There’s nothing like the first time. With the NBA season right around the corner, Cody compares 5 rookie debuts to player debuts of NBA seasons past to see what it can tell us about the rooks’ present and future.
In honor the 2020-2021 National Basketball Association season starting on Tuesday, I wanted to highlight some of the new faces that would be debuting. I realize that many are already playing preseason. I believe it matters more when the games really count. I wanted to thread the needle by comparing five rookie debuts to intriguing debuts of NBA seasons past to see what we can learn about both players. These are not career comparisons. I am thinking about the way we reacted to certain introductions to the league and how some of these players may—or may not—go similar routes. I am looking at this establishing moment. The start of their journey. The players from the past are memories that are called up when I think of what could be. Hence the title of the piece.
For example, let’s all take a minute to soak up Michael Carter-Williams first game in 2013.
He threw down a 22 point, 7 rebound, 12 assist, and 9 steal(??!?) performance. He was the crown jewel at the time for the tanking 76ers. That season he earned Rookie of the Year honors. Now he’s playing 18 minutes a night for the Magic… So you might say his career has not followed a linear trajectory. Which rookie do I think could make a similar splash and then fade?
Cole Anthony, PG
A big part of this is fit. Like MCW, Anthony also plays for the Magic. He has been one of the top basetkball talents since he was in grade school. The Magic are mediocre at best. I could see him having a long leash to start and he has demonstrated that he can score, pass, and even grab a few steals. If the Magic improve or he gets moved to a better team, I can see him fitting in better as a scoring role player. Not the exact role that MCW plays right now, but a contributor in the same fashion.
Raise your hand if you remember Gordan Giricek?
After a couple of seasons overseas, Giricek jumped to the NBA and joined the Memphis Grizzlies. He would get traded midseason to the Orlando Magic. (I promise this is not a Magic centered post.) Anyway, in his first game with Memphis, he exploded for 29 points on 10/13 shooting. He proceeded to have a decent year for both teams. I could see a similar path for…
Deni Avdija, SF
Avdija has demonstrated some good poise and shot-making ability. He will not be asked to do that much with Bradley Beal and Westbrook running the show and I think that fits his skillset well. Let him continue to develop. If he can shoot it as well as he has in one preseason game so far (sample size theater!), I think he will be a valuable piece. Giricek scored in the teens and always seemed to have a place despite moving teams several times early on. I don’t think that will be Deni’s fate and I see him as a more complete and better player. I am pointing out that I could see Deni going off in his opening game based on the attention that Beal and Westbrook will get. And yes, I went from foreign player to foreign player. I actually didn’t mean to. I know you don’t believe me.
The next player I want us to remember is Amar’e Stoudemire. He was a young player loaded with talent taken in the top 10. He jumped right in with the Phoenix Suns in 2002, averaging 31 minutes a game his rookie season. This was not yet the Steve Nash 7-Seconds-or-less-Suns, but they were still a good team. In his debut, Amar’e didn’t shoot a high percentage and finished with 10 points, 6 rebounds, and no defensive stats. I think the debut this year that could mirror his will be by a player that was compared to Amar’e several times leading up to the draft.
Obi Toppin, PF
I can foresee Obi getting a lot of run on this hodgepodge Knicks teams and trying to find his touch early on. These rookies were stripped of Summer League to get their groove on. There will be some adjustments to the NBA game. Obi will be fine. I can see him finishing with 12 and 7 and not shooting that well. But by game 7 or so, we will really see what he can offer. That would track with Amar’e. Toppin will have the chance to miss some shots and adjust. He is a talented offensive player and will put up good numbers once he gets his touch calibrated.
Gary Payton came into the league in 1990 and he already had a air about him that he knew what he was doing. In his first game for the Seattle Supersonics, he scored 10 points, pulled down 6 rebounds, and dished out 6 assists. He was a bigger guard who could do a little bit of everything. He would grow into one of the fiercest defenders in the league. I don’t know if this player will do that, necessarily, but I am curious how this guy develops.
Tyrese Haliburton, PG
The comparison is not exact, as I alluded to. I don’t believe Haliburton will be the defender that Payton was. Payton got the starting job right away. Haliburton will have to wait in line behind D’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield. The numbers will be there though. Haliburton will probably come away with 11 points 5 rebounds and 6 assists in the opener. He is poised beyond his years. Scoring will not be his primary concern, just as Payton was not a dynamic scorer to begin his career. The size comp is also there with Haliburton being a legit 6’5’’. The difference in usage will be interesting to watch.
The final players I want to cross-reference are burly beasts. Back in 1999, Ron Artest began his career with the Chicago Bulls. He would later change his name to Metta World Peace and I think that is probably the thing he is most known for. Or for the Lakers fans, maybe this finals shot. (Still heartbreaking a decade later.) In his first game with Chicago, he played under 17 minutes and threw down a line of 14pts, 4rbs, 1ast, 1stl, and 1blk. He was already known as an elite defender. The player I’m looking at is not as big or as…whatever we say World Peace is.
Desmond Bane, SG
The comparison I’m pulling on is the ability to come right in and contribute. Bane can come in for under 20 minutes and score 14 with a few threes and add a little of everything. He is JACKED too, even if he is not in World Peace’s category of size. He is not the same defender either, although he has the right work ethic and fundamentals to make a difference on that end. He will play hard. Landing on the Grizzlies is a perfect spot for him.
So those are the five debuts I’ll be watching closely next week and the five debuts I’m imagining they will be reminiscent of. As mentioned, these are not about the breadth of a career, simply a snapshot of this moment and one possible trajectory. I wish all these rookies the best. I hope that when their moment comes, they actually end up all being LeBron James—rising to meet the hype and even surpassing it. Good luck fellas. Have a great day.