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Grading the 2018 rookies for 2019

Happy New Year! Today we’re grading the most recent crop of NBA rookies.

Now that we’re into 2019, it’s easier to get a gauge on how these rookies are performing this season. For a refresher on how these guys are graded and to see how they stacked up earlier in the season, check out the initial rookie grading post from back in late October. The grading from that blog is also the grade listed as “previously” on this one. Note: each player is presented in the order of the draft pick they were taken at. Enjoy!

1.Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

Ayton has been consistent all season and is still averaging a double-double with 17.0 ppg and 10.9 rpg on 60.5 FG% for the year. Ayton looked good last week, posting 16 and 9 against OKC, 33 and 14 against Denver, and 25 and 10 against GSW on Sunday night. Ayton’s 3.9 win shares show his value and is even more impressive given the Sun’s’ 9-30 record.

Grade:A; Previously: A-

2.Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings

Bagley has been inconsistent and at times seems to make other bigs around him worse. A recent bruised knee will hold Bagley out for at least two weeks and it will be interesting to see how Willie Cauley-Stein plays without him. As pointed out by Zach Lowe in a recent article for ESPN, Sacramento big men drop in production with Bagley also on the court.

Grade:B-; Previously:B

3.Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Looking back at my previous rookie grades, granted it was two weeks into the season, but I realize now that my logic for Doncic’s low grade was dumb. I put him at a B- since I felt his high rate of turnovers outweighed his scoring production. However, the Mavericks have used Doncic as their top scoring option which increases his usage (27.3%) and therefore his “opportunities” to commit turnovers are increased. Sure, his turnover-assist rate of 5:3.9 is not ideal but that alone does not outweigh his ability as a scorer; and with him being a rookie, there is still time to improve.

Grade:A+; Previously:B-

4.Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

Jaren Jackson Jr. has established himself as one of the best two-way players from the class to this point in the season. Putting up 12.9 ppg on 51.7 FG%, while grabbing 4.6 rpg, he also ranks second among rookies behind Mitchell Robinson in blocks, getting 1.6 per game. Offensively, Jackson Jr. has had some great outings, most notably November 30 against the Nets where he scored 7 points in 35 seconds to send it to OT, and on December 23 where his 27 and 9 helped the Grizzlies beat the Lakers.

Grade:A-; Previously:B

5.Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

Young was the hardest player for me to give a definitive grade. His 27.5 3PT% is low, given the Steph Curry comparisons coming into the league and I debated whether or not to factor the fact that he was traded for Luka Doncic, even though that isn’t his own fault. His 15.6 ppg is third among rookies and his 7.3 apg ranks first. However, I think the Hawks and NBA fans thought they were getting a better shooter when he was drafted and therefore, Young hasn’t fully lived up to what was expected of him, and therefore I was a tough grader with him. Then again, it’s still his rookie season and he obviously has time to improve as a shooter.

Grade:C+; Previously:A-

6.Mohamed Bamba, Orlando Magic

Unlike everyone on the list to this point (except Bagley), Mohamed Bamba has not earned a starting role and consistently plays 13-18 minutes in each game to back up Nikola Vucevic. For now, that’s okay. Bamba is still raw as a shooter and his lack of physicality causes him to take a lot of threes. Mo will likely play a backup role for the rest of the season and may earn the starting spot next season if Nikola Vucevic leaves in free agency.

Grade:C+; Previously:C+

7.Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls

Carter Jr. has started every game at center for the Bulls this season and has been solid, putting up 10.7 ppg on 49.1 FG% with 7.0 rpg and 1.5 blocks per game. His shot is undeveloped and his offensive game has not been great. His offensive box plus minus is a low -2.5 but that is evened out by his +2.5 defensive block plus minus leading to a 0.0 box plus minus total. Carter Jr. will continue to grow as a shooter and the Bulls should be encouraged by what they’ve seen from him.

Grade:B; Previously:C+

8.Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers

Sure, Sexton’s game is more developed than we thought when he first came in and said he didn’t know how to play. However, I’m personally not in on Sexton’s ROY campaign from what he’s done so far. Now starting at point guard for a disappointing Cavaliers team, Sexton’s 2.7:2.2 assist to turnover rate makes his scoring largely obsolete. Despite putting up 14.8 ppg Sexton is down at -0.8 win shares on the year.

