The 2023 NBA Draft class is one of the best in recent memory. That dude in San Antonio is the obvious standout, but there are several future stars peppered throughout. To add to the fun of this rookie class, last year's No. 2 pick, Chet Holmgren, will also play his first NBA basketball in 2023.
Safe to say the Rookie of the Year race is jam-packed. It's possible that Victor Wembanyama outclasses and outshines everyone in his orbit, but it's important to celebrate more than the best prospect since LeBron James. This race should celebrate the next generation of NBA stars. Do not be surprised if a few rookies are impacting winning more than expected out of the gates.
Rookie of the Year is a tough award to predict oftentimes because of the impact injuries and role uncertainty can play. Cade Cunningham was the No. 1 pick and consensus Rookie of the Year favorite, but he got hurt. Zion Williamson got hurt as a rookie, which paved the way for Ja Morant. Then, there's the role factor. Why did Scottie Barnes beat Evan Mobley? Because the Raptors were a postseason team, and the Cavs were not.
The "best" rookies don't always get the most freedom. Team context is paramount here. Wembanyama will, spoiler alert, essentially have free reign over San Antonio's offense. He will also function as their defensive backbone. Scoot Henderson will have plenty of freedom in Portland, though. Chet Holmgren might be the third or fourth-best player on his team right now, but the Thunder are going to win games. Those things matter.
So, let's dive head-first into the season's first Rookie of the Year power rankings. Here's who you should be monitoring.
Opening night NBA Rookie of the Year power rankings
Honorable mentions: Keyonte George, Brandon Miller, Dereck Lively II, Bilal Coulibaly
Ausar Thompson is going to start for the Detroit Pistons. Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey will naturally absorb most of the spotlight there, at least going into the season, but Thompson is a tier-one athlete who has already flashed major multi-dimensional upside in the preseason. Those concerned about the transition from Overtime Elite to NBA competition shouldn't be. Thompson is a winner.
At 6-foot-7, Thompson is the nominal starting small forward, but he grew up in a more classic two-guard role next to his brother. Thompson has razor-sharp handles and a nuclear first step. The 3-point shot is a work in progress, but progress is being made. With Cunningham and Ivey shouldering most of the ball-handling duties, Thompson is going to get plenty of clean looks from deep. He will also feast on backdoor cuts, which he clearly has a knack for.
The Pistons should also benefit from Thompson's defense, even as a rookie. He blows up plays with his 7-foot wingspan and elite burst. He already looks stronger than he was out of high school and he has been a regular presence on the glass for the Pistons in preseason action. He fights hard for rebounds and he can out-leap just about anybody. The effort level, combined with absurd athleticism, should allow Thompson to influence winning even in the early stages of skill development.
His jump shot is the only major concern, anyway. Thompson is a great ball-handler, a nifty passer — even at a full sprint — and he's already stuffing the ancillary categories of the stat sheet. Rookies generally need time to adjust, but very few 20-year-olds are as explosive, intelligent, and dedicated as Thompson. He's special.
A lot of backdoor lobs, grab-and-go transition possessions, and double-doubles lie in Thompson's immediate future.