Top 10 Rookie Seasons in NBA History

There is so much to look forward to in the 2020-2021 NBA season which is set to begin tonight. We get a chance to see some old faces in new places including John Wall With the Houston Rockets, Russell Westbrook with the Washington Wizards, Gordon Hayward with the Charlotte Hornets, Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder with the LA Lakers, and Serge Ibaka with the LA Clippers. Its also a chance to see players that missed a majority or all of the 2019-2020 season due to injury like the aforementioned John Wall, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Above all else, we get an opportunity to see the 2020 NBA Draft class in action.

It is not easy for first-year NBA players to make an immediate impact once they step out on the NBA floor but this year’s class of rookies will have a different range of difficulty. Seeing as they will make their debut on the NBA court in the first full season of the no fans era, having to play your first NBA season during a pandemic adds immense pressure to a rookie class that for all tense and purposes is filled with future NBA stars. We’ll see how the rookies are able to deal with playing in the first full NBA season without fans but for now we want to look back on some of the more historic rookie seasons in NBA History.

Here are the top 10 NBA Rookie Seasons in NBA History!

Honorable Mentions: Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Jayson Tatum

10. Michael Jordan: 1984-1985

Coming into the NBA as a member of the 1984 NBA Draft class that many call the Greatest Draft Class in NBA History, Michael Jordan was taken third overall by the Chicago Bulls. He was joining a Chicago Bulls team that only made the postseason twice in the previous nine seasons and once in the previous seven. Jordan’s rookie season saw him average 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.4 steals winning Rookie of the Year, making the All-Star team and making the All-NBA Second Team. That being said, Michael Jordan’s performance in the playoffs of his rookie season was one for the books as he averaged 29.3 points, 8.5 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 steals. Michael Jordan would go on to stake his claim as not only the greatest player the NBA has ever seen, but one of the greatest athletes in sports history winning six NBA championships, six NBA Finals MVPs, five regular season MVPs, three All-Star MVPs and a Defensive Player of the Year award among other accomplishments.

9. Alvan Adams: 1975-1976

Of all the players on this list, Alvan Adams is the only player that only made one All-Star appearance and never made an All-NBA appearance. Putting that fact to the side, Alvan Adams rookie season was truly spectacular. He came into the NBA in the 1975 NBA Draft as the fourth overall selection by the Phoenix Suns joining a team that had only been in the NBA for seven seasons only making the playoffs once. He went on to average 19.0 points, 9.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.5 steals and blocks winning the Rookie of the Year award and appearing in the All-Star Game. While the Suns finished with just a 42-40 record, they were able to have great success in the postseason making their first NBA Finals appearance. In the NBA Finals, the Suns would lose to the Boston Celtics in six games. Alvan Adams led the NBA Finals in scoring averaging 23.0 points as well as 10.2 rebounds, and 4.7 assists.

8. Tim Duncan: 1997-1998

Tim Duncan was drafted number one overall by the San Antonio Spurs in the 1997 NBA Draft. In the previous season, the Spurs finished with a 20-62 record due large in part to the next player on our list (SPOILERS) missing 76 games due to injury. Tim Duncan’s rookie season saw him average 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.5 blocks leading the Spurs to a 36 game turnaround finishing with a 56-26 record. He won the Rookie of the Year award, was named to the All-NBA First Team and the All-Defensive Second Team. In the playoffs, the Spurs lost in the second round to the Utah Jazz in five games with Duncan averaging 20.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. In Tim Duncan’s 19 seasons in the NBA (all with the San Antonio Spurs), the Spurs made the playoffs each season winning 50 games and winning five championships. Meanwhile, Tim Duncan went on to win two regular season MVPs, three Finals MVPs, and an All-Star MVP.

7. David Robinson: 1989-1990

Both Tim Duncan and David Robinson joined a Spurs team as number one overall draft picks on a team that won 20 games in the previous season leading them to major turnarounds. However, the difference for David Robinson played without anyone that made the All-Star team in the same season. David Robinson was drafted number one overall by the Spurs in the 1987 NBA Draft but did not join the team until 1989 fulfilling obligations with the Naval Reserve. In his rookie season, David Robinson averaged 24.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.9 blocks helping improve the Spurs win total from 21 to 56 winning Rookie of the Year. In the playoffs, the Spurs fell one round short of the Conference Finals losing to the Portland Trail Blazers in seven games in the Conference Semifinals. David Robinson would go on to win a regular season MVP and Defensive Player of the Year award along with two NBA championships.

