Everybody loves incoming rookies. They provide hope for turning around bad teams. They also provide hope for boosting established teams with cheap contracts. If you can find a contributor right away, the fan base will swear this guy was a steal in the draft and the jersey sales will begin early.
The problem is the hope is often fleeting. We don’t see a ton of important rookies right away each season, and sometimes we’re struggling to pick between Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo for Rookie of the Year. Not every season has a Karl-Anthony Towns or Kevin Durant or Derrick Rose. With the 2016 draft class, which players can you expect to even contribute right away?
Also, how will the history of that pick and coach in place affect a particular rookie’s playing time?
Let’s check out the 15 first-round picks who will likely receive the trust of their coaches right away (in reverse order):
(Note: Joel Embiid, despite being a rookie, is not included as this was kept to just the 2016 draft class. Dario Saric is also not listed, but there are some Sixers!)
15. Timothe Luwawu, Philadelphia 76ers
No. 24 pick history: 10-year average of 15.4 minutes over 42 games
The three biggest players coming out of the No. 24 slot are definitely Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson. There have been some duds like Jared Cunningham, Byron Mullens and Damion Jones. The biggest rookie contributors from this pick are Rudy Fernandez (78 games, 25.6 mpg) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (81 games, 23.1 mpg). Ibaka waited a year to play in the NBA but averaged 18.1 minutes in 73 games as a rookie.
Coach tendency: We know Brett Brown isn’t afraid to play anybody thrown his way. He’s been asked to play basically anybody since he got there, so he’s unlikely to start discriminating against rookies now.
Playing opportunity: It’s a crowded roster but it all depends on how Brown decides to use these options. Ben Simmons can play the 3 and the 4, as can Dario Saric (although probably more of a 4). Gerald Henderson can play some 2 and 3. Jerryd Bayless can play some 1 and 2. Nik Stauskas still has an NBA contract. Hollis Thompson, Jerami Grant and Robert Covington are probably the guys competing with Timothe Luwawu the most for backup time on the wing.
Prediction: I’m not sure if Luwawu can hit 3-pointers right away, but I think the defensive impact will be there. The Thabo Sefolosha comparisons make sense to me and I think Brown will appreciate how disruptive this rookie can be. It can’t be that hard to take minutes from Stauskas. Let’s go 18 minutes per game for 65 games.
14. Malachi Richardson, Sacramento Kings
No. 22 pick history: 10-year average of 15.6 minutes over 52 games
There have been a couple of real bad picks with Fab Melo, Elliott Williams, and maybe even Jordan Adams (but it’s too early to write that book), but this pick is also littered with important role players like Courtney Lee, Jared Dudley and Mason Plumlee. Kenneth Faried is probably the most important guy from the past 10 years. We have an exciting young power forward in Bobby Portis who could end up being the best of the bunch. Biggest contributor as a rookie was definitely Courtney Lee. Started 42 of his 77 games, played 25.2 minutes per game, and went to the Finals with Orlando.
Coach tendency: In Dave Joerger’s three years, he hasn’t given a ton of time to rookies, especially first-round picks. We’re going to throw last year out because the Memphis Grizzlies were beyond injured. But in 2013-14, Joerger played rookie Nick Calathes 16.5 minutes per game over 71 games while Jamaal Franklin (7.7 mpg, 21 games) sat on the bench. In 2014-15, Jordan Adams (8.3 mpg, 30 games) barely sniffed the court. Joerger will likely rely on veterans in his first season in Sacramento.
Playing opportunity: It’s a crowded wing corps with Rudy Gay, Arron Afflalo, Garrett Temple, Matt Barnes and Omri Casspi. Ben McLemore is on the team, too, but could be traded if the Kings can find some value in return at the point guard position. It would help Malachi Richardson a lot if he could play some point, but I still think there is plenty of opportunity for him to earn minutes with that crowded field.
Prediction: It probably takes a couple of months for Richardson to get regular burn on the court but someone in the 20’s always surprises us. I think it’s Richardson by the end of the year. My best guess is 55 games, and 16 minutes per game for the season.
13. DeAndre Bembry, Atlanta Hawks
No. 21 pick history: 10-year average of 17.9 minutes over 52 games
Success stories so far from the 21st pick are Rajon Rondo, Ryan Anderson and Darren Collison. Gorgui Dieng might be finding his way into that too after a very solid third season in the NBA. But then there are guys like Craig Brackens, Nolan Smith and Daequan Cook who just couldn’t catch on consistently with a team. Collison (27.8 mpg, 76 games) and Rondo (23.5 mpg, 78 games) were the biggest 21st pick contributors as rookies over the last decade.
