Welcome Border Fuel viewers and NBA fans abroad. This time of year is for spending time with family, enjoying the holiday season, and of course watching Christmas Day basketball! The seasons is less than a week away and you can count on Border Fuel Sports to bring you true and fearless journalism all season long.
Today we’ll be covering the Rookie of The Year candidates. I’ve narrowed it down to the top five players. I have based this off team fit, minutes projected, skill set, and other intangibles that can’t be accounted for using numerical metrics. Such as the world famous it factor or leadership skills for example. We’ll countdown from five to one showcasing each player and what makes each one special in their own right.
5th; Isaac Okoro- (The Athlete)- Cleveland Cavaliers
If you didn’t watch much of Auburn basketball last year, you may not know much about Okoro. He’s a 6’6″ 225 lbs. wing who smothered opponents in the SEC with his defensive prowess, which led to him earn a spot on the SEC all-defensive team as a Freshman as well as SEC all Freshman honors. He averaged 12.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, and pretty much a block and a steal in 28 collegiate contests.
He’s was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 5th pick so it’s not far-fetched that he’s the fifth most likely to win the award. It’s not the draft spot that makes him a candidate it’s his work ethic and game. Okoro is a good defender who should make his name guarding all three perimeter positions.
He has had one of the best rookie showings throughout preseason play. He took over for the Cavaliers in his debut scoring 18 points, but it was the 16 fourth-quarter points and sinking the game-winner that left the league in awe. Some questioned the pick when he was selected, but he quickly hushed criticism early with his stellar play.
Although he is known best for his ability to defend, his raw athleticism bodes well in the NBA. As a slasher, he’ll get easy buckets from back door cuts, and running the floor in transition. He should have several high-flying dunks playing with guards like Sexton and Garland.
It’s a far cry to think he could lead them to the playoffs or anything, but he’ll make his mark on the franchise, and that could be enough to not only make him a finalist but the recipient also. If that transpired, it’ll be the first time a Cleveland player won the award since Kyrie Irving in 2012
4th; James Wiseman -(The Rim Protector)- Golden State Warriors
Wiseman comes into the league with question marks and tremendous upside. He only played three games for Anfernee Hardaway’s Memphis Tigers due to NCAA violations. In those games, he showcased his raw talent, but the level of competition wasn’t the best by any means. When you play lesser competition, you dominate and that’s what he did, finishing with 19.7 ppg, 10.7 rpg, and 3.0 bpg for his college career.
Being drafted second overall to the Warriors could be the beating thing that could’ve happened for this young man. He’ll be put in a situation where he’ll be able to learn the NBA game and still be effective and help his team win some games. Unlike most lottery teams, the Warriors are filled with championship pedigree playing in five of the last six finals.
Playing in pick and roll with a point guard like Curry will give him every opportunity to get lobs and east baskets with most defenders focusing on the two time MVP instead of a rookie. His shot-blocking capabilities mixed with Draymond’s defensive presence could catapult the team right back to a top tier defensive team instantly. He showed the ability to move his feet and could be a viable weapon in switching on to guards using his lengthy frame to his advantage.
He should be a double-double machine right out the gate and I expect him to start at center. Could he be the piece to get them back to their championship ways? That won’t be determined this year. However, if he buys into the system and commits himself defensively, he could be going home with the Rookie Of The Year trophy. A nice way to start his trophy cabinet off.
3rd; Killian Hayes -(The Facilitator)- Detroit Pistons
Sometimes in the NBA, it’s all about fit. This holds in Killian’s situation more so than ever as he’s going to a team allowing him to start immediately; it’ll impact his success. The Pistons also have veterans that’ll assist in his learning curve in Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose to high profile picks in their drafts. That should be all the Frenchman needs, and guys making open shots.
He has shown in the preseason a strong knack on the defensive end, getting four steals in the first two games versus the Knicks. He could turn out to be the best defender in this class. He pushes up into the offensive player not giving ground, fights through picks, and hits passing lanes with precision.
Being one of the best defenders in your class won’t win you the award alone. When you blend that with his ability to facilitate the pick and roll, he could turn into the best two-player in the draft this year. He’ll spearhead the Pistons offensive attack filling stat sheets along the way.
At 6’5″, he makes high-level passes for open shooters in the corners something most rookies struggle with. Telling him to run an offense comes naturally since he went professional at 16. Hayes can also score the ball; he averaged 12.8 ppg for Ulm in Germany last year. He’s a pass-first guy, so his claim to fame will come distributing the basketball. With the starting job secured, he should lead all rookies in assists and steals.
His shooting like other rookies will come in time; try not to look too much in preseason percentages. These young guys were thrown to the wolves after being drafted and playing in preseason games three weeks later. Killian has played professionally for several years and, like Obi, his experience will pay dividends in his pursuit of the award.
He will need help though he’s a natural passer, so if guys can eat off open shots, he’ll be setting the table all season long. It will be unprecedented if it happens with the award going to a European player two out of the last three years, with Luka Doncic winning in 2019.
2nd; Obi Toppin- (The Veteran)- New York Knicks
Obi took home the National Player Of The Year award in his final year with the Dayton Flyers. Now, he’s primed to make his professional basketball career just as accomplished. Playing for his hometown Knick’s Toppin will look to show he can be more than just a highlight reel act.
In his preseason debut, he was a factor on both ends showing a defensive presence that wasn’t seen in college. If he has a newfound love for playing defense, something coach Thibbs cherishes and demands, he could take a crucial step forward in developing. His ability to score was well documented in college. Knowing he has the size and athleticism it takes to play at the NBA level, defending his position was his only question mark.
Make no mistake, he may never be a true lockdown power forward; he can switch and challenge shots. He’ll be challenging for starting rotation over Randle, whose name has been in trade rumors recently. Knicks fans are looking forward to seeing Toppin play big minutes and filling up scorecards.
He’s the oldest player selected and in a draft class who’s starting behind the eight ball due to lack of training camp and summer league; his age could be of value. I think he could lead all rookies in scoring; he’s that gifted offensively. Rebounding that’s his key to success, double figures on the glass will get him his first piece of hardware in the association.
1st; LaMelo Ball- (The Playmaker)- Charlotte Hornets
Ball is the most polarizing talent in this draft. He’s been an internet sensation and basketball superstar since high school. Whereat Chino Hills, gained national attention after he scored a California state record of 92 points in a high school game, and that was as a sophomore adding to his almost occult-like following of fans.
He’s grown into a 6’7″ point guard since then and is eager to show off his skills at the next level. Being drafted to the Hornets and by owner Michael Jordan allows him to fit in and play major minutes early.
He might not start because the logjam at his position, but he’ll have plenty of touches to get his own shots and create for others. He has already shown the ability to rebound at his position, recording ten in his first preseason game. He hasn’t shot the ball well, but his passing and rebounding will keep him in the discussion along with his last name. If he can play both ends effectively, he’ll be the best player in the draft because his scoring will come, and he’s already the top passing guard in most fans’ minds.
It’s simply the Hornets aren’t that good, and they’ll be giving Ball every opportunity they can to show them what he is capable of. With the minutes the numbers will follow, and he’ll be looking for his number to be called by Adam Silver regarding the Rookie Of The Year trophy at season’s end.