This year’s rookie class in the NBA has plenty of quality players. Some were good as predicted while some flew under the radar and surprised many people with their terrific performances during the 2019-20 NBA season. But good as they are, the NBA is a vert talent-laden league and while these freshmen players have been pretty solid, only a handful of them will become All-Stars soon.
While we wait and see if the NBA season will resume soon enough, let’s take a look at which of the 2019 NBA rookies have real All-Star potential:
Michael Porter Jr.
Michael Porter Jr. has always been viewed as a star. He was one of the top players of the 2017 class and was the MVP of the 2018 McDonald’s All-American game. He went to Missouri for college but got injured during the season opener and missed the rest of the season. He ended up playing only three games for Missouri before declaring for the NBA draft. Despite his injury history, the Denver Nuggets selected him with the 14th pick of the 2018 NBA Draft. Porter missed the entirety of what would have been his rookie season and underwent second back surgery. Porter is technically a rookie this season despite being drafted in 2018.
In 48 games played so far, Porter has averaged 7.5 points, and 4.5 rebounds while shooting 49.5% from the floor and 42.2% from deep.
Those numbers look pedestal but remember that he is playing amongst seasoned veterans in Denver and is averaging just 14.0 minutes of action. If you translate Porter’s numbers to a per-36 average, the former Missouri Tiger is averaging 19.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. With the Nuggets dealing with injuries to starter in January, Porter averaged 12.0 points per game in 21 minutes of action. With his size ( 6-10) and ability to handle the ball and shoot from the outside, there is no question that the sky is the limit for Michael Porter Jr. It’s just a matter of whether his body will hold up for him.
Kendrick Nunn was undrafted in 2018 and was signed by the Miami Heat on April 10, 2019. The former Illinois star made an impression during the 2019 NBA Preseason and in Miami’s preseason finale, he scored 40 points which were the most by any Miami player in preseason play. He scored 112 points in his first five NBA games which set the NBA record for most by an undrafted player. Nunn would score a total of 504 points in his first 31 NBA games to become the fastest rookie to reach 500 points in Heat history. He is also the first undrafted rookie to be named Rookie of the Month more than one time. The list goes on.
Nunn is already 24-years old and after stints in the G-League, he came to the NBA already a mature player with explosive scoring skills.
Now let’s remember that the reason why he went undrafted was an off-court incident so there was never a question with his talent. Nunn was dismissed from Illinois after a domestic violence arrest in 2016. He took a year off and returned for Oakland University where he was 2nd in the nation in scoring behind Trae Young. Despite that, his off-court issues prevented him from getting drafted. Nunn is putting up 15.6 points and 3.4 assists per game in less than 30 minutes of action. No question he is a 20-point scorer if given the right breaks.
P.J. Washington was the 12th overall pick of the 2019 NBA draft by the Charlotte Hornets after a sophomore season in the University of Kentucky where he earned All-SEC First Team and 3rd All-American honors. Washington scored 27 points in his first-ever NBA game while making seven three-pointers, the most by a rookie in his debut. Listed at 6-7, Washington has the physical tools and basketball skills to become one of the top forwards in the game. He shoots 37.4% from behind the three-point arc and has a consistent mid-range jumper.
He’s filled a void in Charlotte and was one of the three members of the Hornets that made it to the Rising Stars Challenge. He has improved his body since coming over to the NBA and he can pass and score in the post as well. Washington still needs to work on his perimeter defending skills but overall, he is NBA-ready and in a couple of years from now, he should be All-Star material already. Washington averaged 12.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game in 30.3 minutes of action for the Hornets.
Aside from Kendrick Nunn, the Miami Heat have another rookie who has real All-Star potential. Tyler Herro has played a big role in the resurgence of the Miami Heat this season and we may have only seen the tip of the iceberg. The 20-year old from the University of Kentucky was the Heat’s 12th overall pick in the last NBA Draft and was the Southeastern Conference Rookie of the Year in his only year with the Wildcats. This deadly sniper leads the league in catch and shoots percentage at 50.5 % and he is also making 2.1 three-pointers per game at a 39.5% accuracy rate.
Hero played in 47 games for the Heat this season and he averaged 12.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game.
He was bothered by a foot injury before the suspension of action but based on what we saw from him, he has the confidence and competitiveness to become an All-Star. Herro isn’t afraid to take the big shot and that’s a characteristic of great players. He possesses a very high basketball IQ and had good enough handles to become a secondary playmaker.
R.J. Barrett was the 3rd overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft behind Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. Barrett was Williamson’s teammate in Duke and he was the best high school basketball player in the United States after being named Naismith Prep Player of the Year and Gatorade National Player of the Year during his final high school season. Barrett was also the MVP of the 2017 FIBA Under-19 World Cup after leading Canada to the gold medal.
At 6-6, this 19-year-old has limitless potentials. In his NBA debut, he scored 21 points, grabbed five rebounds, and had two steals. Barrett scored 27 points in the 2020 Rising Stars Challenge where he continuously powered to the basket with dunks and layups. He was averaging 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game when the season was suspended.
In His Last Game Played
He scored 26 points and hit a big three-pointer in New York’s 136-131 overtime win over the Atlanta Hawks. He shot just 40.2 % from the floor but his motor, work ethic, and offensive tendencies make him a potential All-Star.
Ja Morant was the 2nd overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies but played like the #1 overall pick while Zion Williamson was healing up. Morant was criticized for having a questionable jump shot when he declared for the draft but 49.1% from the field and 36.7% from behind the three-point arc, he’s silenced his critics and have made most of the believers. Morant’s passing is already elite and at 6.9 assists per game, he is 13th overall in the league. The Grizzlies were supposed to be on a rebuild this season but with Morant, fellow rookie Brandon Clarke, Jaren Jackson and Jonas Valanciunas, they have emerged as a playoff team in the tough Western Conference.
Morant averaged 17.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 6.9 assists while playing 30.0 minutes per game for the Grizzlies.
He isn’t afraid to take the big shots and isn’t afraid to attempt the big dunks, even if they missed. Morant has spectacular ball-handling skills, court vision, and ability to finish strong make him an ideal All-Star. I envision Morant taking votes next season and he will probably beat De’Aaron Fox to the gun as to who will become All-Star first.
There were doubts about Zion Williamson after he suffered an injury in the preseason but once he got on the floor, he was worth the wait. He was every bit the scouting report on him said and more. Williamson entered the league after posting the highest player efficiency rating of any college player in the previous ten years and the New Orleans Pelicans hoped he would fill the void left by Anthony Davis. Right away, Zion transformed the Pelicans from a struggling team to one that was still chasing a playoff spot when the season was halted. He fitted nicely with the young core that New Orleans acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers in the Anthony Davis trade.
In 19 games played so far, Zion is averaging 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. He was shooting 58.9% from the field and 46.2% from behind the three-point arc. Sure, he was only making 64.2% of his free throws but not only did Zion prove that he is well-recovered from the knee injury which delayed his NBA debut but he showed that he can mix it up with the big boys. There is no adjustment phase for this rookie. Had he played from Day One, he would have been an All-Star this season. Williamson is a once in a lifetime talent. We have never seen someone with his size, quickness, and explosiveness. And he isn’t even 20 years old. That’s scary.