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With the NBA Summer League in the rearview mirror, and the 2019-2020 regular season slowly but surely approaching, the hype around certain rookies has grown to unfathomable heights. Obviously, newcomers like Zion Williamson and Ja Morant will be the focus of this rookie class; however, there are a couple of other names that will garner some praise as well. I’m not a huge fan of bland recognition, so I decided to hand out some classical preseason "awards" - to go with a few spicy superlatives.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Brandon Clarke
I had Clarke rated as my top defender from the 2019 rookie class; after putting on countless displays of his exceptional athleticism, it was obvious to me that his shot blocking abilities would translate to the next level. The Summer League MVP averaged 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game over six appearances. When paired with incumbent Grizzlies stud Jaren Jackson Jr, Memphis will be able to employ a formidable front court defence right off the bat. Offensively, Clarke’s skillset still needs some tweaking, and he will need to enhance his shooting - but he should be able to contribute immediately on the defensive end. This award is his to lose.
Most Likely to Win a Three-Point Shooting Contest: Tyler Herro
I was absolutely ecstatic when Miami took Herro with the 14th pick, because he fills one of their top needs: perimeter shooting. There are simply not many NBA players (never mind rookies) with as pure of a shooting form as him. In my opinion, he is the undisputed best shooter among his fellow rookie classmates. Honestly, this sharpshooting "competition" probably comes down to Herro, and guys like Cameron Johnson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Herro's virtually automatic perimeter shot, released in a variety of on-court settings after a mirage of off-ball movement, puts the Kentucky product at the top of the heap. Whether or not he eventually becomes a JJ Redick-level of shooter is yet to be determined, but in this superlative-based reality, the 13th overall pick finds himself winning a rather valuable award in today's NBA.
Scoring Champion: Coby White
White has been a three-level scorer ever since he broke the North Carolina state scoring record in high school. He will need to continue to work on his decision-making and facilitating, but one thing is for certain: he will be able to score, and do so consistently from the outset. Possessing an advanced skillset and exceptional downhill speed, White will be able to score in many different ways, both in the halfcourt and out in transition. The former North Carolina Tarheel averaged 15 points per game in Summer League play, but did so while shooting a mere 34% from the field. The Bulls will certainly look for White to become more efficient, but his volume scoring acumen shows plenty of promise.
Rookie of the Year: Ja Morant
Before you light your torches and grab your pitchforks, just listen. I firmly believe that Zion will have a successful NBA career, but Morant will be able to contribute more effectively right away. The ball will be in his hands the majority of the time in Memphis (the Mike Conley trade saw to that), allowing the Murray State product to utilize his athleticism, vision, and craftiness. He will also be able to put up some pretty crazy raw numbers with so much offensive responsibility. In contrast, there is a ton of uncertainty regarding the Pelicans in terms of rotation and minutes management, and I have my doubts about Zion’s offensive identity in his first couple of NBA seasons. I acknowledge the concerns floating around Morant’s jump shot mechanics, but his Westbrook-ian style of play will allow him to affect the game in more ways than just scoring, leading him to snag the award from the heavy-favourite, Air Zion.
Most Popular: Zion Williamson
Are you actually surprised by this? Williamson has dominated the media tabloids and captured the hearts of many a viewer, even before setting foot on the court at Duke. The charismatic, uber-athletic star is a fan-favorite among NBA followers already. The first overall pick just signed a monstrous, $75-million shoe deal with Jordan, and it would seem obvious that we will see a Zion signature shoe hit the market sooner rather than later. The spotlight will always be on him, and if he performs to the level that a ton of people think he can, then he will be the unanimous choice for this superlative.
Most Under-Appreciated: Grant Williams
Often times, Williams is the smartest player on the court, and that is not a knock on his fellow Celtics teammates or Summer League peers. His basketball IQ is roof-busting, and his exceptional strength make him a tough player to contain in the paint. Despite being limited in terms of physical height, Williams makes his presence known with his balanced offensive scoring, and still-untapped ability to serve as a glue guy (every championship team needs one of these - just ask Draymond Green). The reason he takes home this award is because not many truly understand his impact on the court, because it won’t necessarily show up in the box score. Williams is proficient as a screener, and knows how to execute his role to near perfection. I’m not a big fan of comparing young guys (especially rookies) to decorated NBA players, but the Draymond Green comparison for Williams is not far-fetched in the slightest.