With the NBA Draft having occurred last month, there’s now a whole new batch of college players ready to make their professional debuts. Some have already signed contracts, some are just now beginning to battle for roster spots in the NBA Summer League, and some won’t make it – at least not at first. But among the NBA’s new rookies, only a handful will make an impact on actual, contending teams.
These are five of our picks in this regard.
1 – Grant Williams (Boston Celtics)
The fact that the Celtics’ late-first round selection of Grant Williams didn’t generate much news is further evidence of the extreme value the NBA places on youth. The 2018-19 season marked Williams’s junior year at Tennessee, and that upperclassman label just about makes a player damaged goods in today’s drafts. Williams, though, was universally recognized as one of the most stable, complete players in the NCAA, and was a consensus 1st-Team All-American. For perspective, three other members of this team – Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and RJ Barrett – were the top-three selections in the draft; Rui Hachimura, the final member of the 1st Team, was also a lottery selection. By contrast, the Celtics picked up Williams with the 22nd pick (earning former players’ approval in doing so). This speaks to his value and potential impact, and while Boston no longer looks like the juggernaut we thought it was growing into, it should still be a contender in the East.
2 – Nassir Little (Portland Trail Blazers)
Nassir Little was a vaunted prospect who had an up-and-down freshman season at North Carolina, to say the least. He seemed both raw and volatile at times, and doesn’t seem to have left the Tar Heels on the greatest of terms. All of this made for something of a bad look, and caused Little to fall out of the lottery (he was believed to be a potential top-five pick before the season started) and to Portland at pick 25. Little’s talent has never been in question though, and he happens to have the potential to develop into the two-way small forward the Trail Blazers have needed for years. Given the sudden breakup of the Warriors, the West looks wide open, and if Little contributes alongside Portland’s talented, veteran backcourt, he could wind up being part of a deep playoff run.
3 – Bol Bol (Denver Nuggets)
Bol Bol wound up being one of the biggest stories of the NBA Draft, and not in a good way. The lanky, sharpshooting Oregon center fell all the way into the middle of the second round when some thought he could be selected late in the lottery. This was a result of the injury that caused Bol to miss most of his lone season with the Ducks, as well as more general concerns about his long-term health. It’s conceivable, sadly, that Bol never really has a meaningful NBA career due to injuries. However, his ability is rare – perhaps unique, given his size – and if he can stay healthy and motivated, the Nuggets won’t be able to keep him off the court. Denver looks to be one of the best teams in the league already, so naturally a Bol Bol reaching his full potential would be a game-changer.
4 – Talen Horton-Tucker (LA Lakers)
Talen Horton-Tucker may be the most obscure name on this list, but makes as much sense as any other. Right now, you could check any U.S.-based betting source and see the Lakers listed among 2019-20 NBA favorites. In fact, some gambling outlets have them at even odds for a title – and that’s without Kawhi Leonard, who at the time of this writing is still deciding between the Lakers, Clippers, and Raptors. This is remarkable given that LA has tied up virtually all of its salary in a handful of players including superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Now, with or without Leonard the team will have to fill out its roster – but it’s going to have to do so cheaply, and with the leftovers of a free agency period that has moved very quickly. That means Talen Horton-Tucker – a shooting guard out of Iowa State and the Lakers’ only draft selection – will almost definitely get a chance to play. Out of necessity, he’ll have a role on a major contender.
5 – Marial Shayok (Philadelphia 76ers)
Why not end the list with another shooting guard from Iowa State? The one-time Virginia standout is now 23 years old after transferring and finishing his career with the Cyclones – and thus fell to the late-second round. However, Shayok is a capable player, an impressive athlete, and a mature veteran. That may actually be more appealing than a 19-year-old with high upside for a Philadelphia team that’s gunning for a championship and has a lineup full of stars. Shayok will have to earn a lasting spot on the team, let alone minutes – but he certainly has a chance to establish himself as a valuable bench cog on a team that, on paper, may be the best the Eastern Conference has to offer despite the losses of Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick.