Last year’s crop of rookies was initially perceived as one of the weaker ones in recent history, but all it took was a couple of weeks for them to prove the skeptics wrong.
First overall pick Anthony Edwards and eventual NBA Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball shined the brightest and several others who were picked later in the draft have developed into serviceable professionals.
While the other early selections beyond Edwards and Ball are still trying to find their footing in the NBA, three point guards who were picked outside of the top 10 have quickly found their niche with their teams and are emerging as the biggest steals of the draft.
Tyrese Haliburton was selected 12th overall by the Sacramento Kings and immediately contributed last year from day one. He wound up averaging 13 points on 47% shooting from the field and 41% on three-pointers, three rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.3 steals in 58 appearances as a rookie.
Haliburton is still just 21 yet already plays with the controlled pace and basketball IQ of a 10-year veteran. He always seems to make the right play and is never in a hurry to get from one point to another.
This has been invaluable for the Kings and it has made him the perfect complement to the fiery style of play that star guard DeAaron Fox brings to the table.
The balance that their backcourt partnership brings to Sacramento prompted head coach Luke Walton to move Buddy Hield from their starting line-up in favor of the Iowa State product. The Kings started the season strong, but a four game losing streak, which coincided with their sophomore guard missing two games due to injury, has left them with a 5-8 record.
Though they are going through a rough patch at the moment, these kinds of situations will only help the maturation process of this young team that has a legitimate chance of making at least the play-in tournament this year. For his part, Haliburton should only continue to improve as the season goes on through his prolonged exposure as a full-time starter.
Another second-year guard who has also successfully stepped into a starting role this season is Tyrese Maxey. Picked nine slots after Haliburton by the Philadelphia 76ers with the 21st pick, he was used sparingly last year, but was impressive when given the opportunity to play. When Philadelphia was hit hard by COVID-19 last season, Maxey stepped in and scored a career-high 39 points in his first NBA start.
With Ben Simmons and the Sixers still at an impasse, Maxey has now become the team’s full-time starter and is turning out to be one of the biggest surprises this year. Through 13 games, he is averaging 17.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 4.7 assists in 35 minutes a night.
In the recent absence of Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and several other Philadelphia players due to, once again, health and safety protocols related to the pandemic, Maxey has made the most of his time in the spotlight. Despite the extra attention that he has commanded from opposing defenders, he has scored 31 and 33 points, respectively, on over 50% shooting in the Sixers’ last two games.
Maxey has used his speed and athleticism to blow by defenders for lay-ups and floaters while he also has a lethal midrange jumper. His three-point shot is still developing although he has started taking more over the past two weeks. If he can start hitting his threes at an above average clip, there is no doubt that he will eventually make his fair share of NBA All-Star appearances.
The strong start of this fearless 21-year-old guard has turned Simmons into an afterthought for the Sixers and if he can maintain his current trajectory, he should remain the team’s starting guard for the foreseeable future.
Another confident guard from last year’s draft is making waves further down south. Also just 21, Cole Anthony was selected 15th overall by the Orlando Magic, though he believes that he should have been picked much higher.
Anthony has walked the talk and his play has backed up his bold statements. While he missed 25 games last season, he played well when given the opportunity and even hit a game-winner late in the season versus the Memphis Grizzlies.
This year, the Magic drafted another guard in Jalen Suggs with the fifth overall pick, yet it is Anthony who has emerged as Orlando’s leader and is looking like their point guard of the future.
Over the first dozen games of this season, he is averaging 19.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 4.9 assists. He has scored in double digits in all of their matches so far and even has two 30-point games to his name.
More importantly, Anthony seems to have distinguished himself as the vocal leader of this team despite his youth. His undeniable swagger might be that spark that will finally end the cycle of mediocrity that Orlando has been toiling in since the departure of Dwight Howard in 2012. The task is a daunting one and if he falls short, at least the world gets to watch his undeniably entertaining post-game interviews.
Haliburton, Maxey, and Anthony are the latest examples of mid-first round picks who have outperformed their draft position. It is still early in their careers, but these three guards have already established themselves as key pieces for their respective teams and are proving to be some of the finest members of their class.
They are further proof of the importance of quality scouting and, more importantly, a team culture that allows young players to make their mistakes in order to develop. The franchises that passed on the opportunity to pick these point guards may now regret their decisions while the ones who picked them are enjoying a bountiful return on their investment.