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The Rookie of the Year battle is sure to be a competitive one during the NBA‘s 2018-19 campaign.
Between Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Mohamed Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr., Kevin Knox, Collin Sexton, Trae Young and plenty of other first-year players ready to fill major slots in rotations, the crop of first-year contributors is loaded with talent. But what if we could morph them together into one superprospect, drawing upon the leading attributes of the incoming rookies (no double-dipping allowed) to create the best possible player?
We’re not looking at every single facet of professional basketball. We don’t mean any disrespect to the young men who aren’t adding to the composition of our creation. We know this is purely hypothetical—good ol’ lighthearted fun.
But let’s get serious for a moment: You’d want to watch this hybrid in action.
Shooting Stroke: Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
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Is there any doubt?
Trae Young turned early-season Oklahoma Sooners games into must-watch affairs for NBA aficionados with his torrid shooting pace, routinely pulling up from well outside the three-point arc and finding nothing but nylon. He could knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers, but his true specialty came when he worked off the bounce and fired away, heavily reliant on a lightning-quick stroke that allowed him to get off clean releases no matter how tight the defensive pressure was.
These shots simply aren’t normal:
Young finished his freshman season shooting only 36 percent from downtown while lofting 10.3 shots per game, but those numbers are misleading. They don’t factor in the difficulty of his attempts, or the fact that he was often the sole source of Oklahoma’s offense, burdened with constant double-teams and precious few of the open shooting opportunities he’ll receive while complemented by NBA talents.
A whopping 47 percent of the rookies polled by NBA.com called Young the best shooter in this class, and we’re not going to disagree. The range, willingness to fire away, quick release and replicable form all hint strongly at big three-point numbers from Day 1.
Ball-Handling Skill: Jalen Brunson, Dallas Mavericks
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I was tempted to roll with Collin Sexton’s combination of handles, size and athleticism, but we’re isolating pure ball-handling skill for this category. And that gives the edge to Jalen Brunson, who no longer has to worry about over-dribbling because he’ll magically be granted the abilities of all other players comprising this NBA Frankenstein.
Brunson’s defense and lack of elite physical traits depressed his stock during draft season, prompting a fall down the boards until the Dallas Mavericks snatched him up at No. 33. But that’s irrelevant here, because we’re only concerned with the yo-yo abilities that let him cross over opponents and leave them in the dust:
Brunson doesn’t have a particularly flashy set of handles (few players in this rookie class do; you won’t find a Kyrie Irving this year), and he often prefers backing smaller guards down with his back to the basket. But the southpaw is a tricky dribbler who understands how to use subtle movements and changes of pace to keep defenders off balance before creating just enough space to launch clean looks.
Our superplayer doesn’t need to create a plethora of highlights in improvisational situations. He just needs to be effective.
Passing Ability: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
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Luka Doncic may only have averaged 4.6 assists per game during his final Euroleague season with Real Madrid, but his passing ability is so much better than that mediocre number might indicate. Plus, it’s not too mediocre for a teenager operating in the world’s second-best league and playing just 25 minutes per contest; only 11 Euroleague players finished higher on the per-game leaderboard,
But it’s the quality of the feeds that makes this an easy choice. Just take a gander at some of his top dimes:
Doncic has every passing tool in the book, and he makes some feeds that require a combination of power and vision possessed by precious few players in the sport. His right-handed wraparound swing passes from the top of the key to open bigs verge on immaculate, and he rarely hesitates to put behind-the-back dishes on target for rolling teammates.
Armed with a keen understanding of timing within the pick-and-roll game, Doncic is an ambidextrous and unselfish distributor. He thrives on kick-out feeds to open shooters after defenses compress around his drives, but he’s equally adept at laying the ball off to a teammate on the interior. Players this young just aren’t supposed to be such pristine decision-makers while also proving capable of executing said decisions.
Simply put, Doncic’s passing is arguably the most elite skill possessed by any incoming rookie.
Interior Scoring: Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings
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Marvin Bagley III’s offensive stock rose so high, in part, because of his floor-spacing ability out of the frontcourt, but his bread and butter still comes around the basket. That’s why he could average 21.0 points for the Duke Blue Devils while shooting 61.4 percent from the field and 64.7 percent on his two-point attempts.
As Jonathan Wasserman wrote for Bleacher Report in late February, he’s a dominant force when gaining space near the bucket:
“Bagley’s effectiveness around the basket (97th percentile) still holds value. He has 44 putbacks in 25 games, and he ranks in the 98th percentile on cuts to the rim. Bagley has also flashed a strong post game (76th percentile), particularly with his running jump hook, and he’s a threatening ball-handler in space capable of beating his man and converting on the move.”
He has the explosion necessary to go up in traffic. He can create looks out of the post, though he’ll need to grow a bit less reliant on jump hooks with his left hand. Oh, and he’s got some serious power, as fellow rookie Moritz Wagner found out during summer league action:
Rebounding: Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
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Because rebounding is the facet of the game that translates from the collegiate level to the NBA hardwood most reliably, we’ll turn to the numbers for this category.
