NBA Season in Review: 3 top rookie performances

NBA Memphis Grizzlies Ja Morant (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
NBA Memphis Grizzlies Ja Morant (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Continuing our NBA season in review, we look back at the top three rookie performances during the 2019-20 season

Earlier this season, I wrote an article where I prognosticated three rookies who could merit Rookie of the Year considerations. Now that we have a break in the season due to the current hiatus, perhaps I need to re-evaluate those choices. Who am I kidding? I need a do-over.

So while I feel good about my guess about DeAndre Hunter, I need to hit the reset button on my swing and miss of Jarrett Culver. However, let’s take a look at the three players from the 2019 Draft who have a chance to win the league’s Rookie of the Year award for this season.

Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

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Admittedly, Zion Williamson is the reason I wrote that article back in December. I thought deep down if he played this season, he wouldn’t match up to the hype that followed him from his one year at Duke into the NBA. While at Duke, Williamson was named ACC Player of the Year, ACC Athlete of the Year, and ACC Rookie of the Year.

He also earned Sporting News College Player of the Year recognition and won the Wayman Tisdale Award, which is given to college basketball’s most outstanding freshman male player by the United States Basketball Writers Association.

Then in October, he tore his meniscus during the preseason. I thought we would be looking at Greg Oden 2.0. I was ready to place Williamson against the field and bet the field. Well, I was wrong.

In 19 games this season, Zion is averaging 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game on 59 percent shooting from the field and 46 percent shooting from 3-point range. He represented Team USA in the Rising Stars game during All-Star Weekend last month in Chicago.

New Orleans went 10-9 with Williamson in the lineup prior to the hiatus and has helped the Pelicans get back into the playoff race in the Western Conference.

If the season gets resumed where it left off, there’s a good chance that Zion will be at the center of the New Orleans Pelicans fighting their way back into the West’s playoff picture.

Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies

When I see all the young talent coming from Canada, I get excited about future international competitions. I thought RJ Barrett would be someone I would be featuring here, but it’s Brandon Clarke who has risen to the challenge of playing in the NBA so far.

Clarke was selected in the first round of the 2019 NBA draft with the 21st overall pick. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2019 NBA Summer League while leading Memphis to the league championship game and earning game MVP honors as well.

In 50 games played this season, Clarke is averaging 12 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists with the Grizzlies. He’s shooting 62.3 percent from the field, 40.4 percent from beyond the arc and 78.5 percent from the free-throw line.

His success is attributed to his being a strong finisher around the basket. He’s shown the ability to score off the dribble and he’s able to score from the low post against certain matchups

The Grizzlies are 32-32 on the season. They are in 8th place in the Western Conference standings, but just four games ahead of Williamson’s  Pelicans and the Sacramento Kings. If Memphis is to hold on to that final playoff spot, it will be because of contributions from Clarke and another rookie teammate.

Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Ja Morant was drafted second overall during the 2019 NBA draft by Memphis. Morante is the league-leading rookie assist man, averaging 6.9 per game while shooting 49 percent shooting from the field and nearly 18 points per game.

In a straw poll by Slam Magazine, Morant earned all 70 first-place votes for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. If Morant would go on to win the award unanimously, he’d join Karl-Anthony Towns, Damian Lillard, and Blake Griffin as the only players to do so in the past three decades.

He is a dynamic athlete and playmaker, adept at creating offense for himself as well as teammates. H’s a high-level athlete at the point guard position with elite speed and quickness. There’s so much De’Aaron Fox in him.

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For now, Morant is more concerned about the Grizzlies getting into the postseason once play resumes. But like the rest of us, we’ll have to wait and see how is rookie campaign plays out.