The 2020-21 NBA season is going to be one of the weirdest years in sports history. After Covid-19 ravaged the globe and stopped professional sports in March, the NBA bubbled up in July after four months off. The Bubble ended in October, and led to the most compressed offseason we’ll ever see. On top of all of this, the 2020 Rookie class is one of the weirdest in recent history. While there is a nice amount of talent, there is no clear cut superstar in this crop, leading to a lot of mystery surrounding the draft. While there is no Zion Williamson or Ja Morant or bonafide stars right away in this class, there are plenty of players who will get a lot of action early on this season. For me the action is the juice so this season we’re introducing the NBA Rookie Juice Rankings.
One part rookie of the year rankings, one part swag rating, one part team impact, one part popularity. The rookie juice rating takes this all into account and lets you know which rookie is having the biggest impact on the NBA this season. Past winners of the rookie juice ratings if that were a thing before right now would have been Ja Morant, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, and Darius Miles.
1.) LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
Speaking of juice, the youngest Ball brother will likely have the keys to the Hornets offense from the tip this season. The third pick in the draft is the biggest enigma of this season’s rookie class. During the pre-draft process, teams couldn’t decide if Lonzo’s brother was the next coming of Magic Johnson, or Michael Carter-Williams. Michael Jordan and the Hornets will give Ball every opportunity to show what kind of player he can be as a rookie. While the volume will be there, the quality of play will be interesting to watch. LaMelo struggled in his first preseason game going 0-5 with four turnovers, but grabbed 10 rebounds. Preseason stats don’t matter at all but watching him play you really notice two things: his shot looks like mine which is to say it’s really bad, like you’re trying to throw a football with two hands, but he is already one of the sexiest passers in the game. He is already throwing up transition lobs and half court dimes to his new teammates. Time will tell if he actually has what it takes to become a star, but it’s going to be a pretty fun ride for the next few years.
2.) Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers
This might surprise a lot of people because Okoro wasn’t the flashiest draft pick this year but he’s in a great situation to make an impact immediately in Cleveland. The rookie from Auburn will likely start for the Cavs this season and had looked great in his first two preseason games. Cleveland is devoid of any other real talent on the roster. Kevin Love is still somehow there but hasn’t been relevant for about four years. The Cavs do have their two young point guards in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland who have both had an up-and-down start to their careers. Apart from probably LaMelo Ball in Charlotte, Okoro will get the biggest opportunity to showout in his first season.
3.) Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
The number one pick in the draft is usually the guy most people bet on to win rookie of the year. Not so fast this season as the draft had no clear cut superstar in the making. Edwards was the pick for a Timberwolves franchise that has gone through a complete overhaul the last 18 months. Edwards will not be expected to be the man right away in Minnesota and will be able to progress slowly into his role. The early returns on Edwards in the preseason have been a mixed bag, but like I wrote earlier this week, don’t panic about it just yet. Edwards will have to contend with about six other guys for minutes on the wing, so his numbers may not be what you typically expect from a first overall pick. Four years from now I’ll hopefully look foolish for not believing in him 100 percent right away, but for now all I can see is an inconsistent rookie season from Ant-Man.
4.) James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors
Wiseman is the true wildcard here. He’s yet to see any action during the preseason with rumors spreading that it was due to Covid, so we don’t have any clue as to how the Warriors are going to use the second pick in the draft. He could and probably should be the starting center right off the bat, but Steve Kerr could get wonky now that Klay Thompson is out for the year and play super small ball with Draymond Green at the five. Wiseman also could be trash or could be really good, I have no fucking clue. He was one of the most scrutinized players in the draft, mostly because he only played three college games that all came more than a year ago. Is he Shaq? Obviously not right now but could he come out right away and average 16 and 10 and have a similar rookie year to Deandre Ayton two years ago? Probably. Or he could be Hasheem Thabeet and out of the league in three years, honestly who knows. I have a feeling after the season starts he’s either going to fly up or down this list very quickly.
5.) Obi Toppin, New York Knicks
Obi Toppin is my pick for Rookie of the Year so it’s a little weird that I have him all the way down at number five on my preseason rookie juice rankings. Toppin is probably the most NBA ready of any lottery pick this season, but I just don’t trust the Knicks to do anything right. While I envision him being the starting small forward and scoring about 15 points per game with six or seven rebounds, the Knicks could fuck it up by trying to force him to be a big and keep him on the bench behind Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson. I think Toppin ends up as the Rookie of the Year, but the fifth ranking right now shows just how wide open the race really is.
6.) Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings
The Iowa State (Go Clones!) combo guard was arguably the best value pick in the draft when he slid to Sacramento at 12. He should be the third guard already behind De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield. Haliburton might be the most steady rookie in the class on a team that could use a steady influence. He’s one of those rookies that doesn’t have any eye-popping stats, but you could see averaging something like 13 points, six rebounds, and five assists as a rookie, and in a weaker class that could be good enough to win rookie of the year. He’s this year’s Malcolm Brogdon, maybe a little boring but a safe bet to be at least pretty good.
7.) Killian Hayes, Detroit Pistons
How do you say DE-TROIT BASKETBALL! in French? Killian Hayes is the Pistons’ second French first round pick in as many after selecting Sekou Doumbouya 15th in 2019. Hayes will likely start allowing Derrick Rose to come off the bench. He’s had a rough start to the preseason shooting 4-18 in two games with eight turnovers. Good thing for Hayes fans (Hayes heads?) out there because this is the most meaningless preseason in which to judge NBA rookies in league history so who cares if he looks bad. The Pistons are going to be trash this season so they might as well see what they have in Hayes. Also he’s 19 so he’s got about 4-6 years until we really find out if he’s bad or not. This season could go down the drain quickly for Hayes, but there should be no pressure on him as a rookie.
8.) Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic
I think people forget that this time last year Cole Anthony’s name was being thrown around as a potential number one pick in the draft. He had a shaky freshman season with an overmatched North Carolina team so his draft stock fell pretty far. Orlando took him 15th and he’ll likely start out as the backup point guard to Markelle Fultz, who is fine, I guess, but it’s not like he’s backing up Damian Lillard and will only see 10 minutes a game. Anthony should get good minutes off the bench and he can score in the NBA, we’ll see if he can do much else running with the Magic’s second unit. Also he had Spike Lee at his draft party, that’s the most juice any 15th pick has ever had in any sport ever.
9.) Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls
To be honest, I really don’t know that much about Patrick Williams. The Bulls took him fourth overall and Williams will be slotted behind Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. in the front court and has the opportunity to make a real impact right away. He’s likely a project as Williams only played 22 minutes a game in his lone season with Florida State. Chicago might be the best spot for a project big. He won’t have to carry the team and do too much too quick, but should find a role in the rotation and play some meaningful minutes early on. I highly doubt he’s going to rise much farther up the rankings, but in a weaker year Williams could be one of the most solid rookies this season.
10.) Onyeka Okongwu, Atlanta Hawks
Honestly Okongwu might only play like eight minutes a game this season, but if he gets 15-25 he’s going to do the most with it. He’s behind Clint Capela and John Collins in the front court and will likely cede minutes early on to Danilo Gallinari and De’Andre Hunter at the power forward spot. His foot injury might force him to miss a few games to start the season, and he’ll get brought along slowly, but he could very easily find himself in the top three by the end of the season.