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Expectations are naturally high for the top 10 picks of the 2018 NBA draft. But who from the rest of the field will outperform their slots?
Five rookies come to mind. These players were either misevaluated or landed in suitable situations that will help jump-start their development and careers.
They will exceed expectations that are based on where they were selected and the other players from their positions who went before them.
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After Trae Young and Collin Sexton, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the third NCAA guard drafted. He may begin the year behind Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic on the Los Angeles Clippers depth chart. He won’t finish there, though.
The No. 11 pick looks poised to emerge as one of the top 2018-19 rookies based on his NBA tools and the strides he’s made since arriving at Kentucky. Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points and 4.0 assists during NBA Summer League with no signs that athletic limitations restrict his ability to generate offense.
He compensates for a lack of burst and explosiveness with tight ball-handling, crafty off-the-dribble footwork, unique length and offensive feel. Though not known as a shooter, he appeared more confident and competent with his pull-up game in Las Vegas.
Compared to Beverley, who’s coming off knee surgery, he’ll give the Clippers a more threatening punch of scoring and playmaking. And he’ll provide more defensive versatility and disruptive pressure than Teodosic. There will be reasons to play the 20-year-old right away, outside of just giving him minutes to develop.
Young and Sexton may outproduce him, given their larger projected roles. But Gilgeous-Alexander should be the most efficient while potentially creating a case as the superior long-term prospect.
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Immediate expectations can’t be too high for Kevin Huerter. The No. 19 pick lacks any degree of muscle definition. He also missed all of summer league with a hand injury. But Huerter is a candidate to eventually start producing as a rookie.
He will have a green light to play through mistakes on one of the league’s weakest teams. And after the Hawks traded Dennis Schroder, it’s reasonable to think they will also try to move Kent Bazemore ($19 million player option for 2019-20), which would open up even more playing time for Atlanta’s second 2019 first-round pick.
An interchangeable wing due to his 6’7″ size, three-ball and playmaking, Huerter ranked in the 93rd percentile in spot-up shooting at Maryland, per Synergy Sports, and averaged 3.4 assists last year. He’ll work to his strengths early as a catch-and-shooter and ball-mover, but just like he did at the NBA combine, Huerter will surprise with his ability to put the ball on the floor, create separation as a scorer and set up teammates off the dribble.
He plays a more efficient, well-rounded game compared to shot-hunter Tyler Dorsey. Huerter is the Hawks’ priority. By the second half of the season, he’ll be drawing starts in Atlanta next to Taurean Prince.
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Opportunity is key for rookies, and Grayson Allen should have a good one this season. A 48-win team last year, the Utah Jazz are equipped with veteran talent to surround the No. 21 pick, who should see minutes in the second unit behind Donovan Mitchell.
Though known for scoring at Duke, Allen will surprise with the versatility he got to flash during summer league, when he averaged 6.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists.
The Jazz are still going to value Allen’s shot-making first, as he thrives by spotting up and shooting off screens. The 22-year-old guard buried at least 80 threes in three consecutive seasons. But Allen will have something to offer even on off nights, potentially as a secondary playmaker.
Consistency will be tough to expect. He struggled with it throughout college. Regardless, Allen should emerge as a valued reserve in Utah at different points throughout the 2018-19 season. He’ll contribute off the bench in a spark role with his shooting, pick-and-roll passing, athleticism and competitiveness.
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Mitchell Robinson seems like a lock to outperform his draft position after the former McDonald’s All-American fell to No. 36.
Having skipped college, it had been reasonable to assume Robinson would spend significant time in the G League. He lacks both skill and general discipline. But he may not need either to contribute as a rookie.
Robinson’s elite tools, explosiveness and nose for the ball should continue translating to easy baskets off lobs, dump-downs and offensive rebounds. Though he’s bound to get lost defensively, he’ll still add rim protection with his quick jump, length and aggressiveness.
The New York Knicks won’t rush back Kristaps Porzingis from his torn ACL. And once they’re eliminated from playoff contention, Enes Kanter won’t be playing 30-plus minutes. Robinson has emerged as a key building block in New York. He’ll have plenty of chances, even as a rookie, to develop and produce in 2018-19.
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De’Anthony Melton’s fall to No. 46 should work to his benefit.
He will play to his strengths in Houston behind Chris Paul, who’s now 33 and has missed 45 games over his past two seasons. Melton should see time right away in a lineup alongside shooters and scorers who’ll take pressure off the rookie.
He was a summer-league star, having averaged 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.0 steals, numbers that highlight his versatility and defensive instincts. He’ll make his mark in Houston as a jack-of-all-trades role player—the opportunistic type who doesn’t need to score for his impact to be felt.
Melton excels in transition, as a passer and as a defensive playmaker. He’s flashed encouraging signs of improvement with his jumper, which looked revamped at the NBA combine and threatening in Las Vegas, where he made 12 threes in five games.
A tough-minded two-way guard, capable of working from either backcourt position, Melton is a good bet to eventually beat out Michael Carter-Williams for a rotation spot.