Coach tendency: I wouldn’t say Mike Budenholzer loves the ideas of playing rookies right away. Dennis Schroder played sparingly (13.1 mpg, 49 games) during his rookie season. Budenholzer was so over trying to see if Adreian Payne could even be a long-term project for the Atlanta Hawks that he shipped Payne to Minnesota halfway through his rookie season. Last year, they moved their pick for Tim Hardaway Jr. Now the Hawks have two first-round rookies.
Playing opportunity: Kyle Korver, Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha are the main wings for the Hawks. Maybe Mike Scott will play a little small forward, as well. After that, the trio of DeAndre Bembry, Taurean Prince and Hardaway will split those remaining fourth wing minutes. Someone will be able to carpe that diem.
Prediction: A lot of people loved Bembry more and more headed up to the draft. That love was there for a reason. He’ll find his way into Bud’s rotation and finish the season with like 65 games played and 19 minutes per night.
12. Caris LeVert, Brooklyn Nets
No. 20 pick history: 10-year average of 11.4 minutes over 48 games
Over the last decade, we’re not getting a big bowl of production out of the 20th slot in the draft. Evan Fournier is the best of the bunch, but he didn’t get going right away (11.3 mpg, 38 games) as a rookie. No. 20 has Renaldo Balkman, Alexis Ajinca, James Anderson and Eric Maynor. Jason Smith is one of the more solid picks. Donatas Motiejunas and Tony Snell have shown flashes. We’re still not convinced Bruno Caboclo is a real person. Biggest contributor is either Eric Maynor (15.7 mpg, 81 games), who was traded during rookie season or Tony Snell (16 mpg, 77 games).
Coach tendency: We have no idea. Kenny Atkinson is a new coach in the NBA, so we’ll have to wait and see.
Playing opportunity: I guess it depends on if you project Caris LeVert as a point guard or shooting guard in the NBA. Either way, he’s fighting for time with Randy Foye behind Jeremy Lin or Bojan Bogdanovic. Greivis Vasquez and Sean Kilpatrick will also be in the mix.
Prediction: LeVert has incredible scoring talent but I’m not convinced he’ll be healthy early on. Let’s say 45 games and 16 minutes per game.
11. Wade Baldwin, Memphis Grizzlies
No. 17 pick history: 10-year average of 17.3 minutes over 61 games
First and foremost, we had back-to-back No. 17 picks in 2006 and 2007 with nearly identical names: Shawne Williams and Sean Williams, and this blows my mind. The three biggest contributors at No. 17 in the last decade are Jrue Holiday (24.2 mpg, 73 games), Iman Shumpert (28.9 mpg, 59 games) and Tyler Zeller (26.4 mpg, 77 games). We’ve also seen Roy Hibbert at this spot, but the last two No. 17 picks (Rashad Vaughn and James Young) didn’t see the court much at all as rookies.
Coach tendency: Not a clue yet. David Fizdale is finally away from the Miami Heat assistant staff and has his own team. We’ll see how he treats rookies this season.
Playing opportunity: The Memphis Grizzlies have options behind Mike Conley, but none of them are definitely better than Wade Baldwin. Andrew Harrison is there trying to make the team. Tony Wroten is in the mix. Troy Daniels is there but not really a point guard. Baldwin could also see time as a backup 2-guard with his size, but he’s not taking minutes away from Tony Allen and Vince Carter.
Prediction: I think Baldwin plays a lot. He’s still pretty raw and there are questions about his shot, but his size and defensive instincts should shine in the second unit. I’ll guess 22 minutes per game for 70 games.
10. Denzel Valentine, Chicago Bulls
No. 14 pick history: 10-year average of 13.7 minutes over 52 games
From 2006-09, we didn’t have a great crop of guys coming in at No. 14. Ronnie Brewer is the best one. Al Thornton and Earl Clark are in there. Some people still pretend Anthony Randolph was good but trust me he wasn’t. Then we got a flood of talented role players coming in. Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, John Henson and Shabazz Muhammad (he might be good but nothing definite yet). T.J. Warren and Cameron Payne were the two latest. Amazingly enough, Thornton was the biggest rookie contributor at 27.3 minutes per game and 79 games played.
Coach tendency: Only have one year with Fred Hoiberg at the helm, but he was willing to play Bobby Portis as a rookie. Some of this was due to injuries and it took a couple of months for Portis’ minutes to really jump, but averaging 17.8 minutes in 62 games is a solid commitment.
