David Thorpe’s rookie update
Paolo, Ivey, Mathurin, and other rookies making an impact
BY DAVID THORPE
Early rookie forecasts are rife with cautionary tales. In fact, beginners who flash jaw-dropping talent in their first 20 games rarely become All-Stars, let alone All-NBA players. So, as hard as it might be to discount incandescent play from first-year players—especially for fans desperate for franchise-changing talent—it’s best to curb your enthusiasm.
Going back to 2003-2004, LeBron’s rookie season, a glance at the top-scoring players through their first 20 games will reveal names like Brandon Jennings, OJ Mayo, and Tyreke Evans. Those guys averaged just seven full seasons in the league and combined for zero pieces of hardware beyond their rookie seasons.
That’s not to say this year’s rookie class comes without heft. On that same scoring list, Bennedict Mathurin ranks seventh. In fact, through his first 20, Mathurin scored more points than did Damian Lillard, Carmelo Anthony, Ja Morant, Derrick Rose, Luka Dončić, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, or LeBron. Only one other player in the past 20 years hit more 3s in his first 20 games than Mathurin did. Does this mean that Mathurin is a dead lock for future All-Star, All-NBA, or MVP? Hardly.
Paolo Banchero has played a total of just 15 games, yet he still stands apart. Since 2003-2004, only Zion Williamson scored more points in their first 15. Banchero also attempted more free throws in those 15 than Mathurin did in 20! Those numbers certainly support the case for Banchero’s long-term potential.
Today, in addition to these two Rookie of the Year front-runners, I’ll also be looking at how fellow lottery picks Jabari Smith Jr., Keegan Murray, Jaden Ivey, Shaedon Sharpe, Dyson Daniels, and Jalen Williams all fared through their first 20 NBA contests. Then, as a bonus, we’ll also look at how second-rounder Andrew Nembhard is thriving with the Pacers.