Last season’s All-Rookie NBA First Team contained two players drafted outside of the top ten: Donovan Mitchell (13th) and Kyle Kuzma (27th). This year’s class contains an interesting mixture of players that were selected in the late/post-lottery who may also effectively contribute immediately for their respective teams. Will we see two of those members on the All-Rookie First Team? That is to be determined, but there are multiple candidates who could very well fit the profile. Meet the All-Rookie First Team, dark horse edition.
G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Los Angeles Clippers via CHA; 11th overall)
This may serve as a head-scratcher to some due to the Clippers’ crowded backcourt, but Los Angeles has made it clear that their focus is on moving into the next era. Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, Jawun Evans, Jerome Robinson, Avery Bradley, and Sindarius Thornwell are all primed to see action on the court this season, meaning that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander must make his mark early on. Luckily for him, he has all of the physical tools to do it. The Canadian’s 6’6” frame makes him a tough matchup for opposing guards; his feel for the game and other intangibles allow him to contribute in more ways that just scoring. The presence on the glass and ability to pass the ball effectively makes SGA a unique asset for the Clippers.
During his lone season at the University of Kentucky, Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 14.4 PPG on 48.5% shooting, to go along with 4.1 RPG and 5.1 APG. The biggest concern regarding his play is offensive identity and scoring. However, he has averaged double-digit scoring in the summer league and preseason.
G Aaron Holiday (Indiana Pacers; 23rd overall)
Victor Oladipo needs a running mate in the backcourt to transform the Pacers’ offense; rookie guard Aaron Holiday‘s skill set could allow Oladipo do just that. Despite his small 6’1” frame and other guards like Darren Collison, Tyreke Evans, and Cory Joseph all competing to see the court significantly, Holiday is in a good position to see the court early. A seasoned, three-year veteran from UCLA, he comes from a family of NBA players; his older brothers Jrue and Justin play for New Orleans and Chicago, respectively. Like Jrue, Aaron is a notable defender and showed that consistently in summer league play (with 2.8 steals per contest). On top of that, he adds a versatile offensive arsenal to Indiana; Holiday is a respectable shooter from behind-the-arc who creates for teammates and crashes the glass. Holiday could serve as the glue for a backcourt that allows Victor Oladipo to take the next step forward in his progression into stardom.
G Donte DiVincenzo (Milwaukee Bucks; 17th overall)
Three-point shooting is a big concern for the Milwaukee Bucks this season and besides Khris Middleton, it is unknown who else will aid in the issue. As a matter of fact, the Bucks need a solid scoring option outside of Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo; rookie Donte DiVincenzo is just what the doctor ordered for this squad. Known for his electric scoring abilities during his time at Villanova, the 6’4” guard gives Milwaukee an intriguing choice, most likely off the bench. Regardless, DiVincenzo should be called upon frequently by head coach Mike Budenholzer.
Although not playing much in the summer league due to injury and struggling the Bucks’ first preseason game, he looked solid in their most recent contest, contributing 12 points on 5/12 shooting. The explosiveness of his play shown over the last two collegiate seasons along with his length and scoring abilities make Donte DiVincenzo a true darkhorse candidate for the all-rookie first team.
G/F Miles Bridges (Charlotte Hornets via LAC; 12th overall)
The Charlotte Hornets are in the process of surviving through the unfavorable contracts of Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, while also incorporating guys like Malik Monk, Dwayne Bacon, and Jeremy Lamb into the rotation. As if that was not already difficult enough, now new head coach James Borrego must find ways to get rookie Miles Bridges on the court. Bridges was a projected lottery pick after the 2016-17 college season, but elected to return to Michigan State for his sophomore campaign. It is unclear what his role will be in the NBA, but there is one thing for certain: he is a proven playmaker.
A do-it-all type of player in college, Bridges captured the eyes of many by averaging 15.0 and 8.2 (points and rebounds per game) respectively, in the summer league. Through three preseason games, the rookie has contributed 15.7 PPG and 6.7 RPG. Bridges’ versatility, playmaking ability, athleticism, and electrifying style of play will continue to force Coach Borrego to find ways to make sure he is on the floor. Luckily, the 6’7” hybrid can play multiple positions; he can handle the ball and pass efficiently or play as a wing. The opportunity is there and Bridges does not shy away from the spotlight.
C Mitchell Robinson (New York Knicks; 36th overall)
Mitchell Robinson may very well be the true dark horse of the rookie class in general. Drafted 36th overall by the New York Knicks, Robinson has placed himself in a position to see minutes right away, especially with Kristaps Porzingis expected to miss some time as he continues to recover from a torn ACL. Robinson was rated as the 11th-best player in the 2017 high school class, (according to ESPN) but skipped college after decommitting from Western Kentucky University and opting to take the year off and train individually. Uncertainty is the largest concern that looms over the 20-year-old considering that he has not played organized basketball since his senior year of high school.
However, Robinson looked solid in summer league play after averaging a double-double (13.0 PPG on 67% shooting and 10.2 RPG) and an eye-opening 4.0 blocks per contest. The talent is there along with the athleticism, but Robinson must reduce fouling. Nonetheless, the sky is the limit for his style of play in today’s NBA and there is good reason to believe we will see him produce immediately.