NBA’s 11 best rookies this season, ranked

This rookie class in the NBA will always go down in history as the year Victor Wembanyama made his grand entrance into the league. Wembanyama’s rookie season was so spellbinding, so sporadically brilliant that it overshadowed everything in its path, including his talented peers that were quietly forming one of the deeper groups of productive rookies in recent memory.

The 2023 NBA Draft always had so much talent beyond Wembanyama, and they proved it in their debut seasons. There were some hard cuts on this list to get it down to 11. This group doesn’t include Warriors second round pick Trayce Jackson-Davis, who has immediately become a solid rotation player. It includes one Portland Trail Blazers rookie, but not Toumani Camara or Duop Reath, who also earned consideration. Players like Ausar Thompson, Anthony Black, Bilal Coulibaly, and Jordan Hawkins are set for long careers in the pros, too.

Here’s our list of the best rookies in the NBA during the 2023-24 season. There’s so much more talent here than just Wemby.

11. Scoot Henderson, G, Portland Trail Blazers

There’s just no way around the fact that Scoot Henderson’s rookie season with the Portland Trail Blazers was a big disappointment. The No. 3 overall pick inherited Damian Lillard’s mantle as the new face of the franchise, but some nagging injuries and a rough development structure soon cooled any hope that he would hit the ground running. Henderson struggled to finish around the rim, got overwhelmed defensively, and endured turnover issues. Despite all that, he still flashed the talent that made him such a highly-touted prospect and closed the season with a strong stretch hinting at a bringer future. Henderson needs to pick up more craft scoring inside the arc, and find more consistency shooting from beyond it. He needs to learn how to use his powerfully built frame to effectively guard the ball defensively. He needs to find a way to get to the free throw line. Some of it was there in flashes at the end of the season, like when Scoot would explode to the rim off one foot or nail a difficult step-back jumper. It won’t happen overnight, but Henderson still has the tools to be a very good NBA point guard. He’s just not there yet.

Dallas Mavericks v Houston Rockets

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10. Cam Whitmore, F, Houston Rockets

Whitmore’s stunning draft day fall to No. 20 was always going to be a huge mistake. It’s hard to find off-ball scorers this powerful and this explosive athletically, and it didn’t take Whitmore long to put his physical gifts on full display when he finally got a chance for minutes with the Rockets. Whitmore bodied opposing defenders at the rim at only 19 years old with a lightning quick first step and the strength to finish through contact. His three-point shot was considered his big swing skill coming into the league, but the fact the he was hitting difficult stepbacks in his one year at Villanova was always cause for optimism. Indeed, Whitmore looked like a legit shooter as a rookie, making 35.9 percent of his threes on 4.7 attempts per game. He still doesn’t make many decisions with the ball in his hands, but his physical advantages are so immense that he only needs to finish plays rather than create him. On a Rockets team loaded with appealing young talent, Whitmore is another wing with nuclear athleticism who can explode for a big scoring night any time he takes the floor.

Utah Jazz v New Orleans Pelicans

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9. Keyonte George, G, Utah Jazz

George had an up-and-down rookie season as the No. 16 overall pick in the draft, but it’s easy to see the rough outline of a good player starting to form. After mostly playing off the ball during his one season at Baylor, George made the transition to point guard in the NBA and handled it well. He looked good getting to downhill and making plays for his teammates, posting a solid 24.4 percent assist rate despite some turnover troubles. While he struggled with his scoring efficiency, there were some real moments of encouragement with his shot-making. He proved he could fire off threes with volume (7.8 three-point attempts per-36 minutes), showed good touch by making nearly 85 percent of his free throws, and displayed comfort pulling up from three when defenses when under screens (33 percent on deep pull-ups). There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit to clean up, but George looks like a keeper for Utah’s extended rebuild.

8. Amen Thompson, G, Houston Rockets

Twins Amen and Ausar Thompson were always the most fascinating rookies in this class after otherworldly presence of Wembanyama. Forging their own path by coming out of the upstart Overtime Elite league, the twins were massive guards (6’7 with a 7-foot wingspan) with elite athleticism, heady IQ, and a total inability to hit an outside shot. That profile was good enough to make both top-5 picks. Amen was considered the slightly better long-term prospect as the true point guard of the pairing, and after a slow start due to a Nov. ankle injury, he showed off everything that makes him so special. Thompson’s post- All-Star Game performance was a blur of consistent rim pressure, contested rebounding, savvy drop-off passes, and — surprisingly — solid scoring efficiency that hints at his boundless future. Thompson is so big, so fast, so gifted to see open teammates, and so tenacious to 50/50 balls that his lack of shooting range feels more like a hindrance than a true handicap. The NBA is a more interesting league with the Thompson twins feeling out their way, and next steps could produce a ceiling higher than anyone else in the draft class other than Wemby.

7. Brandin Podziemski, G, Golden State Warriors

It was just over two years ago when Podziemski was told he wasn’t good enough to handle rotation minutes at Illinois. As an NBA rookie, all he did was earn a starting spot alongside some all-time greats by contributing all the little things it takes to win. Podziemski is a capable floor spacer, a willing connective passer, and a shockingly good rebounder for a 6’4 guard. It takes some young players years to pick up Steve Kerr’s complicated schemes, but Podz fit like a glove into exactly what the Warriors have always been trying to do. He did it by playing smart, gritty basketball and proving he could make an impact without needing the ball. He already looks like a steal as the No. 19 overall pick.

