2021 NBA draft: 10 bold predictions for incoming rookie class

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The 75th anniversary season of the NBA officially tipped off on Tuesday with four of the top teams in the league taking the court to much fanfare in front of a national audience.

The league will return to some level of normalcy this season following a challenging 2020-21 campaign amidst the coronavirus pandemic. With a new season upon us, there is a new opportunity for teams and players to leave their mark in the league.

The incoming rookie class had the luxury of playing in summer league, with a full training camp and preseason schedule that should help smooth the transition to the NBA. We have already caught a glimpse of what the group has to offer in the preseason alone.

Rookie Wire decided to put on our thinking caps and predict the future. We made 10 bold predictions for the rookie class and offered an opinion on what we might see. To make this exercise fun, we will come back at the end of the season and see how we did.

Here is how we fared last season. We didn’t do particularly well.

Sharife Cooper will earn a standard NBA contract from the Hawks

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Cooper fell to the Atlanta Hawks at No. 48 and looked like anything but a second-round pick throughout the preseason. He finished by averaging 5.5 points, 2.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 13.4 minutes per game. Cooper was commended by head coach Nate McMillan for the energy and effort he brings off of the bench, something that should be beneficial for the team this season. The Hawks signed him to a two-way contract over the offseason as he is eligible to play in no more than 50 games. However, it is reasonable to believe that he could eventually parlay that into a standard contract if he can find a way to crack the rotation and make big contributions this season. He could be perhaps the biggest steal of the second round.

Nets' Cam Thomas will average 20 minutes and have at least one 30-point game

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Thomas led all players in scoring during the Las Vegas Summer League, and continued that production into the preseason. He averaged 10.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists in four games with the Nets on 40% shooting from 3-point range. With much uncertainty surrounding Kyrie Irving this season, the Nets could turn to Thomas more in certain situations. He has proven he can come in and give the team some scoring off the bench, which could be very beneficial. The scoring Thomas can bring could mean he sees the floor quite a bit this season, which would easily ensure our prediction of 20 minutes a game with at least one 30-point performance comes to fruition.

For more coverage on the Brooklyn Nets, visit Nets Wire

Trey Murphy III will set the NBA rookie record for 3-pointers

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Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell holds the rookie record for most 3-pointers in a season with 187. Mitchell shot 34% (187-of-550) from beyond the arc as a rookie and played 33.4 minutes per game in the 2017-18 season. Murphy showed the basketball community just how good of a shooter he is throughout the preseason, and there are some numbers to back it up. He averaged 17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists in four games with the Pelicans, shooting 53.1% from 3-point range on eight attempts per game. His 17 made 3-pointers led the rookie class, and they were tied for the second-most among all players. Of course, he isn’t going to shoot 53.1% all season long, and his role this season could fluctuate, but Murphy looks to be a strong candidate to top Mitchell’s record. We also just want to hit this prediction after previously failing with Tyler Herro and Aleksej Pokusevski.

Alperen Sengun will finish on an All-Rookie Team

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Sengun enters the season as one of the more experienced rookies having played overseas in Turkey prior to joining the Rockets. He averaged 9.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 blocked shots in four preseason games. He wrapped up his run with his best game, recording 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks for his lone double-double. The 16th overall pick could emerge as one of the most versatile offensive players in the draft this year and could be in store for a huge season. If he can become the offensive player the Rockets expect, Sengun will undoubtedly earn All-Rookie honors this season.

For more coverage on the Rockets, visit Rockets Wire

Davion Mitchell will receive votes for NBA All-Defensive Team

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Mitchell was named the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year last year after averaging 14.1 points, 5.5 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals at Baylor. He was the first player in program history to also earn Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. “Off-night” enters the season projected to make a great impact on defense, and will make a name for himself on that end of the floor. In fact, teammate De’Aaron Fox already thinks Mitchell is a top-five on-ball defender in the league, putting him in the same category as Marcus Smart, Patrick Beverley and Jrue Holiday.

Earning a place on an All-Defensive Team as a rookie is rather unprecedented, and only 26 players have ever accomplished the feat within their first two years in the NBA. Making an All-Defensive Team would be very bold of us to predict so, instead, we’re hedging our bets here and predicting Mitchell will earn some votes in the final tally from media members.

Josh Giddey will register at least five triple-doubles with OKC

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Giddey became the youngest Australian last year to record a triple-double in the National Basketball League, and he eventually finished with four such games. He nearly notched one during the preseason with the Thunder, finishing with 13 points, nine rebounds and eight assists on Oct. 14. Given his ability to fill the stat sheet, Giddey appears poised to tally a few triple-doubles this season. Recording five such performances, as we boldly predict, would be tied for fifth-most in history by a rookie, along with Tom Gola and Alvan Adams; Oscar Robertson holds the record with 26.

For more coverage on the Thunder, visit Thunder Wire

Jalen Suggs will hit at least two game-winning shots

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Between his shot in the NCAA Tournament with Gonzaga, to his clutch play in the Las Vegas Summer League, Suggs seemingly never backs down from big-time moments. He already had the opportunity to win a game with the Magic during the preseason but came up short. However, the Magic completely trust him with the game on the line as he even wants the ball in those situations. With Suggs projected to have the ball in his hands quite a bit, and his ability in clutch moments, we’re predicting he’ll hit two game-winners this season, which would tie the number teammate Cole Anthony had last year.

Evan Mobley will lead all rookies in rebounding and have at least 10 double-doubles

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Mobley has the potential to become a star in the NBA, and it is largely due to his ability on both ends of the floor. His blend of size and athleticism, along with his instincts and switchability, make him a player capable of doing quite a few things on the court. During the preseason, Mobley posted 8.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.6 assists and one steal in five games. He posted one doube-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds on Oct. 10 and nearly had another one, as well. Given his ability, we believe Mobley will lead the rookie class in rebounds and record at least 10 double-doubles.

Jalen Green will lead rookie class in scoring, and produce at least 30 20-point games

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Green has been touted as perhaps the best scorer in the draft this year, and that will be on display all season long. He showed some of what he can do during the preseason, averaging 13.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists in four games with the Rockets. He scored in double figures in three of those contests, with a preseason-high of 20 coming on Oct. 7. Green projects to play heavy minutes this season, giving him a great chance to light up the scoreboard on a nightly basis. As a result, we believe Green will lead the rookie class in scoring and will have at least 30 20-point games this season.

For more coverage on the Rockets, visit Rockets Wire

A player drafted outside of the top three will win Rookie of the Year

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Before you say anything, the objective of this exercise is to step out a little bit and make some lofty predictions. Saying Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green or Evan Mobley will win Rookie of the Year doesn’t accomplish that. In fact, most sportsbooks and normal predictions have Cunningham or Green winning the award, and rightfully so. They will have the luxury of logging heavy minutes and playing through mistakes. If we’re being completely honest, Green would be our pick to win but for the sake of this posting, we’re taking a player outside of the top three.

Who does that leave? Some popular picks that were drafted outside of the top three are Jalen Suggs, Scottie Barnes, Alperen Sengun, James Bouknight and Josh Giddey as a longshot. We believe the projected roles for several players outside of the top three could come into play, helping their chances of winning the award. We also realize the previous prediction of Green leading the class in scoring would likely ensure he wins Rookie of the Year. It is going to take a lot to sway the voters away from Green and Cunningham but there should be strong production up and down the draft board this season.

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