Recapping Top Newcomers from a Stellar NBA Rookie Class

From the top of the draft board to undrafted free agents, the batch of players playing in the NBA for the first time in 2023-24 didn’t disappoint. Some helped lead playoff pushes while others established themselves as cornerstones for rebuilding franchises. Some also proved that it’s never too late to accomplish the dream of making it to the Association.

Here are some of the league’s most impactful rookie performers:

Chet Holmgren – Oklahoma City: 

After missing what should have been his rookie season due to injury, Holmgren entered 2023-24 with great anticipation. He didn’t disappoint, living up to the responsibility of being a pillar of the Thunder’s new era.

Holmgren averaged 16.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks while helping OKC earn the No. 1 seed in the West. The Rookie of the Year finalist shot 53.0 percent from the field while tallying 23 double-doubles. 

He put together four 30-point games, including a season-high 36 points vs. the Warriors on Nov. 18. The power forward also collected 10 boards, two blocks and two steals while dishing out five assists during the 130-123 win.

Interesting stat: The 2022 No. 2 overall pick played in all 82 games. “I knew I was going to come in with the utmost gratitude to play basketball,” he said in an interview with Boardroom. “I’ve learned that 82 games is a grind… I might wake up sick one day or my ankle might hurt from being twisted in the last game but if I can go out there and help our team win, I’m a go out there.”

Dereck Lively II – Dallas: 

It was clear from the jump that Lively would be an impact player for the Mavericks. He had the support from the coaches and front office after being acquired via a draft-night trade and quickly garnered the same trust from the star guard tandem of Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving.

Lively averaged 8.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game on 74.7 percent shooting during Dallas’ 50-win season. He compiled eight double-doubles, including a 16-point, 10-board effort on opening night against the Spurs. 

The Duke product dropped a career-high 22 points on March 11 vs. the Bulls and filled out the rest of the stat sheet with seven boards, three assists, two blocks, plus a pair of steals.

Interesting Stat: Tallied 20 points, 16 boards, and seven blocks while shooting a perfect 9-for-9 from the field against OKC on Dec. 2.

Amen Thompson – Houston: 

Thompson served as the Rockets’ connector, averaging 9.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals. He secured 13 double-doubles while managing a variety of responsibilities, including starting, coming off the bench and even playing as a big man. Houston’s future looks even brighter with his inclusion in its young, exciting core. 

He set his career high with a 25-point outing against the Wizards on March 19, and also grabbed 10 boards and shot 83.3 percent. It was one of four 20-point performances.

Interesting stat: The No. 4 overall pick ended the season with a bang, notching his first career triple-double in the season finale against the Clippers, racking up 18 points, 11 boards and 10 dimes along with three steals and three blocks.

Ausar Thompson – Detroit: 

Like his twin brother, the No. 5 overall pick did a little of everything. For Detroit, he averaged 8.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.1 steals. He notched his first of two double-doubles in the fourth game of the season, totaling 15 points and 10 boards against the Thunder on Oct. 30.

The uber-athletic wing set his career high on Jan. 20 against the Bucks, scoring 22 points while corralling nine boards. Speaking of boards, he notched double-digit rebounds in eight contests as a rookie.

Interesting stat: Thompson totaled 14 points, nine rebounds, four assists, four steals and four blocks against Phoenix on Nov. 5, becoming the third rookie in league history to post such a stat line, joining Kevin Garnett and Ralph Sampson.

Cason Wallace – Oklahoma City: 

Wallace carved out a nice rotational role thanks to his ability to excel as a 3-and-D playmaker.  Like Holmgren, the No. 10 overall pick played in all 82 games and helped the Thunder surge to the top of the Western Conference with his sweet defense.

He provided the game-winning stop in Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs:

 

Interesting stat: Wallace knocked down 41.9 percent of his 234 long-range tries, making him the 17th rookie in league history to make at least 40 percent of their 3s while attempting at least 230. 

Keyonte George – Utah: 

The No. 16 overall pick found his groove during the second half of the season and earned a spot in the starting rotation. He flashed all the signs of being a franchise guard and averaged 15.6 points plus 4.7 assists after the All-Star break.

He also helped pull off one of the plays of the year:

Interesting stat: George set the Jazz record and tied the league mark for most 3s by a rookie when he knocked down nine against the Warriors during a 33-point night on Feb. 15. It was one part of his trio of 30-point outings. 

Duop Reath – Portland: 

Reath finally got his first real chance at NBA hoops after stints overseas and a few Summer League invitations. The 27-year-old rookie was a pleasant surprise for the Trail Blazers, providing efficient offense from inside and out as well as consistent rebounding.

The first of his three 20-point nights came when he had 25 against the Kings on Dec. 26. That breakout night featured him shooting 60.0 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from deep, while snagging nine rebounds.

Interesting stat: The big man secured his first double-double on Jan. 7 against the Nets, tallying 15 points and 13 boards while knocking down three shots from downtown. 

You can look for these accomplished rookies as well as other members of a stellar debut class in Panini products everywhere.

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