Playing opportunity: It’s a bit crowded but there is room for Denzel Valentine in this rotation. Jimmy Butler will play a lot. Dwyane Wade will play quite a bit as long as he’s healthy. Then Valentine is competing with Tony Snell and Doug McDermott for playing time on the wing. And McDermott may be better off as a stretch-4.
Prediction: I think Valentine bucks the trend of struggling 14 picks. He’ll earn playing time because he’s smart but there is a concern he could be a DeJuan Blair type (success early on as a surprise rookie after good college career but knees may not hold up for long-term success).
9. Thon Maker, Milwaukee Bucks
No. 10 pick history: 10-year average of 21.6 minutes over 64 games
Saer Sene kicks off this No. 10 slot and Jimmer Fredette, Austin Rivers (redeeming himself a bit last season) and Spencer Hawes are also here. But you’ve also got a superstar in Paul George and big-time players like Brook Lopez and C.J. McCollum, too. Justise Winslow could also make this slot very impressive very soon. Biggest contributors as rookies though are certainly Lopez (30.5 mpg, 82 games), Brandon Jennings (32.6 mpg, 82 games) and Elfrid Payton (30.4 mog, 82 games).
Coach tendency: In three years as a coach, either in Brooklyn or Milwaukee, Jason Kidd has been very open to playing rookies. Mason Plumlee got solid burn as a backup big man (18.2 mpg, 70 games, 22 starts). He was playing Jabari Parker 29.5 minutes a night before Parker blew out his ACL. Last year, Rashad Vaughn didn’t get a lot of time but he was also really bad.
Playing opportunity: Bucks may have reached on Thon Maker but they’ve always viewed him as a project to inject fully into the rotation years down the road. His versatility could earn him minutes anywhere from the small forward to center positions, depending on matchup and health of the team. There are multiple guys at those three positions who should play over him but you never know.
Prediction: You want to get nuts? Let’s get nuts! With all of that said for why Maker probably won’t have opportunities to get consistent playing time this season, I think Kidd throws him out there. Kidd isn’t a conventional coach. He loves the versatility of length and switching on defense. Even if Maker gets burned right away, I think he’ll let the veterans show him how to get it done on the floor. Let’s say 18 minutes per game, 62 games. Let’s get weird, Milwaukee.
8. Jakob Poeltl, Toronto Raptors
No. 9 pick history: 10-year average of 20.5 minutes over 61 games
Patrick O’Bryant, Noah Vonleh, and the lockout-truncated season cutting down Kemba Walker’s games played affect the average number of games played here for No. 9 picks. Most of these guys are in the 70s in their rookie campaigns. Gordon Hayward, DeMar DeRozan, Joakim Noah, Andre Drummond and Walker all highlight this draft slot. D.J. Augustin and Frank Kaminsky were pretty solid as rookies, as well. The biggest contributor as a rookie? Trey Burke (32.3 mpg, 70 games) and Walker (27.2 mpg, 66 games).
Coach tendency: Dwane Casey played the young guys when he coached the Minnesota Timberwolves over a decade ago. Since joining the Toronto Raptors, he hasn’t hesitated much to play rookies who can play right away. Jonas Valanciunas played 23.9 minutes per game over 62 games (57 starts) and Terrence Ross got 17 minutes a night over 73 games — both in 2012-13. Bruno Caboclo only received 23 total minutes as a rookie, but he was always going to be a long-term project. Delon Wright played sparingly, but he was also behind Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph.
Playing opportunity: A lot of this depends on Jakob Poeltl being able to play some 4, which is a huge question mark. But Lucas Nogueira shouldn’t be a lock as a backup center, by any means, and with Bismack Biyombo gone, the Raptors will need that backup size. A lot of big man combinations can be had but the Raptors getting away with Valanciunas and Poeltl together for stretches could be very intriguing.
Prediction: Sixty-five games and 18 minutes per game. I’m not sure if Poeltl is good and I’m not sold on how he fits with this roster, but I think they’ll give him solid time and he may even start a good chunk of games. Patrick Patterson is more valuable off the bench and there’s only so many starts you want to throw to Sully.
7. Marquesse Chriss, Phoenix Suns
No. 8 pick history: 10-year average of 18.8 minutes over 67 games
Not a phenomenal crop here. We’ve got Jordan Hill, Brandan Wright, Nik Stauskas and something called a Joe Alexander at No. 8 over the last decade. But we’ve also had rookie contributors like Rudy Gay, Brandon Knight, Al-Farouq Aminu, Terrence Ross and the Pistons’ 2013 and 2015 picks of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Stanley Johnson, respectively. Knight had the biggest rookie contribution with 32.3 minutes per game over all 66 games of the lockout-shortened season. Gay played 27 a night for 78 games.
