When it became apparent that Zion Williamson's knee injury would keep him sidelined for the first month-and-a-half of the season, the Rookie of the Year race opened up substantially.
Williamson was the heavy favorite to win before the year tipped off, and now a few surprising young players have earned themselves consideration. The top pick in this year's draft may reclaim the voter's favor once he returns in early December, but don't count these five players out.
Obviously production will be valued over everything else. You don't want to disregard a player's stats if he's on a bad team, because usually, the best rookies are on bad teams. But this season is a little different, as we have two rookies both producing eye-popping numbers while being key contributors to a sure-fire playoff team.
5. Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards
The Wizards received a fair amount of criticism for taking Hachimura ninth overall in June. His ceiling of a modern-day forward who could guard multiple positions, space the floor and attack mismatches is very enticing. However, questions about his shooting range, lateral quickness and strength inside had plenty of draft experts skeptical.
So far, Hachimura has looked really good. His three-point stroke hasn't come along yet, but he's shooting 50 percent from the floor and currently ranks seventh among rookies in scoring.
His pull up jumper looks legit, he's far more mobile than he was given credit for, and once Hachimura learns how to finish through contact and figure out his spots on the floor, he's going to be dangerous screening for Bradley Beal.
Stats as of 11/19: 27.7 mpg / 13.1 ppg / 1.7 apg / 5.5 rpg
4. Tyler Herro, Miami Heat
The Heat currently hold the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, and much of their success can be credited to rookies Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn.
Outside of Jimmy Butler, Miami doesn't have many ball-handlers who can create offense for themselves and their teammates. Herro has played with the ball in his hands a lot more than people expected coming out of Kentucky and hasn't really been phased by it.
So far, he's displayed sneaky-good playmaking, exceptional shot-making and an impressive level of poise. What he lacks in size and length he makes up for in flat-out skill.
Stats as of 11/19: 28.9 mpg / 13.3 ppg / 2.1 apg / 4.5 rpg
3. Eric Paschall, Golden State Warriors
As a second-round pick out of Villanova, Paschall was brought to Golden State to learn from Draymond Green and hopefully develop into the two-way combo-forward this franchise first unleased on the NBA.
But then Stephen Curry broke his hand, and with Klay Thompson out for the year as well, the Warriors needed immediate help scoring alongside D'Angelo Russell.
Paschall, seemingly out of nowhere, took on that responsibility and is now averaging 16.7 points per game on 52 percent shooting. It's hard to expect Paschall to keep this up, but he'll have plenty of shots throughout the season. And if one thing is true about Jay Wright-coached players, is that they simply know how to play good basketball.
Stats as of 11/19: 31.1 mpg / 16.7 ppg / 1.3 apg / 4.8 rpg
2. Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat
Nunn has been the NBA's biggest surprise so far this season. He was an undrafted free agent a year ago, spent last season with the Warriors G-League affiliate and was signed by the Heat this past April. He apparently made a good impression on the organization after dropping 40 points on them in the preseason.
Once Nunn got his shot at NBA minutes, all he's done is score and help the Heat win. He's averaging 17.8 points, shooting 47 percent from the floor, 38 percent from three and is third among all rookies in NET rating who play at least 15 minutes a night.
The Heat tend to find players like Nunn and they end up playing for a long time. We'll see if Nunn can take it to another level to become the favorite in the Rookie of the Year race.
Stats as of 11/19: 30.7 mpg / 17.8 ppg / 3.2 apg / 2.5 rpg
1. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
By far the most electric player in his rookie class so far, Morant is playing at a high level and he's still realizing his true powers at the point guard position.
Williamson may have been the headliner of the 2019 NBA Draft, but the second pick that night is looking like a future All-Star. Morant is scoring 18.4 points, dishing out six assists per game and is shooting 47 percent from the floor and a very impressive 42 percent from three (11-26).
It'll be difficult for Morant to hold onto the lead once Zion-palooza begins in December, but the Grizzlies must be thrilled with what they've seen out of their rookie guard.
Stats as of 11/19: 27.2 mpg / 18.4 ppg / 6.0 apg / 3.3 rpg
ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN:
RJ Barrett, New York Knicks
Coby White, Chicago Bulls
PJ Washington, Charlotte Hornets
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