First, allow us to present the qualified NCAA leaders in offensive rebounding percentage, looking only at the players who are now transitioning to the sport’s highest level and are already on rosters (whether with traditional deals or two-way contracts):
- Angel Delgado: 14.7 percent
- Marvin Bagley III: 13.8 percent
- Deandre Ayton: 13.5 percent
- Tyler Davis: 13.3 percent
- Raymond Spalding: 13.2 percent
Now, let’s turn to defensive rebounding percentage:
- Alize Johnson: 30.4 percent
- Deandre Ayton: 28.2 percent
- Mohamed Bamba: 28.2 percent
- Angel Delgado: 28.0 percent
- Robert Williams: 26.8 percent
- Thomas Welsh: 25.8 percent
And finally, total rebounding percentage:
- Deandre Ayton: 21.4 percent
- Angel Delgado: 21.4 percent
- Alize Johnson: 21.0 percent
- Mohamed Bamba: 20.2 percent
- Brandon McCoy: 19.5 percent
It’s not unusual to see role players such as Angel Delgado and Alize Johnson climbing so high on the leaderboard. But for Deandre Ayton to ascend into that lofty position during his freshman season while shouldering such a remarkable offensive burden?
Plus, Ayton has already proved himself during summer league, averaging 10.5 boards while playing just 26.8 minutes per game in his four Las Vegas appearances.
Perimeter Defense: Jevon Carter, Memphis Grizzlies
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No disrespect meant to Mikal Bridges, Collin Sexton, Bruce Brown Jr., Zhaire Smith and the other defensive standouts in this rookie class, but Jevon Carter is a shoo-in for this spot. He made his living on defense throughout his four-year West Virginia career, and it’s the only reason his offensive limitations and relatively advanced age weren’t enough to prevent him from getting a chance at the sport’s highest level.
Tenacity and toughness define Carter’s game. He’s never unwilling to challenge an opposing player, maintains proper positioning at all times and has quick instincts (and quicker hands) that allow him to make plays in bunches.
Carter’s ability to bother ball-handlers the length of the court is his signature attribute, but it’s perhaps even more notable that he’s able to get the rock out of his mark’s hands with such frequency. Rarely does a collegiate contributor excel at denying his assignments touches—not to this extent, at least—but the Mountaineer’s skills went further still. Even when they did gain control, his pestilent hounding often forced them to abandon isolation proclivities and pass to lesser teammates.
Think Patrick Beverley 2.0 if you need an NBA comparison. I’m by no means the first to make that connection, which should be telling in and of itself.
Interior Defense: Mohamed Bamba, Orlando Magic
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You can’t go wrong with Jaren Jackson Jr. or Wendell Carter Jr. For that matter, Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson are intriguing options as well. But give me Mohamed Bamba’s ridiculous length and instincts every day of the week. Maybe even twice on Sundays.
Not only does the Texas product have a record-setting 7’10” wingspan that allows him to reject shots from all over the floor, but he also understands the nuances of positioning and already shows advanced skills in so many different areas of interior defense. He doesn’t gamble for swats if it means ceding ground, and he can put together sequences like this one against Duke:
That’s nearly everything you want to see from a big man on the defensive end—perfect denials of entry passes to Carter from multiple angles, followed by the presence of mind to slide over and reject a driving Bagley in highlight-reel fashion.
Bamba does need to add some weight to his frame, preferably in the form of muscle that doesn’t hinder his ability to switch onto guards and stick with them out on the perimeter. He can be caught off balance against cutters, occasionally finding himself in no man’s land. But even in those situations, his discipline and jaw-dropping length allow him to recover and alter shots mere mortals might not be able to affect.
Athleticism: Zhaire Smith, Philadelphia 76ers
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Though we might not see him in action for a while after a broken foot continued the Philadelphia 76ers’ longstanding tradition of cursed first-year players, Zhaire Smith can fly. The way he hovers in the air after taking a spring-loaded leap is so wicked that “Defying Gravity” may as well have been written about him.
Rather than wax poetic, let’s show you some of the best examples from his time at Texas Tech:
There’s no twisting and turning in this one, but just look how high he gets:
His athleticism isn’t limited to dunking, either:
On-Court Mentality: Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls
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At this point, our creation is already overloaded with talent.
He can shoot the ball like Trae Young and handle it with Jalen Brunson’s steady confidence. He can make any pass like Luka Doncic, and that doesn’t prevent him from assuming Marvin Bagley III’s bag of scoring tricks on the interior. When he’s not rebounding like Deandre Ayton, he can defend as well as Jevon Carter on the perimeter and Mohamed Bamba on the interior. If that’s still not enough, he’s gained Zhaire Smith’s ability to jump out of the gym. He sounds perfect, right?
But this dream player is so talented that he could grow overconfident, and we need the ideal mentality to keep him grounded, accepting any role he’s handed during his inaugural NBA go-round. No one fits that description better than Wendell Carter Jr., who was content to assume a smaller set of job responsibilities while ceding the spotlight to higher-profile teammates during his lone season at Duke.
“People think I took a backseat to Marvin. I don’t think that’s the right terminology. It’s just that I sacrificed,” he said after the draft, per NBC Sports Chicago’s Vincent Goodwill. “People think I bowed down to him or allowed him to take the leadership role. But in my opinion I did what I had to in order to win.”
Our creation could very well be the best player on the floor. Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale, after learning the full composition of our NBA Frankenstein, thought he would immediately function as a top-20 contributor throughout the league. Even that may be selling him short.
With Carter’s mentality, he can add that type of value without feeling the need to prove himself alongside another spotlight-hungry teammate. If he needs to score in bunches, great. If his coach asks him to fill more nondescript roles while still contributing to the winning cause, that’s just as well.
He won’t be stopped either way.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.