With the NBA Draft over, we now have a clear picture of the rookie landscape heading into the 2019-20 season. Some of the names called on draft night will go on to have success at the professional level, while some will fade out of the league to little fanfare. Some of the top prospects, however, can make an immediate impact as rookies, and it’s never too early to look ahead at those names. The rankings in this early top-10 rookies list are based on team and opportunity. Two Hawks made the cut, including a second-rounder who snuck on board. Here’s how I see the rookie class shaping up in 2019 with some quick notes on each pick.
10. Romeo Langford (SG – BOS)
Langford will have to compete with Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown at the two, but with Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier both likely to leave in the offseason, there will be some holes to fill in Boston’s backcourt. Langford (16.5 points) had a fantastic freshman season at Indiana, highlighted by his scoring abilities and isolation play. He’s still a raw talent, but his natural abilities will earn him enough playing time to be worthy of his spot at No. 10.
9. Bruno Fernando (C – ATL)
Fernando fell considerably in the draft, as he was projected by many (myself included) as a first-round pick. The Hawks didn’t address their need for a center in the first round, instead trading back into the second to grab Fernando. Atlanta could keep Dewayne Dedmon and Alex Len and use some form of a rotation similar to last season, or they could get the rookie some playing time and NBA experience. He’s the center of the future in Atlanta and will make a nasty pairing with John Collins. Fernando averaged 13.6 points, 10.6 boards, and 1.9 blocks in his final year with the Terps in 2018, and he could be in for a big rookie campaign, especially if Dedmon walks out the door as a free agent this summer.
8. Cameron Johnson (SF – PHO)
Although Johnson seemed like a reach at No. 11, he obviously impressed the Suns’ brass. He is possibly the best shooter in the draft (45.7 percent from three, 55.6 percent from two, 81.8 percent from the foul line), and the Suns could use some help from beyond the arc. Phoenix ranked dead last in the NBA in three-point percentage last season, posting a lousy 32.9 percent clip. With a poor offense outside of Devin Booker, Johnson can be counted on for his sharp-shooting abilities right away.
7. Brandon Clarke (PF/C – MEM)
Clarke played phenomenally over his final two collegiate seasons, but he gained national recognition once he transferred from San Jose State to Gonzaga in 2018. Clarke played a key role in the Zags’ deep NCAA tournament run, propelling himself into the first round. The Grizzlies got a steal when they traded from No. 23 to No. 21 to draft him. In his final season at Gonzaga, Clarke averaged 16.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks. He’s not guaranteed playing time immediately, but his pure talent and athleticism should allow him to work his way into Memphis’ rotation pretty quickly.
6. De’Andre Hunter (SF/PF – ATL)
Atlanta didn’t trade up for Hunter to park him on the bench. He projects as the starter at SF to open the season, and he’ll likely end up as the third option on offense behind Trae Young and John Collins. Young and Collins, along with sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, provide a lot of quality spacing for the Hawks, and Hunter should have his share of open looks in this offense. His solid defense means he’ll get his share of blocks and steals, and he could be a 12-15 point per game scorer as a rookie.
5. Rui Hachimura (SF/PF – WAS)
Hachimura is a physical player who got to the basket at will in college, and he’s an excellent scorer from a variety of different avenues. With John Wall out another season, Bradley Beal will be the Wizards’ primary scoring option. After Beal, the options are limited. Hachimura could very well be the second option on offense, opening him up to a possibly productive inaugural season in Washington. He averaged a healthy 19.7 points on 59.1 percent shooting from the floor and 41.7 percent from three in his final season with Gonzaga in 2018, earning WCC Player of the Year honors in the process.
4. Coby White (PG – CHI)
White should start the season as the Bulls’ starting point guard, with the Kris Dunn experiment over five minutes after it began. White is more of a scoring point guard than a true passer, but that will play well for a team that ranked 27th in points per game last season (104.9). White is incredibly quick and a gifted scorer who figures heavily into the Bulls’ plans on offense this season. His number should be called frequently, which is why he ends up fourth on this list.
3. Zion Williamson (PF – NO)
Williamson is still the best player taken in this year’s draft with the highest projected career arc, but given his team and expectations right out of the gate, I see him as the third-best fantasy rookie this season. Following the draft, per ESPN’s Malika Andrews, David Griffin said the Pelicans are “Jrue Holiday‘s team,” and Williamson is in the league right now to learn how to win. He added that the number one pick is not expected to be New Orleans’ savior, but “is here to join the family.” Griffin is saying all of the right things, and though Williamson is clearly the face of the franchise and the cornerstone for years to come, there is a little bit of truth to the general manager’s words. It sounds like he doesn’t want to put too much pressure on Williamson right away, choosing to instead develop him properly. Zion will still ball out in his first season, but he won’t be expected to shoulder the load nearly as much as the top two guys on this list.
2. R.J. Barrett (SG – NYK)
Barrett led the Blue Devils in scoring last season despite playing with Williamson and No. 10 overall pick Cam Reddish. Barrett himself was projected to go first in the draft before the start of last season before being overtaken by his teammate. He averaged 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists in his only season at Duke, and Barrett’s natural scoring abilities should translate well to the NBA. He was lackluster from three last year (30.8 percent), but he is an unbelievable competitor with a big physique and plenty of power. The Knicks were the third-worst team in the NBA in points per game last season (104.6), so Barrett should be featured on offense. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him push for 20 points a night as a rookie.
1. Ja Morant (PG – MEM)
Morant should be the top scoring rookie of 2019 given his perceived prominence in the Grizzlies’ offense. Memphis made it clear the team would be Morant’s when trading Mike Conley for the No. 23 pick and ancillary pieces shortly before the draft. Morant is a great facilitator and excellent scorer with a high motor and explosive athleticism. The team will run through him right away, and unlike Williamson, it appears Morant has already been anointed as the savior of Bluff City. Morant averaged 24.5 points and 10.0 assists last season, the only NCAA player to achieve those numbers since assists began being tracked in 1983-84. He’ll certainly get the green light to do whatever he wants on offense, making him the top rookie of 2019.