NBA Draft Q&A: Picking Dark Horse Rookie of the Year Candidates

NBA Draft Q&A: Picking Dark Horse Rookie of the Year Candidates

This article is part of our NBA Draft series.

The 2020 NBA Draft is just one week away. Nick Whalen and James Anderson are here to answer five questions about one of the most polarizing classes in recent history.

Purely from an entertainment perspective, which rookies are you most looking forward to watching next season?

Whalen: I know James won't name Obi Toppin out of principle, but he's easily No. 1 on my list. The man threw down two separate between-the-legs dunks in-game – I repeat: IN GAME – at Dayton. We haven't seen anything like that since Ricky Davis circa 2003. Beyond Toppin, Tyrell Terry should be a lot of fun wherever he lands. As one of the world's foremost Brandon Jennings supporters, my hope is that Terry is able to grab the torch and set an example for the next generation of undersized, shoot-first point guards.

Anderson: Obviously, most rookies are pretty bad, so guys like Ja Morant and Zion Williamson who are appointment TV are very rare. That said, I'll be excited to watch LaMelo Ball regardless of which team he is on, because generational passers are my favorite players to watch. Beyond Ball, this isn't a great class for must-see rookies. Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman will have plenty of highlight-reel plays, but watching them struggle in between those plays won't be aesthetically pleasing. Someone like Tyrese Haliburton or Tyrell Terry could emerge as a fun player to watch.

What would be the best marriage of team and player that you hope comes to fruition on draft night?

Whalen: James Wiseman landing in either Golden State or Charlotte would be a nice fit. I also like the idea of the Hawks trading down into the late-lottery to grab Aaron Nesmith, the best three-point shooter in the draft. Tyrese Haliburton would be a really fun piece on an already-solid roster like the Bulls' or the Suns'. Haliburton can fit in just about anywhere, but I'm not sure he meets the archetype for what teams like the Cavaliers, Pistons or Knicks are looking for.

Anderson: I'm intrigued by any team trading up specifically for Ball, as I think he'll have a better chance to succeed if the team that drafts him desperately wants him, rather than a team team like Minnesota just taking him by default and not being fully committed to making it his team. I also love the fit of James Wiseman on the Warriors, as I think him reaching his ceiling as one of the best centers in the league is pretty dependent on his team context and it would be tough to do better than learning from Steve Kerr, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry.

If you're looking for an outside-the-box Rookie of the Year candidate, which player(s) could be this year's version of Michael Carter-Williams or Malcolm Brogdon?

Whalen: Almost always, Rookie of the Year comes down to circumstance and opportunity. It's a stat-based award, and the players who play the most minutes tend to put up the best raw numbers. I'm not sure if he qualifies as "outside of the box", but if Obi Toppin were to land in Cleveland or Detroit, he'll have a chance to secure a major role for a very bad team right away. Like him or not, he's arguably the most NBA-ready prospect – at least on offense – in the draft. Further down, keep an eye on Terry, Nesmith, Saddiq Bey and Cole Anthony, who's one of the biggest wild cards in the class. And if you want a major sleeper, I'll throw out San Diego State's Malachi Flynn.

Anderson: I like Tyrese Haliburton's chances if he ends up on a team where he can get close to 30 minutes per game. My favorite long shots would be Desmond Bane, Aaron Nesmith and Tyrell Terry, all of whom are very team-context-dependent. Whoever ends up on the Pistons and Knicks is going to have a pretty good shot at ROY if they're an NBA-ready prospect, as those teams have so many shots and minutes to hand out.

In a class filled with uncertainty, who is the likely lottery pick you're most confident will turn into a very good NBA player?

Whalen: Of the Ball-Edwards-Wiseman trio, Wiseman is my pick. Beyond that top three, I'll go with Haliburton. His ceiling isn't as high as Ball's or Edwards', but Haliburton has perhaps the highest floor of any prospect in the draft. He does virtually everything well, and if he proves he can shoot the three as well as he did at Iowa State, he could fairly easily end up as the best guard from this class five years down the road.

Anderson: Other than Wiseman, Haliburton has the highest floor in this class. He can shoot, dribble and pass and fits nicely on almost any roster, as he doesn't need the ball to be effective. I know he's listed as a point guard, but I'm viewing him as a shooting guard who can also play make with a second unit. He also has a very high basketball IQ and is a versatile defender. Players that check all those boxes pretty much always work out.

If you're the GM of a team like the Suns (10th pick) or the Pelicans (13th), who are looking to make the playoffs next season, which freshman would you prefer to draft: Patrick Williams, Tyrell Terry, Precious Achiuwa, or Tyrese Maxey?

Whalen: Both teams are in a great position, roster-wise, and nailing this pick in a difficult draft could be the piece that puts them over the top going forward. For Phoenix, Terry would be the home-run swing, while Maxey would provide more stability on the defensive end. The Suns have a glut of talent on the wing but could use another young piece behind Devin Booker and Ricky Rubio (or perhaps Chris Paul). If Williams were to fall all the way to New Orleans at 13, he would be close to a no-brainer. But I like the fit of Achiuwa as a hyper-athletic, defensive-minded version of Montrezl Harrell. He's never going to be a star, but Achiuwa is a player that any team in the league would love to slide into its rotation.

Anderson: I like Terry as a fit for those two teams. If a team wants to develop him into a primary ball handler, that could take a few years, but he'd be ready to step in right away as a backup point guard who can also play off the ball and stretch the floor. The one problem is that both of those teams need to improve their defense, and Terry won't be a good defender, but none of these freshmen will be a value-added defender as a rookie.

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
James Anderson
James Anderson is RotoWire's Lead Prospect Analyst, Assistant Baseball Editor, and co-host of Farm Fridays on Sirius/XM radio and the RotoWire Prospect Podcast.
Nick Whalen
RotoWire's NBA Editor and host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Nick was awarded the FSWA Best Podcast -- All Sports award in 2017 and 2018. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.
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