The top NBA rookie candidates are typically those who are drafted within the top 10, and that’s for good reason. This season, Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, and others top that list. This comes as no surprise as they shined prior to the NBA and should have the major roles on their new teams. With that being said, there’s always strong value to be found later on in the draft. Those players may not receive all the preseason recognition, but could very well surprise during the regular season. Take a look at three of the overlooked NBA rookies for this coming season.
Three Overlooked NBA Rookies for 2021-22
Keon Johnson – the Most Overlooked NBA Rookie
The Los Angeles Clippers traded for Keon Johnson towards the latter end of the first round, and they were likely very surprised he was still available. The Tennessee product was widely considered a lottery pick, and many thought he’d definitely be selected in the top 10.
It makes sense as to why Johnson showed lottery potential. Johnson averaged 11.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game as a freshman. His career-high was 27 points in February versus the Kentucky Wildcats.
Johnson does a lot of things well, but what stands out the most is his athleticism. His bounce is incredible, as seen in his NBA Combine record of a vertical of 48 inches. Besides having bounce, he’s extremely quick and agile which allows him to thrive in transition. He’s also a defensive hawk.
Landing with the Clippers was perfect for Johnson. Kawhi Leonard will miss the bulk of the regular season, which will give a player like Johnson time to shine. Since he can play both the two and three positions, minutes will come to him. Johnson won’t take minutes away from Paul George, but he’ll be contending for minutes within a pool of Luke Kennard, Justise Winslow, and Terance Mann. He can overcome this rather quickly, and potentially become a normal rotation players for the team early on in the season.
Minutes are going to be hard to come by within the Brooklyn Nets. The team’s “big three” won’t be losing any barring injury, and the same goes for Joe Harris. It will be a struggle early on for Cameron Thomas to earn minutes, but he definitely has the ability to do so.
While at LSU, Thomas averaged 23 points per game. To put it simply, he’s a cold-blooded scorer. Thomas is a high-volume scorer, who can be streaky at times, but can score at all three levels. His three-point shooting needs some work, as he shot just over 32 percent last season, but open looks will be flowing in the Brooklyn offense. It’s important to note that Thomas was the primary handler and scorer for LSU last season, which forced his hand into a number of bad shots. Playing with a talented arsenal of veterans will help this.
It’s unlikely that Thomas sees minutes at point guard, especially after the arrival of Patty Mills. Bruce Brown re-signed, whereas Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot also found a rotation spot. It will be a fight early on for Thomas, which makes him one of the more overlooked NBA rookies, but he finds himself in a great position as a talented scorer in an exciting and free-flowing offense.
Trae Young isn’t going anywhere. He’ll have the bulk of the minutes at the Atlanta Hawks one position. Backing him up right now is veteran Lou Williams, who reminded the league in the playoffs that he’s not done yet. With that being said, his regular season role will likely not be too heavy due to his age and the Hawks wanting to keep him fresh for another potential playoff run.
Enter Sharife Cooper.
Cooper was exceptional during the Summer League, and once again made many wonder how he slid to the second-half of the 2021 NBA Draft’s second round. Perhaps age and experience played a role, but it shouldn’t have. As a freshman for Auburn last season, Cooper averaged north of 20 points and eight assists per game. He’s lightning quick and was one of the top playmakers in the entire draft. Age and inexperience affected his play to an extent, with questionable turnovers mostly, but that can be overcome when training every day with the world’s elite players in the NBA.
Cooper will likely get his bulk of minutes early on towards the end of games, but he can make strides to earn plenty of minutes off the bench towards the midway point of the NBA season.
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