The 2019-20 NBA season is set to resume at Walt Disney World in Orlando late next month. The stars will be out in full force at the magical campus as a new champion is crowned.
Though, there’s going to be a number of young NBA players set to make an impact once the season returns from a four-plus month hiatus.
Undrafted Miami Heat rookie Kendrick Nunn is among the most surprising youngsters in the game. He’s helped Miami to an equally surprising season, and will play a vital role moving forward. Better-known rookies in that of Zion Williamson and Ja Morant are aiming to lead their teams to a playoff spot.
These are the top five rookies to watch once the 2019-20 NBA season resumes on July 30.
Kendrick Nunn, guard, Miami Heat
Even more so than fellow Heat rookie Tyler Herro, Nunn is someone to watch heading into Orlando. The former undrafted free agent has been absolutely sensational in his first season with the team, taking over the starting two-guard spot and not looking back.
Nunn, 24, is averaging 15.6 points on 36% shooting from deep. He’s put up multiple 20-plus point games to help out prized offseason acquisition Jimmy Butler. If Nunn is able to provide this type of scoring, it could help propel Miami to a surprisingly deep playoff run. The Heat currently sit at 41-24 and as the fourth seed back east.
Rui Hachimura, forward, Washington Wizards
Washington’s playoff aspirations are minimal, at best. The team is currently 5.5 games behind the Orlando Magic for the eighth spot. Unless it is within four games after the final eight regular-season outings, the team will be leaving Walt Disney World in short order.
Obviously, the focus in D.C. has been on star guard Bradley Beal. He’s averaging north of 30 points per game. That’s what has kept Washington afloat. Even then, Hachimura figures to be essential to the team’s plans. The No. 9 overall pick is averaging 13.4 points and 6.0 rebounds on 48% shooting from the field. If he’s able to maintain a high level of play, the Wizards might have a fighting chance for the play-in tournament.
Matisse Thybulle, guard, Philadelphia 76ers
Once Philadelphia’s relatively deep bench took a hit due to both inconsistent performances and injury, this rookie first-round pick stepped up to an extent. A defensive-minded player at this stage in his career, the 23-year-old Thybulle averaged over 20 minutes per night in the 21 games before the season was suspended.
The Washington product is not going to put up big numbers. What he does is provide a capable defender at both the two and three off the bench. After all, he averaged 1.4 steals per game during that span. That could loom large in the Sixers’ hopes of rebounding from regular-season struggles once the campaign resumes in Orlando.
Zion Williamson, forward, New Orleans Pelicans
Where to start here? Williamson was an absolute force of nature once he made his debut after missing the first half of his rookie season. The No. 1 pick is averaging 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds on 59% shooting from the field. He was also on pace to best Wilt Chamberlain as the most efficient rookie scorer in league history.
Williamson and his Pelicans will resume the season with an outside shot at earning a playoff spot. They are currently 3.5 games behind Memphis for the final spot. If the team remains in this standing, a play-in tournament will likely be in the cards. That would be something else. Seeing this generational talent lead his previously rebuilding team to the playoffs.
Ja Morant, guard, Memphis Grizzlies
Given that Williamson missed the first half of the season and taking into account Morant’s ridiculous play, the latter is the obvious choice for Rookie of the Year. Morant is averaging 17.6 points and 6.9 assists on a robust 49% shooting from the field. What’s even more impressive here is the fact that he has Memphis as the eighth seed out west.
All eyes will be on the matchup between Williamson’s Pelicans and Morant’s Grizzlies for the final playoff spot once the season resumes. It could be a prelude to some absolutely huge matchups between the two Western Conference rivals. The NBA would be smart to feature it at Walt Disney World starting late next month.