The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: NBA Rookie Debuts


After the expectations and excitement for the new rookies entering the NBA, we have finally gotten the chance to see them play. Every rookie had a different experience game one, some were great, some disappointed, and others crumbled under the pressure. Given it was their first regular-season game in the NBA, the nerves were understandable. But, there were also a handful of rookies did not appear phased at all by the bright lights.

The Good

Deandre Ayton, Pheonix Suns

Debut Stats: 18 PTS (8-11 FG, 2-2 FT), 10 REB, 6 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK

Undoubtedly the best rookie debut this season, Ayton wowed the league in his first game. Even though he’s my pick for rookie of the year, I didn’t expect this great of a performance opening night. He dominated in the post backing down smaller players and showing off his variety of moves. Additionally, his chemistry with Devin Booker and ability to set screens should excite Suns fans everywhere. The only knock against him is although his offensive game is very polished, his defense is still a work-in-progress. Ayton had flashes of being an elite defensive center but occasionally got lazy defending off the ball. Overall, his debut showed a lot of promise to what should be a very successful career.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LA Clippers

Debut Stats: 11 PTS (5-6 FG, 1-1 FT), 2 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander showed great finishing ability, court vision, and controlled play very few rookies have. He uses his length and athleticism extremely well on both ends of the court, already proving to be one of the better rookie defenders. SGA did not force any shots in his debut leading to a very efficient 11 points. His play this year will likely be a bright spot in what could be a highly disappointing season for the Clippers.

Mo Bamba, Orlando Magic

Debut Stats: 13 PTS (6-8 FG, 1-2 3P, 0-2 FT), 7 REB, 2 BLK, 1 PF

Bamba managed to do everything you would want from him in his first game. He protected the paint, attacked the offensive glass, and stretched the floor. His knack for offensive putbacks was evident in just his debut and was a great rim-runner. A great sign for his defensive potential was not only his blocked shots but his single personal foul. Only elite defensive centers can guard the paint without fouling and if Bamba continues to do that he will be very special.

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The Bad (or underwhelming)

Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Debut Stats: 10 PTS (5-16 FG, 0-5 3P, 0-2 FT), 8 REB, 4 AST, 4 TO

Far from a horrible debut, Doncic didn’t quite live up to the hype in his rookie debut. He looked extremely hesitant to shoot the ball and shot very poorly overall. His uncertainty also led to 4 turnovers, which is way too high for a primary ball handler only dishing out 4 assists. Additionally, Doncic is clearly not in NBA shape and will need to work on his body to become a star. But, he still showed flashes of greatness with his court vision and ball handling, and since he is only a rookie, it’s hard to expect efficient play and low turnovers. Luka still has plenty to improve upon this season, but should definitely be fun to watch.

Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

Debut Stats: 10 PTS (2-6 FG, 0-1 3P, 6-6 FT), 5 REB, 1 AST, 3 STL, 1 BLK

During his first game in the league, Jaren Jackson Jr. flashed his defensive potential and post scoring. His length and athleticism give him the perfect body type to be an elite defender and he did not disappoint in his debut. On offense, most of his touches came in the post, which is not ideal for the way the NBA is played. Jackson played fine in the post as he was able to get fouled, finish, or pass it off, but he will have more value as a stretch four. Although his debut was nothing spectacular, he still showed how good he could be if utilized correctly

Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

Debut Stats: 14 PTS (5-14 FG, 1-5 3P, 3-4 FT), 6 REB, 5 AST, 4 TO

Young showed plenty of promise in his rookie debut but also had his share of struggles. The positives from the night included his ability to push the pace and pass the ball in transition, as well as his finishing around the basket. Young will definitely put up his share of points, but he needs to be much more efficient. Shooting 36% from the field and 20% from three simply won’t get it done in the NBA. Also, his assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.25 is far from ideal for a starting point guard. Even though he was too sloppy in his debut to consider it “good” if Young cleans up his game he will have a great rookie season.

Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls

Debut Stats: 8 PTS (4-10 FG), 3 REB, 3 AST, 1 BLK

As a defensive specialist Carter Jr. faced possibly the hardest task for a rookie center on opening night, guarding Joel Embiid. He struggled to contain him as Joel dropped 30 points, but Carter didn’t look awful overall. On offense, he proved he could be a strong rim roller and above average passer as a center. It’ll be hard to truly judge Carter’s defense until he plays somebody who isn’t the greatest center in the NBA.

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Marvin Bagley III, Sacremento Kings

Debut Stats: 6 PTS (3-6 FG), 5 REB

Bagley’s underwhelming debut is largely due to the fact he only played 12 minutes. It’s extremely confusing why the Kings would not play him more, but that will likely change by the end of the season. Or maybe it won’t, the Kings are arguably the worst-managed organization in the NBA. In his limited time, Bagley rebounded very well and showed signs of a post game. To be fair, his post-ups were on the much smaller Jae Crowder but were still impressive. Bagley didn’t do anything special opening night but didn’t look too bad either.

The Ugly

Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers

Debut Stats: 9 PTS (2-7 FG, 0-1 3P, 5-5 FT), 3 REB, 0 AST, 4 TO

The effort from Sexton is exactly what you want out of a young rookie, but the results weren’t there in his first game. Being an undersized guard Sexton had a tough time attacking the basket, constantly getting his shot altered or blocked. His finishing around the rim will have to improve if he wants to be the dynamic scorer he was in college. In addition to his inefficient shooting, Sexton had 4 turnovers and 0 assists as a point guard. Obviously, he is not a pass-first guard, but he still needs to get better at getting his teammates involved and taking care of the ball. Hopefully, Sexton will improve as he adjusts to the NBA game, but he has a long way to go to fill out his potential.

Kevin Knox, New York Knicks

Debut Stats: 10 PTS (4-16 FG, 1-5 3P, 1-3 FT), 0 REB, 0 AST, 2 STL, 1 BLK, 2 TO

In an overall poor debut, the Knicks rookie looked extremely indecisive on the court. Knox got far too comfortable shooting contested mid-range jumpers and contested floaters leading to an extremely inefficient 25% FG%. He struggled to make quick, confident reads when the defense was closing out and tried to do too much too soon. Even though he played pretty good defense he did not add anything besides inefficient scoring in his first game. He didn’t grab a single rebound or pick up any assists. The nerves clearly got to Knox and hopefully as he gets used to the NBA game his performances will improve.

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