If the past has taught us anything at all, it’s that you don’t need top 10 or even first round pedigree to make your mark in your first season. As soon as the draft is complete, the order of which players are picked becomes irrelevant. All NBA rookies have an equal playing field to show their worth in practice, summer league, and pre-season games. And every year, there are a handful of players taken later in the draft who find a way to turn heads and make NBA GMs regret passing them over.
Last year it was Donovan Mitchell, who went from being the 13th overall pick by the Utah Jazz to finishing second only to Ben Simmons – who wasn’t even a member of Mitchell’s draft class – in Rookie of the Year voting. So which rookies taken outside the top 10 have a chance to make an immediate impact in 2018-19? Here is a list of four names to keep an eye on: Miles Bridges of the Charlotte Hornets, Jacob Evans of the Golden State Warriors, Hamidou Diallo of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and De’Anthony Melton of the Phoenix Suns.
NBA Rookies Taken Outside the Top 10 that could Breakout in 2018-19
Miles Bridges, Charlotte
Quite a few eyebrows were raised when Bridges elected not to go one-and-done and return to Michigan State for his sophomore year in 2017-18. But it was ultimately the right choice for Bridges, and with another year of grooming under one of the best college Head Coaches in the nation in Tom Izzo, there is no doubt that he is NBA ready. Not just ready to play in the league, but ready to make a sizable impact.
Bridges has enjoyed a strong pre-season, averaging 12.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game on 55.9% shooting. As part of a youthful Hornets roster, Bridges should be given a significant role off the bench and may even get a chance in the starting lineup in due time. His only real competition for minutes at the three spot is from veteran Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who may be a better defender than Bridges but doesn’t have nearly the same two-way upside. Beyond Kemba Walker, the Hornets lack a true number two scorer, and Bridges has the chance to become that guy in year one.
Jacob Evans, Golden State
When Evans fell into the Warriors lap at 28th overall, it felt like it was yet another steal late in the first round for Bob Myers. With high defensive intensity and a smooth shooting stroke, Evans fits with the Warriors style perfectly. He declared for the draft after his junior year at Cincinnati, so he is far less raw than most one-and-done’s and ready physically for the NBA.
Andre Iguodala is getting older, and the Warriors don’t have a ton of depth behind him as the fifth member of the starting lineup. Kevon Looney and Patrick McCaw are among Steve Kerr’s options, but Evans is the most talented of the lot. He can be a large beneficiary of the Warriors excellent spacing and ball movement offensively to set up open lanes to the hoop and spot up threes on the wing. Add it all up, and Evans appears more than capable of stepping in and contributing immediately on a contender.
Hamidou Diallo, Oklahoma City
As a 247Sports national top 10 recruit in 2017, Diallo has had a great deal of buzz surrounding him since high school thanks to his explosive ability to make plays at both ends of the floor. But Diallo struggled somewhat to live up to the hype at Kentucky, averaging a rather pedestrian 10.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in 24.8 minutes per game. He fell to the middle of the second round in the draft as a result, but with a golden opportunity to seize a significant role in OKC in front of him, perhaps Diallo can flip the script in the NBA.
Andre Roberson’s injury leaves the Thunder very thin at the two, and Diallo has taken full advantage of the chance to play in the pre-season. He has gotten better as the pre-season has gone along, recording 19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, a block, and a steal in 40 minutes of floor time while shooting 50% from the field in Oklahoma City’s 119-115 win over Milwaukee Tuesday night. It appears as though Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan likes what he has seen to date and is prepared to give Diallo a decent run right out the gate.
De’Anthony Melton, Phoenix
Melton was very much a wild card prospect heading into the draft process, and for good reason. Scouts believed that he had a great deal of talent which he displayed in his freshman year at USC, but he was forced to sit out the entirety of last season due to his connection with the FBI’s college basketball probe. Melton wound up falling to the Houston Rockets in the second round and was dealt with Phoenix over the summer in a trade that also sent Ryan Anderson the Suns way in exchange for Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight.
Usually, that much movement and volatility doesn’t favor a player this early in his career. But in Melton’s case, he could not be in a better situation. The Suns have tried and failed to this point in adding a proven starting caliber point guard, which means the position appears to be up for grabs. Fellow second-round pick Elie Okobo will get an opportunity, and the Suns also have Shaquille Harrison and Isaiah Canaan in the mix. But quite frankly, none of the Suns other three options at the position are all that impressive, nor do they have the ceiling Melton does. Melton is an excellent defender and a capable passer, making him a natural fit in the Phoenix backcourt alongside Devin Booker. Nobody knows exactly where Melton is at having not seen him in live game action for over a year, but while some see that as a red flag, the degree of uncertainty can also go the other direction. It is very conceivable that over time Melton wrestles his way into the lion’s share of minutes running the point in the valley of the sun.
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