Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz just dropped 41 points on 13-25 shooting, leading his team to a victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, and it made me think of other incredible performances that NBA rookies have given us over the years. Here are the top-10 outings by first years players in league history, prior to Mitchell’s show.
1. Brandon Jennings (2009): In November of 2009, Jennings was a flashy rookie for the upstart Milwaukee Bucks. Better known for his highlights, a lot of teams passed on Jennings. On this night, they regretted it, though. He went for 55 points, coming up just three points shy of the rookie record held by Wilt Chamberlain (more on him later). Jennings scorched the Golden State Warriors to the tune of a record 29-point quarter.
2. Wilt Chamberlain (1960): Now obviously this was far ahead of my time. But because of the outstanding statline that we may very well never see again, it’s impossible to ignore. Chamberlain had one of the greatest talents in league history. And his famous 100-point game is a testament to that. However, his game on January 25, 1960 against the Detroit Pistons wasn’t too bad either. He totaled 58 points and 42 rebounds!
3. Oscar Robertson (1960): The same year as Chamberlain’s outburst, the NBA saw Oscar Robertson set records as well. He became the first rookie ever to record a triple-double in his debut. As he did so against the Los Angeles Lakers, putting up 21 points, 10 assists, and 12 rebounds. Although he wasn’t able to average a triple-double for the entire season, he did so in his sophomore year for the ages.
4. Lebron James (2004): Lebron James seems to find his way on just about every single list involving the NBA, and he does so here as well. In fact, King James makes a pair of appearances. During the home stretch of his rookie campaign, on March 27, James took complete control against the New Jersey Nets, playing 42 minutes in the 107-104 victory, and totaling 41 points, 13 assists, and six rebounds, while shooting 10-10 from the line.
5. Blake Griffin (2010): Blake Griffin missed what was supposed to be his rookie year because of an injury. Which meant the debut of the No. 1 overall pick was put on a hold. But after watching his first three months, it was all worth it. On November 11, Griffin tore up the Indiana Pacers with 44 points, but that was just the beginning. A couple of months later, he dropped 47 points which was a Los Angeles Clippers rookie record.
6. Stephen Curry (2010): The Warriors‘ phenom is one of the biggest stars in the entire league right now. But seven years ago, the same couldn’t be said. He was passed up by a number of teams (i.e. the New York Knicks), because people thought he was too small and wasn’t a true point guard. Wow were they wrong. And he proved just that in the last game of his rookie year. He had 42 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists, on 13-25 shooting.
7. Kevin Durant (2008): Most rookies start their careers kind of slow, and will get their first double-double with 15 points and 10 boards, or something similar. But Durant didn’t settle for those numbers. Instead, in the first of many double-doubles, he exploded for 42 points and 13 rebounds. Ironically, it was against the Warriors, who he would later join and win his first ring with. He also captured the 2016-17 NBA Finals MVP award.
8. Lebron James (2003): Again? Again. This time it was Lebron’s much-anticipated debut, out in Sacramento. It was October 29, and even though the Kings spoiled his night, winning the game 106-92, everyone left knowing that they just witnessed one of the best debuts in NBA history. He totaled 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds, and four steals, stuffing the stat sheet for the first of many times in his illustrious career.
9. Michael Carter-Williams (2013): Obviously Michael Carter-Williams didn’t live up to the hype that he was expected to produce after coming out of Syracuse, but in the first game of his Rookie of the Year season, he played like a superstar. Against the Miami Heat, led by Lebron James and Dwyane Wade, Carter-Williams came pretty close to a quadruple-double, posting 22 points, 12 assists, nine steals, and seven rebounds. Meanwhile, he was able to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 114-110 win over the defending champions.
10. Ben Simmons (2017): Simmons, like Blake Griffin, was forced to miss his initial rookie year after being drafted with the top spot. But it’s worked out pretty well for Griffin, and Simmons could be on a similar path. Against the Detroit Pistons on October 23, the lengthy rookie out of LSU grabbed his first triple-double, totaling 21 points, 12 rebounds, and dishing out 10 assists, in a blowout victory. Even though it’s early in the season, it seems as though Simmons is the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated.