The NBA’s 2019-20 season opened last October 22, 2019, and aside from the debuts of Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard with their respective new teams, we also witnessed the baptism of fire of the NBA’s 2019 Rookie class.
While most rookies have jitters playing in their first-ever professional basketball game, three rookies played like they’ve been in the league for a long time already. These rookies delivered three of the best scoring debuts by an NBA freshman.
Check them out here:
Last October 23, 2019, Charlotte Hornets rookie P.J. Washington scored 27 points on 9-17 shooting, including 7-11 from behind the three-point area and 2-2 from the free-throw line. Washington’s performance set a Charlotte franchise record for most points scored by a rookie in his NBA debut. But that wasn’t the only record that Washington set that night because he also entered the NBA record books with the most three-pointers made by an NBA rookie in his NBA debut and the second-highest scoring output by an NBA rookie in his first-ever NBA game
After the first three games of the season, Washington is averaging 15.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. His scoring had dropped in his last two games but there is no question that Washington is a star material if the Hornets play their cards right. Charlotte is in a rebuild mode following the departure of superstar guard Kemba Walker last summer but if Washington continues to impress, he may be the next star Charlotte is looking for.
Washington was the Charlotte Hornets’ 12th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The 6-7 from Louisville in Kentucky played collegiate hoops for the hometown Wildcats. During his sophomore season in college, Washington earned All-SEC First team honors and he was also a Third-Team All-American selection.
Kendrick Nunn and R.J. Barrett Too
But it wasn’t just P.J. Washington who etched his name in history because Miami Heat rookie Kendrick Nunn and New York Knicks freshman R.J. Barrett also had record-making performances in their first-ever NBA appearance. Nunn delivered the second-highest rookie scoring debut of the season by scoring 24 points during the Miami Heat’s 120-101 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. Nunn shot 10-18 from the floor, grabbed two rebounds, issued three assists and had three steals in his first NBA game played. The 24-year old former Illinois and Oakland collegiate player was undrafted in the 2018 NBA Draft. He was signed by the Golden State Warriors to a partially guaranteed deal and spent the year playing for the Warriors’ G-League affiliate Santa Cruz Warriors. The Heat signed him last summer and he has been a diamond in the rough for Coach Spo. After three games played, Nunn is averaging 22.3 points per game on 51.9% FG shooting and 42.1% from behind the arc.
Likewise, Canadian teenager, R.J. Barrett had an auspicious debut for the New York Knicks. The 19-year old from Duke scored 21 points on 9-13 shooting with five rebounds and two assists in 37 minutes of playing time. However, the Knicks lost to the San Antonio Spurs 111-120. Despite that, Barrett’s performance ranks among the best in a rookie debut and is a good sign for the Knicks who have long been looking for their next franchise player. Barrett was New York’s 3rd overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. He was a teammate of Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish at Duke. Barrett was an All-American last season and he was also the recipient of the Jerry West award for the best shooting guard in college basketball for 2019.
As it stands, Washington, Nunn, and Barrett now enter the record books as among the top rookie scorers in their NBA debut. In case you are wondering which NBA rookies had the highest scoring debuts in NBA history before this season, check this list from Basketball-Reference:
- Gordan Giricek | 29 points | 10/30/02
- Jahlil Okafor | 26 points | 10/28/15
- LeBron James | 25 points | 10/29/03
- Damian Lillard | 23 points | 10/31/12
- Michael Carter-Williams | 22 points | 10/30/13
- Anthony Davis | 21 points | 10/31/12
- Rudy Gay | 21 points | 11/01/06
- Speedy Claxton | 20 points | 10/30/01
- Joel Embiid | 20 points | 10/26/16
- Blake Griffin | 20 points | 10/27/10
- Brandon Roy | 20 points | 11/01/06
Eight out of those 12 players are still playing in the NBA right now with the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James as the oldest with 17 seasons played. Five are current NBA All-Stars, namely James, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid and Blake Griffin. Likewise, five of these players won Rookie of the Year honors. The Rookie of the Year winners in this group is James, Lillard, Griffin, Michael Carter-Williams, and Brandon Roy.
May Be Better Than We Thought
Before opening night 2019, the top 10 highest scoring games by NBA rookies came from nine different seasons, with only 2006 producing two in Rudy Gay and Brandon Roy. But after Washington, Nunn and Barrett’s big opening nights, this year’s crop of rookies could be special. We haven’t even seen this year’s top overall Zion Williamson play his first NBA game.
#2 overall pick Ja Morant scored 30 points in his third NBA game and that was the first 30-point game by an NBA rookie this season. Through three games played, Morant is averaging 18.0 points, 6.0 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game for the Memphis Grizzlies. 7th overall pick Coby White is putting up 16.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game after three games played. White scored 25 points in his second-ever NBA game. 9th overall pick Rai Hachimura of the Washington Wizards is averaging 16.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game for the Wizards. He registered a double-double in his NBA debut with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
It’s still too early in the season to tell whether these 2019 NBA rookies are going to become NBA stars but based on historical data, this year’s draft class could produce more NBA stars than we initially expected. The barometers for the best draft class are the 1984, 1996,1995 and 2004 NBA drafts which have produced many All-Stars and even Hall of Famers. Can the class of 2019 join their ranks?