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Debating the NBA's most surprising and disappointing rookies

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Nearly one month into the NBA season, what do we know about the 2019-20 rookie class?

No. 1 pick and consensus top prospect Zion Williamson has yet to play a regular-season game for the New Orleans Pelicans, but there have been plenty of breakout players highlighting this freshman class so far.

Who have been the biggest surprises and disappointments? Which rookie is the most fun to watch? Who is the Rookie of the Year favorite right now?

Our NBA experts answer the big questions about the notable rooks.

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1. What is your biggest takeaway from this rookie class so far?

Mike Schmitz: The number of instant contributors drafted outside the top 10. PJ Washington has earned his starting spot with the Charlotte Hornets while being extremely productive. Matisse Thybulle is playing a key role with the Philadelphia 76ers. Tyler Herro is shining for the surging Miami Heat. Brandon Clarke, Eric Paschall and Goga Bitadze and Cameron Johnson have all had strong moments, too. It's looking like 2019 could be remembered for the number of value picks selected later in the draft.

Bobby Marks: A supposedly average rookie class might actually be deep. We talked at length about Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Ja Morant standing above the field, but maybe we overlooked the rest of the field, including Cameron Johnson, whom the Suns were criticized for taking at No. 11.

Tim Bontemps: A lot of teams look like they're going to be very happy with how the draft played out. We've already seen players from throughout this year's class -- top picks, second-rounders and even undrafted guys -- immediately step in and contribute to their teams, which is always fun to see.

Eric Woodyard: It's still pretty early to get a read on this group. Thus far, none of the rookies has shown the ability to come in and dominate right away during a season in which teams look competitive nearly from top to bottom across the league. Let's watch some more games and see who pops.

André Snellings: This rookie class is deep, with talented producers who are getting the playing time and opportunity to produce early and often. Although this group isn't as top-heavy as others, it might be the deepest class in recent memory.


2. Which rookie has been the biggest surprise?

Marks: Miami's Kendrick Nunn. What the undrafted rookie has done is amazing. Nunn went from starting one game in the G League last season to starting all 10 games in Miami so far this season. He ranks No. 2 among all rookies in points per game (16.9) while shooting 38.3% from 3. (Nunn ended up in the G League after going undrafted in part because of a 2016 guilty plea to a charge of misdemeanor battery.)

Woodyard: Nunn, by far. Greg Kampe, Nunn's coach at Oakland University who also helped develop 2016's No. 54 overall pick, Kay Felder, told me, "Kendrick's playing like I thought he would if given the chance." He has been balling.

Snellings: It's a toss-up between Paschall and Nunn, but I'll go with Nunn. On top of the scoring, he's tied for the lead in steals among rookies and is fourth in assists in a starting role. Nunn is making an impressive impact on a Heat team that is currently a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.

Bontemps: Paschall. He has been pressed into a far bigger role than the Warriors would've liked, but the team has to be thrilled by his production. In a season in which almost nothing has gone right for Golden State, Paschall's development is a bright spot.

Schmitz: Nunn. We highlighted him following last year's G League Showcase as one of the top call-up candidates, praising his shot-making, improved pick-and-roll play and ability to fit next to a big shot-creator. Even so, I don't think anyone expected Nunn to do this.

3. Which rookie has been the biggest disappointment?

Bontemps: It's not his fault, but it has to be Williamson. There was so much hype and anticipation for his debut this season, and it has been a real disappointment for the league that he has had to spend the first few weeks on the sideline after knee surgery.

Marks: It's disappointing that we haven't seen more of Michael Porter Jr. in Denver. After missing all of the 2018-19 season, Porter has appeared in only six games, averaging 9.2 minutes. Because of a deep bench, minutes have been hard to come by for the 2018 lottery pick.

Snellings: Williamson's knee. Zion gives every indication of being a generational talent if he can stay healthy, and a fully functional Zion taking the league by storm would be one of the great stories in the league. His stardom could also cement this class as a surprisingly great one.

Schmitz: Jarrett Culver has struggled to adjust to playing a less ball-dominant role in Minnesota. He did it all for Texas Tech last season, with a 32.2% usage rate while leading the Red Raiders in points, rebounds and assists. Alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, Culver is still trying to find his way, particularly at knocking down catch-and-shoot 3s from beyond the NBA line.

Woodyard: I'm also disappointed that Zion is out. It's tough not to feel like we've been robbed of witnessing the Zion experience after the hype and promise he displayed at Duke and in preseason. He's still probably going to be a star, but I'm sitting back, waiting on his return like a loyal Popeye's customer waiting for the restock of the spicy chicken sandwich. Hopefully, the actual experience can match the hype that precedes it.


4. Which rookie has been the most fun to watch?

Snellings: Morant's electric, aesthetically pleasing style has made him an instant fan favorite. He is ultra-quick, aggressive to attack off the dribble and an incredible leaper. When he has the ball in the open court, it is must-see TV.

Marks: The trio in Miami: Nunn, Herro and Chris Silva. Credit the Heat scouting department here. All three rookie steals have given much-needed energy and hope for the future to a Miami roster that was deemed stagnant last season.

Schmitz: He has tailed off a bit after a hot start, but when Herro is in the zone, there are few rookies who are more exciting. Highlighted by one 29-point outburst, Herro has lived up to his get-buckets mentality while showing more playmaking chops and defensive toughness than expected.

Woodyard: I'll go with two: Paschall and Herro. I love Herro's confidence and his swagger on the court, with the trash talking and sharpshooting. I remember Paschall rolling into Utah for his predraft workout this summer as a childhood friend of Jazz star Donovan Mitchell. Paschall expressed his interest in reinventing himself through the draft process, despite being an NCAA national champion. That stood out to me. Golden State has many injured stars, but Paschall is seizing his opportunity, and it's fun to watch.

Bontemps: Morant is breathtakingly fast and fearless with the ball. He had one of the more impressive moments of the season when, in a game against the Brooklyn Nets last month, he tied things up with a drive in the final seconds of regulation and then blocked Kyrie Irving's potential game-winning jumper to force OT. I'm afraid to look when he flings himself at the rim with reckless abandon, but I can't take my eyes off him when he's on the court.


5. Who is your Rookie of the Year pick right now?

Schmitz: Morant. Coming off a game-winning finish on his way to a 23-point, 11-assist showing against the Hornets on Wednesday, Morant has been far and away the best rookie in this class and looks every bit the future superstar. He leads all rookies in points and assists and has the cleanest pathway to the award if he can stay healthy.

Woodyard: I'm still rolling with Zion. Yeah, he'll be playing catch-up whenever he returns, but I see him dazzling fans when he gets back out there. After I witnessed him bully the Chicago Bulls during the preseason for 29 points on 12-for-13 shooting, I was convinced.

Snellings: As soon as Zion went down, Morant became my favorite because he has the ability to lead all rookies in scoring and assists (currently No. 1 in both). Morant has control of the entire offensive unit, and he has already shown the ability to carry his team to victories over strong teams. He looks like the complete package.

Marks: Zion. Although the rookie class has so far exceeded expectations, there is no one player who has separated from the field. If Zion appears in 60 games but averages 20 points and turns the Pelicans around, this award is his.

Bontemps: My pick for now is Morant by a pretty sizable margin. His combination of pedigree, talent and production is hard to pass up. Yes, Williamson could come back and put up big numbers, and several other guys have also impressed. But if Morant avoids injury and continues playing this way, he will be tough to beat.

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