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NBA Rookie Rankings: Zion Williamson’s long-awaited Pelicans debut is exactly what this NBA season needed

Zion Williamson’s debut was appointment-viewing television. His fourth-quarter explosion is well documented, but even leading up to that, the NBA world was collectively waiting for him to do something amazing so they could lose their minds. There has not been more excitement or anticipation surrounding an NBA game this season, and Zion’s debut came at the perfect time for the league.

While the conferences are more balanced than ever, and there’s not one team just bulldozing through the competition — although Milwaukee kind of is — television ratings for the NBA have been down this season. The thought was that because of the parity in the league, it would compel fans to tune in and watch an evenly-matched game against the Celtics and Raptors, but that’s not the case. With Zion’s debut, though, this 6-6, 285-pound teenager may single-handedly help boost the NBA’s ratings with every dunk and block he executes. 

The Pelicans have eight more nationally televised games this season, and you can bet that each one of those games will be some of the most viewed matchups all season long. His debut alone tied for the most-watched game on ESPN this season, with an average of 2.3 million viewers. While the Pelicans are thrilled to have their No. 1 overall pick in the starting lineup, so is the league, as they will benefit greatly from Zion’s performances.

These rankings will reflect a rookie’s performance on a week-to-week basis, not the collective season, so these aren’t Rookie of the Year standings. For a look at the previous rookie rankings, click here. With that straightened out, here are the latest Rookie Power Rankings for the 2019-20 season.

Last week: Unranked

Highlight of the week: Yes, it was one game, and the Pelicans lost. However, there has not been a more hyped rookie debut since LeBron James’, and, man, did Zion live up to the hype. Until the fourth quarter of that Spurs-Pelicans game, it looked like Zion’s big splash in the NBA was going to have to wait for one more game, but then, he went off for 17 points in the fourth quarter in a span of three minutes. There’s still a long road ahead of Williamson to get a consistent jump shot down and become an impact player on this Pelicans team to help lead them to the playoffs, but seeing the No. 1 overall pick finally on the floor for the first time was well worth the wait.

Last week: No. 2

Highlight of the week: Miami almost lost a winnable game against the Sacramento Kings this week with Jimmy Butler sidelined, but on the back of Nunn’s 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists the Heat walked away with an overtime win. The only downside of his performance were the six turnovers Nunn had, with several of them coming from misfired passes to teammates and fumbling the ball while trying to cross over a defender. Nunn impacts the game in so many positive ways that it’s hard to remember that he’s still just a rookie, so when he has games where turnovers are a problem it’s a reminder that there’s still plenty of room for improvement in his game.

Last week: Unranked

Highlight of the week: The Hornets haven’t been winning lately, but Washington’s development has been a silver lining through it all. In a close loss to the Magic, Washington was essentially unstoppable shooting 50 percent from 3, and 58.3 percent from the field. On several plays, the defense just completely lost where Washington was, which resulted in easy dunks or wide-open 3s. Washington’s athleticism mixed with his ability to just flat out shoot from beyond the arc is a dangerous combination for opposing teams, because he can beat you in a number of ways. If he improves his playmaking ability the Hornets will have something really special with him and Devonte Graham. 

Last week: No. 8

Highlight of the week: On a night where Damian Lillard set a franchise record for points in a game, Paschall quietly has himself a solid performance too. At times he’s been inconsistent this season, mixing 20-point games with four-point duds, but against the Trail Blazers he showcased just why he deserves all the praise he’s been getting in the Bay Area. He showed no fear attacking the rim, even with Hassan Whiteside in the paint, he worked in some of his mid-range game, and peppered in some 3s as well. The versatility of his game on offense is the big draw, but his hustle to fight for second-chance points, and get down in the post and try to outmuscle guys bigger than him are underrated aspects of his game.

Last week: No. 9

Highlight of the week: The Nuggets may not need to make any moves at the trade deadline, because the best secret weapon they could’ve asked for is already coming off their bench. Porter’s ascension into the rotation for Denver has been one of the best stories of the year, and his 20-point stunner against the Timberwolves was just the latest in a long string of standout performances from the rookie. Denver is winning right now, so it’s best not to mess with what’s working, but Porter may soon outgrow his bench role on this team and may force coach Mike Malone into starting him. It may not be this year, but it’ll happen sooner than you think.

Last week: Unranked

Highlight of the week: Aside from a good chunk of playing time at the start of the season, Claxton hadn’t played for the Nets consistently since late November, but this week he showed why he should be given some more minutes. Against Philadelphia he used his size against a short-handed 76ers team to attack the paint without Joel Embiid to challenge shots. It wasn’t just his game in the post, he mustered up enough confidence to let a 3-pointer fly, and when it went through the net the entire Brooklyn bench lost its mind. With DeAndre Jordan sidelined, Claxton has made the most of his minutes and it might pay off in the long run.

Last week: Unranked

Highlight of the week: Reddish didn’t have any truly breakout performances this week, but he displayed some consistency over the two games the Hawks played, which has been a bit of a problem for him this season. In Atlanta’s unlikely win over the Clippers, Reddish contributed just 10 points and eight rebounds, but he wasn’t rushing his shots. Instead, he was being smarter about picking his spots and letting the rest of the team get involved to contribute to a huge team win. Reddish hasn’t had the rookie year of some of his other fellow lottery picks, but if he can just work on his consistency, and contribute just 13 points a night for Atlanta, then that would be a win-win for both sides.

Last week: No. 5

Highlight of the week: Garland had a pretty bad shooting week, after recently shooting the ball so well. He combined to shoot just 21.6 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from beyond the arc. Every player goes through shooting slumps, and the Cavaliers will likely see if he can shoot himself out of this current slump, but it’s something to keep an eye on heading into the next week. He’s been able to contribute by getting his teammates involved, so at the very least when he’s not able to impact the game with his scoring he still provides something on offense for Cleveland.

Last week: No. 6

Highlight of the week: Culver posted a new career-high in a 26-point performance against the Toronto Raptors this week. Minnesota’s allowed Culver to showcase his game beyond just being a spot-up shooter lately, and he’s shown that he can create for himself when given the opportunity. Minnesota’s season may be lost already, but at the very least Culver’s development can help the front office see if he’ll be a piece to keep or package in a trade to get a point guard they’ve desperately needed.

Last week: No. 1

Highlight of the week: Two solid performances mixed with a dud two-point game against the Boston Celtics, and Morant got a taste of elite NBA defense. The Grizzlies have been winning against some inferior competition lately, but that Boston loss was a reminder that this team is still in the early stages of becoming a real contender, even if they are ahead of schedule.   

Dropped out

Last week: No. 7
Last week: No. 10
Last week: No. 4
Last week: No. 6

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