Although the annual draft brings hope of immediate improvement to struggling teams, only a select group of NBA rookies will make a substantial impact in their first season.
In 2018-19, Deandre Ayton highlights the few players headed for an immediate starting role. Most every other rookie, though, will be competing for minutes in a reserve spot.
So, it’s critical to remember the list is ordered based on projected playing time and statistical impact as a rookie — not career potential.
16. Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets
The first question is the most important: Is he healthy? Michael Porter Jr. arrived at Missouri as the prize of the 2017 college basketball recruiting cycle, but a back injury limited him to three appearances — and contributed to his tumble to the end of the lottery on draft night. Fortunately, Denver need not rush Porter onto the floor. If the injuries aren’t a concern, though, he could earn minutes behind Wilson Chandler. Additionally, should the Nuggets move on from Kenneth Faried as anticipated, they could use Porter as a small-ball 4.
15. Grayson Allen, Utah Jazz
When the Jazz need a shooting-heavy lineup, they should swiftly turn to Grayson Allen. He and Donovan Mitchell are both capable of handling the ball, then throw in Joe Ingles and Utah would have a trio of floor-spacing players on the perimeter. Allen shot 38 percent from three-point range during his Duke career. Plus, while Alec Burks may remain the backup shooting guard, Allen is going to swipe some minutes. He’s not a terrific defender, but a deserved reputation as a thorn combined with excellent foot speed suggests he will improve in Utah’s system.
14. Robert Williams, Boston Celtics
The Celtics are loaded with talent, but they absolutely needed to pad depth at center this summer. Consider that task accomplished with Robert Williams, a two-year player from Texas A&M. In addition to providing 11.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game at the SEC program, he averaged 2.5 blocks over his 61 games. Though the Celtics want to re-sign unrestricted free agent Aron Baynes, Williams can carve out a small role because of his defense and athleticism. As a bonus, he won’t get dunked on as often as Baynes does!
13. Donte DiVincenzo, Milwaukee Bucks
Look, the Bucks used Matthew Dellavedova and Jason Terry for a combined average of 17.1 minutes over their 79 total appearances. DeAndre Liggins logged 15.5 minutes per night in his 31 games. There’s a clear spot for national title hero Donte DiVincenzo. That’s before we even mentioned his career 37.8 three-point percentage at Villanova, and Milwaukee needs long-range help, too. The Bucks attempted the sixth-fewest threes in the NBA last season and ranked 22nd in conversion rate. DiVincenzo’s range will be a welcomed boost to the reserve unit.
12. Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets
Unless the Hornets make a move in free agency, Devonte’ Graham is the most sensible option to serve as Kemba Walker’s backup. Of course, that’s if the All-Star isn’t traded to Cleveland. Still, Charlotte shouldn’t re-sign Michael Carter-Williams, and Graham has more offensive upside than Julyan Stone. At Kansas last season, Graham amassed 17.3 points, 7.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 40.6 percent from three. His ability to create off the dribble will be needed in a reserve group that includes a spot-up shooter in Malik Monk.
11. Chandler Hutchison, Chicago Bulls
Draft promises aren’t always kept, but the rumors that Chicago pledged to select Chandler Hutchison apparently were true. The Boise State product landed with the Bulls at No. 22 overall, and he could offer an immediate return on investment. Since the franchise is still in the early stages of a rebuild, there’s no sense in the 22-year-old wasting away on the bench behind Justin Holiday and Paul Zipser. During his last two college seasons, Hutchison averaged 18.7 points and 3.0 assists. That type of offensive ability shouldn’t be relegated to the bench.
10. Mo Bamba, Orlando Magic
Realistically, the only way for Mo Bamba to play major minutes is if Orlando doesn’t re-sign restricted free agent Aaron Gordon or declares Bismack Biyombo a sunk cost. Assuming neither of those happen, though, the Magic will distribute minutes to Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Biyombo, Jonathan Isaac and Bamba in the frontcourt. There’s simply too much going on here. Orlando certainly wants him to play 20 minutes, and Vucevic’s expiring deal means Bamba could start in 2019-20. But temper expectations about the extent of his role as a rookie.