Seriously, what is a Joe Alexander?
Coach tendency: We got a glimpse into Earl Watson playing Devin Booker a lot down the stretch of last season, but he was an interim coach and the Phoenix Suns were a dumpster factory at that point. Still, Watson will probably be open to playing rookies right away.
Playing opportunity: We’re not sure how much the Suns will go with the dual-center combo of Alex Len and Tyson Chandler, but Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic from last season are gone. That leaves guys like Jared Dudley and P.J. Tucker possibly playing some stretch-4. Either Marquesse Chriss or Dragan Bender will be able to find time if they’re competent.
Prediction: I think Chriss is more likely to grab time as a rookie than Bender is. I’ll go with 70 games and 20 minutes per game for Chriss.
6. Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
No. 7 pick history: 10-year average of 26.4 minutes over 69 games
First and foremost, Julius Randle’s one game and 14 minutes before breaking his leg really hurt the averages for playing time and games played. Other than that, we have solid role players over the years with Harrison Barnes, Corey Brewer, Greg Monroe and Randy Foye. We don’t know what Ben McLemore is other than “bad so far.” Eric Gordon was good before the injuries. Bismack Biyombo is a late bloomer. Emmanuel Mudiay could be a lot of fun. And this guy named Stephen Curry ended up with back-to-back MVP awards. Curry is also the biggest rookie contributor with 36.2 minutes per game in 80 games as a rookie (ankle injuries were after that).
Coach tendency: Between his season-and-a-third in Sacramento and his one year in Denver, Michael Malone isn’t a stranger to playing the young guys on a rebuilding team. If a rookie can play within the team concept, Malone will be giddy to mold him on the court. He played Ben McLemore all 82 games (26.7 mpg) and he wasn’t any good. He played Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic without hesitation last season and both were very important to the development of this roster.
Playing opportunity: Jamal Murray seems to think he’s a point guard. Everybody else seems to believe he’s a 2-guard. Malone will probably slot him behind Harris and leave that veteran presence with Jameer Nelson as the backup behind Mudiay. Murray has to tango with Will Barton for some minutes but the rookie should play.
Prediction: Trying to be conservative here but 22 minutes per game over 72 games.
5. Buddy Hield, New Orleans Pelicans
No. 6 pick history: 10-year average of 25.9 minutes over 64 games
Yi Jianlin, Ekpe Udoh, Jonny Flynn and Jan Vesely are all here. But so are Brandon Roy, Damian Lillard (ROY), Nerlens Noel (good rookie season after missing first year) and Danilo Gallinari. We don’t know what to make of Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Smart yet, but they’ll probably at least be very good role players. Biggest contributor is Lillard, who put in 38.6 minutes per night in 82 games.
Coach tendency: Alvin Gentry will play rookies like Darius Miles (26.3 mpg, 81 games) and Markieff Morris (19.5 mpg, 63 games). He will also not play rookies like Chris Wilcox (10.4 mpg, 46 games) and Earl Clark (7.5 mpg, 51 games). Last year he didn’t have a first-round pick to play or not play, but Gentry is unlikely to put someone inexperienced on the floor if they can’t contribute right away.
Playing opportunity: With Tyreke Evans’ knee troubles, there should be opportunity there for Buddy Hield. The Pelicans also bolstered their depth with E’Twuan Moore and Langston Galloway, who can each play both guard positions. This gives flexibility. If Hield’s shooting is too good to keep off the floor, Gentry will live with him learning defense on the job.
Prediction: I think we see his minutes tail off as the season progresses, assuming Evans comes back to the floor for them. It was just summer league but his shooting was so bad that it gives you a bit of trepidation with Hield. Let’s go with 65 games and 20 minutes per game.
4. Kris Dunn, Minnesota Timberwolves
No. 5 pick history: 10-year average of 22.3 minutes over 70 games
Throw out Thomas Robinson (every team he’s been on certainly has) and the list is pretty good. Shelden Williams in 2006 and Jeff Green in 2007 haven’t turned out to be very good, but No. 5 also has DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Jonas Valanciunas. There are also some fun, young prospects like Mario Hezonja, Dante Exum and Alex Len. Biggest contributors at No. 5 are Cousins (28.5 mpg, 81 games), Rubio (34.1 mpg, 41 games before blowing out ACL) and Green (28.2 mpg, 80 games).