Golden State Warriors v Memphis Grizzlies

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6. GG Jackson, F, Memphis Grizzlies

Injuries ruined the Grizzlies’ season before it ever really started, but the growth of several young players in bigger, unforeseen roles ensured this wasn’t a lost season in Memphis. None of them impressed more than GG Jackson. Jackson showed off dynamic off-ball scoring talent as a massive 6’9, 210-pound forward who just so happened to be the youngest player in the NBA this season. Jackson was much improved from his one college season both as a three-point shooter (35.7 percent on six attempts per game) and overall scorer (55.4 percent true shooting — up from 47 percent at South Carolina). He doesn’t make many decisions with the ball, but he won’t need to with Ja Morant rejoining the Memphis next season. It isn’t hard to imagine he might have been the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NBA Draft if he never chose to reclassify in high school. Finding that type of player at No. 45 overall is an amazing coup for the Grizzlies.

Miami Heat v Houston Rockets

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5. Jaime Jaquez Jr., F, Miami Heat

After a decorated four-year carer at UCLA, Jaquez hit the ground running as a rookie after the Heat made him the No. 18 pick in the 2024 draft. Jaquez was immediately able to handle the physicality of the NBA with a strong 6’6, 225-pound frame that allowed him to play through contact and hold his own defensively. Offensively, Jaquez pulled off the difficult transition of going from college star to NBA role player by leaning into his ability as a cutter in the halfcourt and getting into the open floor to finish plays in transition. The ability to post-up smaller defenders or hit a tough mid-range pull-up never left. Jaquez’s big question mark was always his three-point shot, and after a hot start he tailed off considerably to end the year at 32.2 percent. Even without a knockdown jumper, Jaquez’s toughness and basketball-IQ always made him an easy fit with Heat Culture.

4. Dereck Lively II, C, Dallas Mavericks

Lively was always a hand-in-glove fit next to Luka Doncic when the Mavericks called his name at No. 12 overall. Doncic is the game’s most gifted passer and playmaker this side of Nikola Jokic, and giving him a supersized lob threat like Lively just made sense. At 7’2 with a 7’7 wingspan, Lively’s huge catch radius and Doncic’s creativity helped the rookie big man finish with a ridiculous 73.8 true shooting percentage that ranked No. 3 among all players in the league. Lively was also a force on the glass, finishing second in the NBA in offensive rebound percentage (11.9 percent). His rim protection also looked good: his 1.4 blocks per game would have finished No. 12 in the NBA if he played enough minutes to qualify for the official leaderboard. Lively doesn’t shoot and he doesn’t make decisions as a passer, but he’s still been a major addition for the Mavericks team simply by being big and active.

Orlando Magic v Charlotte Hornets

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3. Brandon Miller, F, Charlotte Hornets

The Charlotte Hornets’ decision to take Miller over Scoot Henderson at No. 2 overall was somewhat controversial in the moment, but it sure seems like the right call for now. The 6’9 wing looks like a star scorer in the making with soft touch from deep, a crafty mid-range pull-up game, and the size to shoot over almost any defender. Miller was both a high-volume and efficient shooter from three-point range this year, making 37.3 percent from deep on 6.7 attempts per game. He took a lot of mid-range shots but hit them at a respectable 43 percent clip, per Cleaning the Glass. Miller’s passing also popped off the screen at times, showing the ability to maintain his dribble as defenses swarmed him before finding open teammates. Miller still needs to improve his rim finishing, but he was an effective scorer even while struggling in that area. Every team in the league would like a big wing who can shoot it from deep and get off a good look from mid-range, and the Hornets found that player with the No. 2 pick.

2. Chet Holmgren, C, Oklahoma City Thunder

After missing the entirety of his true rookie year last season with a Lisfranc injury to his right foot, Holmgren finally debuted for the Oklahoma City Thunder and answered every question about his viability in the NBA. The 7’1 big man was immediately one of the better rim protectors in the league, anchoring a top-5 defense in OKC. His offense is so versatile for a player his size, with a smooth three-point stroke (37 percent from deep), an impressive handle, and the motor and toughness to finish inside (71 percent at the rim). The Thunder’s jump from 40 wins last year to 57 wins and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference this year is all the evidence you need of Holmgren’s impact on winning. Perhaps most impressive of all, Holmgren proved he could withstand the physical toll of an NBA season by starting all 82 games at center. The Thunder have a unique weapon in the middle that has supercharged their evolution into a contender before anyone could have realistically expected it.

San Antonio Spurs v Houston Rockets

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1. Victor Wembanyama, C, San Antonio Spurs

Wembanyama was touted as one of the best prospects to ever enter the NBA long before he was taken No. 1 overall in the 2024 draft. Somehow, the San Antonio Spurs sensation didn’t just live up to the hype — he surpassed it. Wembanyama terrorized opponents on both ends of the floor during one of the most productive rookie seasons in league history. He’s already a game-changing defender, leading the NBA in blocks by a huge margin and deterring so many more shots from even going up because of the specter of his 8-foot wingspan. Wembanyama improved so much offensively as the season went on, especially after his mid-season move to center. His ball handling is so advanced for a 7’5 dude, his passing improved exponentially in the second half of the year, and it feels like it’s only a matter of time before his three-point shot falls with more regularity because he clearly has very good touch.

The most interesting question about Wembanyama after his rookie season is how long it will take for him to become the best player in the world. Nikola Jokic and others set an extremely bar, but the 20-year-old Wemby is on a rocket ship trajectory that can’t be stopped. Watching him get there just might be the most satisfying part of the journey.

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