Five Underrated Rookies to Watch Next Season

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NBA Summer League wrapped up in mid-July, and training camp does not start until September.  But in the midst of this “dead period” in the league, fans still have a lot to look forward to.  From game-changing decisions to current players expected to take leaps, the 2022-23 season has fans buzzing with excitement.  One aspect of their enthusiasm involves the rookie class, with big names such as Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren ready to take the league by storm.  Still, there are plenty of underrated rookies either drafted later or not at all looking to turn heads.  Here are five under-the-radar rookies to take notice of next season.

Malaki Branham

Selected 20th overall by the Spurs, Branham is a 6’5” guard who excels at scoring from all three levels.  He was named Big-Ten Freshman of the Year after boasting 20.2 PPG in his last ten games, according to his bio.  He also thrived at Ohio State with an expanded role, being thrown into the fire and succeeding along the way.

Branham impressed many at Summer League, scoring with ease and putting up 15.4 points per game on 42-42-72 splits.  On a young, rebuilding Spurs team, he will immediately make an impact on offense, particularly from midrange, as well as a decent defender who can jump passing lanes and start fast breaks.

Malaki Branham’s Summer League highlights

Blake Wesley

Wesley, a 6’5” guard from Notre Dame, was drafted 25th overall, also by the Spurs.  In college, the 18-year-old averaged 14.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.2 steals per game on 40-30-66 splits.  He eventually earned All-ACC Second and ACC All-Freshman team honors.  He brings with him plenty of speed, which was described by CBS Sports’ Colin Ward-Henninger as “hurt-yourself-trying-to-keep-up-with-him fast.

Wesley projects as a two-way playmaker, as evidenced by his 17 points, four assists, and 1.6 steals per game at Summer League.  It is also worth noting that he shot 34% from three, improving a piece of his game that will be vital to his success.  His Summer League highlights showed a series of acrobatic finishes at the rim, pull-up threes drained, and excellent passes made.  Reports described Wesley as a “sleeper” pick in the draft, and he will definitely be a guard to watch as his career begins.

MarJon Beauchamp

Beauchamp is a unique rookie on this list because he was one of three players drafted from the G League Ignite, the NBA’s development program for top prospects looking to bypass college in favor of a more professional environment.  With the Ignite, Beauchamp posted 15.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 53.5% from the field.  He came into the draft projected as a solid wing with plenty of potential.

In Summer League, the 24th pick by the Bucks did not disappoint.  He averaged 12.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, and 1.6 APG while shooting a blistering 45.8% from deep.  He displayed a marksman’s ability from three and boundless energy, giving the Bucks second chances in the paint with his strength and finishing.  Beauchamp is a worthy selection by the Bucks, adding value to their guard depth and a long list of sharpshooters.

MarJon Beauchamp’s Summer League highlights

Bryce McGowens

The 6’7” Nebraska product had first-round potential but wound up being drafted by the Hornets with the 40th pick.  McGowens, like others on this list, is a prolific scorer with room to grow.  The Hornets recognized that, inking him to a two-way contract after he averaged 14.6 points and four rebounds while shooting 43% from three.

Some consider McGowens to be the steal of the draft, and his Summer League showing is proving why that is the case.  His best game was a 24-point outburst against the Cavs, filled with five threes.  The 19-year-old has plenty of Hornets fans buzzing (pun intended) with excitement, as he has clearly improved on his poor three-point shooting from Nebraska and adds versatility at the shooting guard and small forward slots.

Cole Swider

The undrafted Syracuse sharpshooter drew a lot of love from the Laker faithful.  Swider, a 6’9” combo forward, burned the nets in July, going 17-of-30 from distance in his first five Summer League games.  He went on to average 15.4 points per game while shooting 50% from the field, 50% from three (28 of 53), and 67% from the line.

In some ways, it is criminal how underrated Swider is.  A 6’9” wing with that great of a shooting ability would have been a surefire pick in the 2022 Draft.  However, Swider fell out of the top 58 and landed in the Lakers’ lap.  Though his defense is far from perfect, he still impressed many with his offensive talent. Swider will be a name to watch from the Lakers as his career gets underway.

Cole Swider’s Summer League highlights

Though their roles will vary, these five rookies still deserve a glance from even the most diehard NBA fans.  They are oozing with potential and are striving to prove that their pick number doesn’t matter, their games speak for themselves.