (he still leads rookies in field goal percentage and true shooting percentage). The Knicks have been an embarrassing circus, but they deserve credit for this second-round steal, and actually have an exciting piece to build around.
Jalen Brunson, PG, Dallas Mavericks
Jalen Brunson had a remarkable college hoops career at Villanova, winning two national championships and the 2018 National Player of the Year award. Despite his collegiate success, Brunson fell to the Dallas Mavericks 33rd pick of the 2018 NBA Draft. While Brunson may not have the upside of most players selected ahead of him, he’s quickly proven to be a useful NBA point guard for the Dallas Mavericks.
In February, Brunson is averaging 10.6 points (41.4% on threes), 3.9 rebounds, and 3.8 assists in 26.2 minutes. Last Friday against the Denver Nuggets (video shown above), he scored 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field.
Among rookies, Brunson ranks 17th in PER (10.95), eighth in assists per game (2.5), and fifth in three-point percentage (36.3).
Rodions Kurucs, SF, Brooklyn Nets
The 6’9″ Latvian was selected by the Brooklyn Nets with the 40th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, and didn’t take long to show he was a steal. Kurucs scored double-digit points in two of his first three career games, and has put together two 24-point efforts.
Kurucs combines a 7’2″ wingspan with good outside shooting ability (34-of-112 on threes), and the ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the basket.
Kurucs ranks 16th among rookies in PER (11.28), ninth in true shooting percentage (.556), 12th in points per game (8.6), and second in free-throw percentage (88.1). He has a tantalizing set of skills, and still has a lot of room to grow.
Hamidou Diallo, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder
You’re likely very well aware of Diallo by now after the show he put on in the Slam Dunk Contest.
The 45th overall pick out of Kentucky is an otherworldly athlete, and — along with the Dunk Contest, of course — has shown that on occasion for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season. He has the makings of at least a nice sparkplug off the bench, with the ability to be much more than that if he can keep developing his offensive game.
Diallo — 21st among rookies in PER — scored 18 points on 7-of-7 shooting from the field against the Sacramento Kings in November.
Allonzo Trier, SG, New York Knicks
Technically Allonzo Trier wasn’t even a second-round pick- he was undrafted. But that only makes his contributions more impressive, right? So we’ll include him here.
The former Arizona Wildcat is ninth among rookies in scoring at 10.1 points per game. Only first-round picks have averaged more points. Trier has scored at least 15 points in a game 12 times this season, including a 31-point effort against the Houston Rockets in January.
Trier’s been particularly effective from three-point land, shooting 37.5% behind the arc (fourth among rookies). The metrics also think he’s been among the best rookies this year, with his PER checking in 13th for rookies at 11.91. It’s scary to think just how bad the Knicks would be without Trier and Robinson.