9. Kevin Knox, New York Knicks
Knicks fans, shockingly, didn’t approve of the pick, but they’ll soon be cheering for Kevin Knox. After all, Kristaps Porzingis is recovering from an ACL tear and probably won’t be available until midseason, so there isn’t much else to be happy about. Knox projects as the backup small forward, especially since Porzingis’ injury should push Lance Thomas to the 4. Knox averaged 15.6 points at Kentucky and will be a regular contributor despite being a work in progress as a three-point shooter and on-ball creator. Good luck telling Knicks fans to be patient, though.
8. Kevin Huerter, Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta wisely took an offense-driven approach to the 2018 draft, using all three of its first-round selections on proven shooters. The second of those picks landed Kevin Huerter, a lesser-known guard out of Maryland. During two seasons with the Big Ten school, he knocked down 39.4 percent from beyond the arc while attempting 5.4 triples per game. In today’s NBA, it’s near-impossible to have “too much shooting” on the roster. Playing Huerter next to Trae Young could be an awkward fit defensively, but they should put up plenty of points.
7. Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis took a meaningful step toward shoring up the frontcourt by selecting Jaren Jackson Jr. at No. 4 overall. During the 2017-18 season at Michigan State, he showed off a unique blend of versatility for a 6-foot-11 player. Jackson blocked an even 3.0 shots per game and connected on 39.6 percent of his three-point attempts. While he won’t be a featured scorer, Jackson’s skill set makes him a reasonable fit alongside either Marc Gasol or JaMychal Green. Memphis should still experiment with its other youth, but Jackson should receive the most time.
6. Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
Regardless of whether LeBron James decides to stay, Collin Sexton has an obvious opportunity as a rookie. The Cavs used a rotation of George Hill and Jordan Clarkson in the playoffs, and the results weren’t great. At worst, the rookie will be sharing reserve minutes with a chance to separate himself. He’s currently most effective attacking the basket, and that strength would quickly become essential if LeBron bolts from Cleveland. Sexton’s development as a three-point shooter is pivotal to his career, but he’s a useful reserve right away.
5. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
No matter your feelings on Trae Young, he’s going to play a bunch in 2017-18. The Hawks simply doesn’t have enough talent on the roster, and the sooner they discover Young’s impact, the better. At Oklahoma, he became the first player to ever lead Division I in both points (27.4) and assists (8.7). How his shot selection translates to the NBA is the primary concern — and shaky defense is close behind — but Young’s playmaking ability is apparent. Plus, if the rumors eventually lead to an actual Dennis Schroder trade, Young will be the starting point guard.
4. Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls
The well-dressed No. 7 overall pick in the draft, Wendell Carter Jr. appears the ideal complement for Lauri Markkanen on offense. Whereas last season’s rookie is a floor-spacing stretch 4, Carter is content to battle in the paint. Granted, the Duke product can also knock down jumpers, so he’s certainly not tied to the post. Though he might not overtake Robin Lopez in the starting lineup immediately, the veteran has an expiring contract and could be traded if the rookie develops quickly. Chicago will give Carter as large a role as he’s ready to handle.
3. Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings
Sacramento has a surplus of bigs, but the minutes distribution shouldn’t be complicated for a talent like Marvin Bagley III. He piled up 21.0 points and 11.1 rebounds per game in his lone college campaign. Although the Duke standout might not start, he’s a lock for 20-some minutes per night — particularly if the Kings actually use him at small forward, as general manager Vlade Divac suggested is possible. We’re not saying that’s wise, but it’s an opportunity for more production. Moving forward, Bagley is the reason to show up at Sacramento games.
2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Despite any traditionalist objection to Luka Doncic picking No. 77 for his jersey, the NBA better get ready to see the rare number. In all likelihood, Dallas will place the Slovenian in the starting lineup next to Dennis Smith Jr., the No. 9 overall pick in 2017. Doncic is an inconsistent shooter, but Dallas shouldn’t have an issue letting him develop that three-point range as a rookie. Besides, until proven otherwise, opponents will respect his long-range threat. The Mavs invested in Doncic as the future of the organization, and they’ll uncover plenty about him immediately.
1. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
Something has gone horribly wrong if the draft’s No. 1 choice isn’t playing a significant role as a rookie. Deandre Ayton will quickly assume control of the Phoenix frontcourt and, hopefully, the subsequent impact is he settles the starting unit. Last season, the Suns used a stunning 35 lineups in 82 games. Ayton averaged 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, and Phoenix will expect a similar type of stat-stuffing during his debut season. Given his anticipated role, Ayton should be considered the early favorite for Rookie of the Year.