Coach tendency: In his time with Chicago, Tom Thibodeau was a bit hesitant to play his rookies. He didn’t play Jimmy Butler much as a rookie. He didn’t play Marquis Teague either, but it turns out he wasn’t any good. Doug McDermott also barely left the bench his rookie season. Tony Snell got the most consistent burn with 16 minutes per game over 77 games. However, those were teams trying to go deep in the playoffs. The Minnesota Timberwolves under Thibodeau are more of a rebuilding project with a quick estimated time.
Playing opportunity: Depends on which week it currently is for Wolves rumors. If Rubio is traded, Kris Dunn is the starting point guard. If Rubio sticks around this season, Dunn is a lock at the backup point guard and Thibodeau will try to unleash hell with a dual-point guard lineup that allows Rubio and Dunn to make life miserable for their opponents bringing the ball up the floor.
Prediction: Don’t think Rubio is moved until the summer but Dunn will play a lot. My guess is 78 games and 26 minutes per game if Rubio is there all season. If Rubio is traded, 78 games and 34 minutes per game.
3. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
No. 3 pick history: 10-year average of 24.9 minutes over 66 games
Joel Embiid hasn’t played yet (and doesn’t factor in the average for No. 3 picks), but we’re hoping he is healthy and remains healthy to add to this list. Adam Morrison starts the list in 2006 and we have the now suspended O.J. Mayo here too. But there are guys like Al Horford, James Harden, Derrick Favors and Bradley Beal here as well. Enes Kanter and Otto Porter are solid role players and Jahlil Okafor looked pretty good at times last season. Biggest contributor is Mayo in 2008-09 when he played 38 minutes per game for all 82.
Coach tendency: Brad Stevens will play rookies but they have to be willing to do the defensive stuff to earn time. When he was healthy, Marcus Smart (27 mpg, 67 games) played quite a bit. Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter and James Young have not played a lot under Stevens over the last two seasons.
Playing opportunity: The wings are crowded with Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder playing remarkable defense on a possession by possession basis. But beating out Young, Hunter and Gerald Green (if he even makes the team) won’t be hard for Jaylen Brown to do. They really love what he can bring to the table and while the offense might be bad, they’ll get effort on defense.
Prediction: Brown plays a lot as a rookie. Eighty games and 27 minutes per game as long as he’s healthy.
2. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
No. 2 pick history: 10-year average of 25.4 minutes over 70 games
Aside from the misfires of Hasheem Thabeet, Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley, predictably the No. 2 pick has yielded some pretty fun and good rookies right away. Kevin Durant in 2007 headlines this list that includes LaMarcus Aldridge, D’Angelo Russell (fun at times) and Jabari Parker (fun until he blew out his ACL). But you also have guys like Evan Turner, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (took a while to find a groove) and Victor Oladipo (fine but really we were just judging him against MCW). Biggest contributor is K.D. and his 34.6 minutes per game for 80 games as a rookie.
Coach tendency: We don’t know with Luke Walton just quite yet because there wasn’t anything to go off of last season when he took over the first half of the season for Steve Kerr. I’d imagine he’s open to just about anybody.
Playing opportunity: If Byron Scott were still the coach, I’d worry about Brandon Ingram getting playing time over Yi Jianlin. Instead, we’ll probably see Ingram in forward duos with Julius Randle or Luol Deng quite a bit. Don’t have to worry much about him playing.
Prediction: I think Ingram earns a starting spot right away and plays quite a bit. Let’s go with 26 minutes per game and 75 games played.
1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
No. 1 pick history: 10-year average of 30 minutes over 69 games
Over the last 10 years, we’ve had the disappointment of Andrea Bargnani, Greg Oden and Anthony Bennett (not convinced we should count him as a No. 1 pick though). We’ve also seen unreal stars as the top pick like Derrick Rose (remember, he won MVP!), Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, John Wall and Kyrie Irving. Biggest contributor from a minutes standpoint would be Rose (37 mpg, 81 games) and Griffin (38 mpg, 82 games), who missed his first year in the NBA completely. But guys like Davis, Towns and Wiggins all had significant contributions as rookies, too.
Coach tendency: We know Brett Brown isn’t afraid to play anybody thrown his way. He’s been asked to play basically anybody since he got there, so he’s unlikely to start discriminating against rookies now. Especially not with the No. 1 overall pick.
Playing opportunity: There are plenty of combinations the Sixers have to figure out with big men (Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel) and wings (see: section about Timothe Luwawu), but finding a spot for Ben Simmons won’t be one of them. He’ll be on the court as a 3, 4, or point forward.
Prediction: He’s going to play as much as possible. Let’s say 36 minutes per game over 80 games.
Source: CBS Sports / 15 first-rounders with best opportunity for playing time in NBA rookie season