Monday, April 15 2024
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Week one of the 2023-24 NBA season gave us a bevy of dramatic finishes and breakout performances, some of which came from this year’s rookie class. The 2023 NBA Draft might’ve been centered on French phenom Victor Wembanyama, but after the first week of NBA action, many rookies have proven that this class has several stars to focus on over the course of the season. 

Chet Holmgren — the No. 2 pick in the 2022 Draft — made his long-awaited debut after missing all of last season with a Lisfranc injury. Scoot Henderson might be off to a slow start in Portland, but he’s still shown flashes of the dynamic, athletic guard many expected him to be as he entered the league. Outside of the lottery, we’ve gotten impressive performances from another Thunder rookie, Cason Wallace, who is already getting significant minutes for OKC. Oh, and have you seen this nasty move and finish at the rim by Heat rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr.?

There were plenty of highlights by many first-year players who got their first real taste of NBA action, but let’s take a look at the top 5 performing rookies from the first week’s slate of games. 

Keep in mind that these rankings will reflect a rookie’s performance on a week-to-week basis only, not the collective season. These aren’t Rookie of the Year standings, but rather a reflection on what the player has done over the past week. With that straightened out, here is a look at the top rookies from the opening week of the 2023-24 season:

There were questions about how Holmgren would fit on a Thunder team that primarily played small ball last season without a consistent center. Sure, they missed the postseason by two games, but it seemed to be a formula that worked for OKC. Integrating someone of Holmgren’s size — 7-foot-1 — would certainly change the way the Thunder played. Well, from a team perspective, those concerns were certainly overblown as OKC is off to a 3-2 start on the season, and Holmgren has slotted in seamlessly in the starting lineup. 

Each of Holmgren’s first four games has given us a different facet of what makes him so unique. In his NBA debut against the Bulls, while it was a quiet performance, he showed great efficiency from everywhere on the floor when called upon. Just look at his first NBA bucket, a difficult mid-range, off-the-dribble jumper over Nikola Vucevic:

Guys his size aren’t supposed to be able to do that.

Two days later, he reminded us that he’s going to be amongst the league’s best rim protectors for a long time after recording seven blocks. And in all four contests he’s proven to be a legitimate threat from 3-point range. He doesn’t get the same amount of touches as some other rookies on this list because he’s on a team that’s trending toward playoff contention more than lottery bound, but even in those more limited opportunities he’s managed to stand out and make a significant impact.

It’s still early, but the first week of “Wembymania” for the Spurs has certainly lived up to the larger-than-life expectations. His latest feat of the week, in which nine of his 18 points against the Suns came in the fourth quarter, was a glimpse of how dominant he can be in the future. He came through in the clutch after his teammates did a bulk of the work to get San Antonio back in the game from a 20-point deficit. 

Between this circus shot under the basket to get the and-one and cut the deficit to seven:

…and elevating for this easy putback dunk after no one boxed him out, to trim the lead to just one point:

Wemby showed he’s not shy of big moments. His scoring down the stretch helped put the Spurs in position to steal a wild win on the road in Phoenix, and while the win itself may not mean much in the grand scheme of things for a young, rebuilding San Antonio team, the experience Wembanyama and the rest of the young Spurs got from that game will help them as they continue to grow together.   

In a rookie class where Wembanyama has drawn most of the headlines, and Scoot Henderson has gotten the second-most attention, it can be difficult to remember that Miller was the No. 2 overall pick in June’s draft. It was a decision many criticized the Hornets over by passing on Henderson, but after one week into Miller’s NBA career, he’s proving why Charlotte wasn’t wrong in picking him. He’s already put up impressive performances, highlighted by a 22-point outing against the Nets in which he also racked up nine rebounds, two assists, and a block. Oh, and he’s doing all this while coming off the bench in all three games, too.

It’s not just the offensive production, either. Miller entered the draft with rave reviews about what he’ll bring on the defensive side of the ball with his freakish 7’0 wingspan and athleticism, and he’s already delivered on that front.

Just look at this perfectly-timed block he pulls off on Cam Thomas:

Miller might be coming off the bench right now, but his play out of the gates will make it difficult for head coach Steve Clifford to keep him there.

There’s a lot to like about the Pistons‘ young stable of players from Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren and now Ausar Thompson. In his debut, the rookie had FIVE blocks against the Heat, each one a bit more ridiculous than the last. There’s this possession, where he blocked Jimmy Butler twice on one play after recovering late on defense on the backdoor cut:

There’s also this great defense he showed against Bam Adebayo, where he didn’t back down from the size and strength discrepancy and disrupted the All-Defensive big man’s post up:

Defense is typically where rookies struggle the most when they enter the league, but Thompson is already proving to be playing well beyond his years on that end of the floor.

In the Mavericks‘ season opener, in which they hit the road to take on Wembanyama for the first time, it was Lively II that was getting a bulk of the attention. The late-lottery pick finished with a double-double in his NBA debut — 16 points, 10 rebounds — playing with energy and hustle that made many draw the comparison to a Mavericks legend who used to occupy the center spot: Tyson Chandler. That’s not surprising, considering that’s the exact role the Mavericks envisioned for him when they took him with the No. 12 overall pick. It’s also not surprising considering Chandler has served as a mentor for Lively since he joined Dallas back in June. 

Chandler has served as a part-time assistant under Jason Kidd, with the primary goal of developing Lively, who he’s called “a little brother I didn’t know I had.” If Lively can develop into something even resembling the dominance Chandler displayed over his 20-year career, which featured a Defensive Player of the Year award, a championship with Dallas and All-NBA honors, then he’ll be the best center Dallas has had since, well, Chandler.



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