Grade:B-; Previously:C-

9.Kevin Knox, New York Knicks

Knox’s previous low grade was due to an ankle sprain that caused him to miss much of October and November. Since returning, Knox has taken the starting small forward spot from Mario Hezonja and taken off from there. As a starter, he has put up 16.1 ppg and has been getting 17.2 ppg since the start of December. While the Knicks won’t compete for a playoff spot this season, Knox’s play should give Knicks fans some hope.

Grade:A-; Previously:D+

10.Mikal Bridges, Phoenix Suns

Bridges has taken the starting small forward spot from Josh Jackson and has been solid all year for Phoenix. He is a respectable shooter at 35.0% from deep and is getting 7.9 ppg and 2.8 rpg on a low usage rate of 13.2%. Bridges likely won’t be the star for the Suns down the road, but he’s a good piece to have during their rebuild.

Grade:B; Previously:C-

11.Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Los Angeles Clippers

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took the starting point guard role from Patrick Beverley in November and has had a very solid start to the season. SGA is one of the most athletic players from this class, and while he is still has to develop as a great shooter, the Clippers should be very excited by what they’ve seen from him.

Grade:A-; Previously:A-

12.Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets

Miles Bridges has come off the bench and provided some of the best highlights of the season with his posters and chase-down blocks. In just 19.7 minutes per game, Bridges has made good use of his time, getting 7.1 ppg on 45.7 FG% and 3.7 rpg. In case you haven’t gotten the chance to see Bridges play yet, here is a video of him posterizing Dewayne Dedmon of the Atlanta Hawks.

Grade:B-; Previously:B+

13.Jerome Robinson, Los Angeles Clippers

At the thirteenth pick in the draft, Robinson is the first player on this list to not have a role on their team. Robinson has played in just 8 games, totalling 40 minutes of action and 23 points scored.

Grade:D+; Previously:C-

14.Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets

At this point of the season, only Michael Porter Jr., Zhaire Smith(16), and Lonnie Walker IV(18) have yet to appear in a game, all due to various injuries. Their grades are based on how much their lack of play has affected the team with a base grade of a C. For MPJ, the Nuggets are content performance wise without him and are in no need to rush him back from his back injury.

Grade:C; Previously:N/A

15.Troy Brown Jr., Washington Wizards

Brown Jr. has yet to establish a role for the underwhelming Washington Wizards and has not been productive in the time he’s received. Mostly playing late in blowouts, Brown has a -4.5 box plus minus and is shooting just 36.6% from the floor.

Grade:C-; Previously:C

16.Zhaire Smith, Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers rookie curse took a weird turn when Zhaire Smith had an allergic reaction that caused him to lose 20 pounds, following his broken foot. It’s unclear whether or not he’ll return this year. So why the D? On draft night, Smith was acquired by Philly in exchange for Mikal Bridges, whom they had taken at 10. So far, not a good-looking trade, especially one made by a team that didn’t have a GM at the time. The Sixers bench has not been good and the team has suffered by not having Smith out there.

Grade:D; Previously:N/A

17.Donte Divincenzo, Milwaukee Bucks

After a hot start to the season, Donte Divincenzo has temporarily lost his spot in the rotation, only playing in sparse minutes over the past two weeks. His struggling three point stroke is likely the main reason for his demotion. Since the start of December, Divincenzo is shooting just 15.4% from deep, and is shooting a low 24.6% on the season.

Grade:C+; Previously:A-

18.Lonnie Walker IV, San Antonio Spurs

For now, the Spurs don’t need to rush Lonnie Walker IV as he recovers from a meniscus tear. Spending a lot of time in the G league, Walker IV was just called up today (1/2/19) as I’m writing this. It will be interesting to see if he can crack a spot in the rotation.

Grade:C; Previously:N/A

19.Kevin Huerter, Atlanta Hawks

After a slow start to the season where I gave Huerter a bad grade, he has improved a lot as a shooter and now leads all rookies, shooting 40.0% from three on the season. Hueter has earned himself a starting spot and played well in the wake of Trae Young’s struggles. Also, bonus points for being a fellow ginger, the first in the NBA since Matt Bonner retired.

