Well, it was quite the last week or so of NBA rookie action. LaMelo Ball became the youngest player to record a triple-double while others like Anthony Edwards learned difficult NBA lessons. Regardless of the ups and downs of this week, what’s becoming clear is this class is already better than expected. Though no one has fully separated themselves as the potential star of the class, it’s deep and full of early contributors. Thanks to this, this Tuesday column will be a ton of fun, analyzing one of the more interesting rookie classes we’ve seen in a while.
First, with LaMelo, let’s talk about the good. Now, many are going to point to the triple-double and that’s all well and good but we knew that would be in his game from day one. His passing was so special that was just going to translate as was his impressive ability to rebound the basketball for his position. What we didn’t know was where the jump shot would be. Well, the jury is still out because it’s obviously early and we have to have that caveat but even still, the fact he’s around league average from deep at 35 per cent is a massive win for Ball and the Hornets. Similarly, in putting up an assist to turnover ratio of 5.33 in the last week, Ball’s overall ability to protect the ball with the free-flowing way he plays is downright incredible. The negative remains defence though where he still is at times inattentive and loses his man. Even on that end though, his improvement over the course of just 11 games is a sight to behold. Now that he’s shown us all these positives, it’s about maintaining it for the rest of the season. Protecting the ball and shooting it well from deep is a positive sign over the course of a week, but it’s important we don’t overreact. If he can maintain his offensive production while also continuing to make strides defensively, he could very quickly become the separating star of this class.
Anthony Edwards so far has been a mixed bag. He’s leading the class in scoring so that’s good but shooting just 38 per cent from the floor obviously isn’t. His athleticism has translated as has his finishing ability, seeing him shoot an average 61 per cent inside three feet. Obviously not an exceptional number however early on rookies can often be intimated in there so it’s great to see him holding his own with a percentage higher than guys like Zion Williamson and Bradley Beal. To be quite honest, I’m not really worried about his shooting percentages. He’s been playing for a truly terrible team, asked to take a ton of tough shots and had some rough outings, it’s expected for a kid playing against men for the first time, especially since he hasn’t played organized ball since March. Like his two worst shooting performances were against Denver and the Lakers, I think those teams are a little better than Kentucky.
No, what worries me about Ant is his basketball IQ left a lot to be desired at Georgia and we’ve seen that continue in the pros. Not having the presence to finish a wide-open dunk in a three-point game with over 10 seconds left is a problem, no matter if you’re a rookie or not. Now I’m by no means saying this means he won’t be a star but the reality is, stars in this league are often defined by their incredible ability to make split-second decisions when it matters most. In a year-plus since he left high school, him having that it factor mental make up remains a question mark and that has to be what concerns Wolves fans. Of course, it’s early and he can learn so don’t dig the grave for him being an All-Star yet but if there’s one thing I want to see him improve on this season for it to be a success, it’s basketball IQ. When to shoot it, when not to, when to pass, all these basic mental things we take for granted. This kid has all the physical tools to be great, what he needs to get him there most though is an improvement in the mental side of the game.
I have a longstanding theory that is yet to fail me: bet on star, smart and savvy veteran college point guards in the NBA. It worked with Jalen Brunson, Fred VanVleet and Devonte’ Graham and so far, it’s working again with Payton Pritchard. Of course, Pritchard looks more like a middle school teaching assistant than a winning NBA player and yet, here we are. He’s top five in his rookie class in assists and steals and shooting 42.3 per cent from deep. Even defensively where there was a worry about his foot speed, Pritchard has held his own and is by most defensive metrics at worst a league-average defender though that’s probably selling him short. The only concern so far for him is he’s been turnover prone but that should come as he gets more used to NBA defenders. I’m not saying by any stretch Pritchard is an impending star. However, a ton of people mocked Danny Ainge for taking him over guys like Malachi Flynn and Tyrell Terry and though early, the returns are in big for Ainge. The level of the player Pritchard will become is obviously impossible to tell right now but what isn’t, is the fact that once again a veteran college point guard is translating better to the NBA than many expected. Maybe it’s time we learn from FVV and bet on these guys before they have to bet on themselves.