Grade:A-; Previously:D+

20.Josh Okogie, Minnesota Timberwolves

I’m just gonna put it out there, not a fan of how Thibs historically overplays his starters and doesn’t like to play rookies even when they play like Okogie was doing early in the year. Follow a hot start to the season, Okogie lost his spot in the rotation after the Jimmy Butler trade and is only being given time now as a result of Jeff Teague’s injury.

Grade:B Previously:A

21.Grayson Allen, Utah Jazz

It’s a small sample size given Allen doesn’t have a regular spot in the rotation, but his -8.6 box plus minus is uhh, not good! Allen has been in and out of the G league and is now suffering from an ankle sprain. It will be interesting to see if Allen can turn around his play later in the season.

Grade:D+; Previously:B-

22.Chandler Hutchison, Chicago Bulls

A starter at one point earlier in the season, Hutchison’s minutes are inconsistent as he has played 32 games while getting 17.2 mpg. Hutchison has been underwhelming, especially offensively where his box plus minus is down to -4.5. On a rebuilding team with a lot of young players trying to make a name for themselves, Hutchison will have to play better if he wants to stand out amongst the pack.

Grade:C-; Previously:C

23.Aaron Holiday, Indiana Pacers

After barely playing at the start of the season, Holiday cracked the rotation for a while but now seems to have lost his role, only playing in 4 of the last 10 Pacers games. Again, that’s the nature of late first round and second round picks during their rookie seasons. His shot isn’t fully developed and if he can improve on his 25.5 3PT%, then he’ll likely get a chance to play more honest-to-goodness minutes this season.

Grade:B-; Previously:C

24.Anfernee Simons, Portland Trail Blazers

Simons has played in just six games this season, 5 of those late in the fourth quarter of blowouts. In 44 minutes, he has scored 11 points.

Grade:C; Previously:N/A

25.Moritz Wagner, Los Angeles Lakers

After returning from an early season injury, Moritz Wagner has played sparse minutes for the Lakers and has scored 31 points in 58 minutes. He likely won’t be an impact player for the Lakers this season.

Grade:C; Previously:N/A

26.Landry Shamet, Philadelphia 76ers

Shamet has been a very pleasant surprise all season as he ranks second among rookies in three pointers, behind Luka Doncic, and also second in three point percentage, behind Kevin Huerter. Playing in all 38 of the Sixers’ games, Shamet is getting 7.8 ppg and shooting 39.2% from deep in 20.2 mpg. For a team that lost bench three point threats such as Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova in the offseason, Shamet has helped to provide a spark off the bench.

Grade:A-; Previously:B

27.Robert Williams, Boston Celtics

After barely playing to start the season, Williams was given the opportunity to play in the wake of an Al Horford injury. Getting just 8.9 mpg and playing in 16 games on the season, Williams (also known as “the time lord” by Celtics fans, after an early-season missed practice) has shown his defensive potential, getting 1.6 blocks per game at a ridiculous block rate of 15.8%. That would lead the NBA if he played enough games to qualify. His offensive game to this point in non-existant, but his work on the defensive end should earn him more minutes down the road.

Celtics Grade:B+; Previously:C+

28.Jacob Evans, Golden State Warriors

In the limited time Evans has seen, he hasn’t done much to earn himself more playing time. Mostly appearing at the end of blowouts, Evans is getting 0.6 ppg on 22.7 FG% in 4.3 mpg. The Warriors roster is very deep so it will likely take either a few injuries or a trade for him to get a spot in a rotation.

Grade:D+; Previously:C-

29.Dzanan Musa, Brooklyn Nets

While fellow rookie, Rodions Kurucs (40th overall pick), has flourished for the Nets to this point, Dzanan Musa has spent most of his time in the G league this season. In 26 NBA minutes, Musa has scored 12 points.

Grade:C; Previously:C

30.Omari Spellman, Atlanta Hawks Grade:C; Previously:B

After cracking a spot in the rotation early in the season, when Spellman looked pretty good, an injury and subsequent G league assignment have taken him out of the rotation. With where the Hawks are at, they will likely get Spellman back in the lineup at some point this season, since they aren’t trying to make a playoff push.

Grade:C; Previously:B

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