6. Larry Bird: 1979-1980

Continuing the trend of players helping lead their team to tremendous turnarounds, we have Larry Bird who made his NBA debut in 1979 despite being drafted sixth overall in the 1978 NBA Draft. He joined a Boston Celtics team that finished the previous regular season 29-53 and missed the playoffs the last two seasons. Bird averaged 21.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.7 steals in his rookie season winning the Rookie of the Year award beating out college and future NBA Finals rival who we’ll get to in a minute. Meanwhile, he helped lead the Celtics to a 61-21 regular season record a 32-win improvement over the previous season. In the postseason, however, the Boston Celtics lost in the Eastern Conference Finals in five games to the Philadelphia 76ers. Bird played well despite the loss averaging 21.3 points, 11.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.6 steals. Larry Bird and the Celtics would go on to win three NBA championships in the 1980s with Bird winning Finals MVP twice and winning the regular season MVP three times.

5. Wilt Chamberlain: 1959-1960

If this list was solely based on the best stat lines for NBA rookies, Wilt Chamberlain could easily be number one on that list. Wilt Chamberlain’s inaugural NBA season took place with the Philadelphia Warriors (now Golden State Warriors) where he was selected as a territorial pick in the 1959 NBA Draft. He made an immediate impact recording 43 points and 28 rebounds in his NBA debut. Chamberlain went on to average an incredible 37.6 points and 27.0 rebounds in his rookie season winning the Rookie of the Year award. He led the NBA in both points and rebounds while leading the Warriors to a winning record for the first time in three seasons. Though the Warriors were eliminated one round short of the NBA Finals in the playoffs, Wilt Chamberlain continued his incredible play averaging 33.2 points and 25.8 rebounds in the postseason. Chamberlain would go on to have a Hall of Fame NBA career winning two NBA championships and four regular seasons MVPs.

4. Tom Heinsohn/Bill Russell: 1956-1957

Both Tom Heinsohn and Bill Russell were drafted by the Boston Celtics in the 1956 NBA Draft Heinsohn as a territorial pick and Russell as the second overall pick. While Bill Russell put up an incredible regular season performance averaging 14.7 points and 19.6 rebounds, it was Tom Heinsohn who won the Rookie of the Year award averaging 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds. Both men continued their incredible play in the postseason leading the Celtics to their first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history. In the NBA Finals, the Celtics beat the St. Louis Hawks in seven games winning their first ever NBA Championship. Tom Heinsohn led the Celtics in scoring in the NBA Finals averaging 24.0 points and 12.6 rebounds while Bill Russell averaged 13.3 points and 22.9 rebounds in the series. Both men would go on to have great success with the Boston Celtics as Heinsohn went on to win eight NBA championships while Bill Russell won 11 championships.

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 1969-1970

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s rookie season was the Milwaukee Bucks’ second season as an expansion franchise in the NBA. Their first season saw them finish with a 27-55 record but were gifted with the number one overall pick in the 1969 NBA Draft selecting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His rookie season saw him average an outstanding 28.8 points, 14.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists leading his team to a 55-27 record flipping their record from the previous season. He was selected Rookie of the Year while also being named to the All-NBA Second Team. In the playoffs, Kareem and the Bucks finished one round short of the NBA Finals losing to the New York Knicks in the East Division Finals (now Eastern Conference Finals) in five games. In spite of this, Kareem played well in the playoffs averaging 35.2 points, 16.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists. The following season, Kareem would win his first of six regular season MVP awards leading the Bucks to a franchise record 66 wins and their first NBA championship.

2. Wes Unseld: 1968-1969

In the 1968 NBA Draft, Wes Unseld was taken second overall by the Baltimore Bullets (now Washington Wizards). In the season previous, the Bullets finished with a 36-46 record missing the playoffs for the second straight season. At the time, the Bullets had only been in the NBA for seven seasons never achieving a record of .500 or better making the postseasons twice. In the 1968-1969 season, Wes Unseld helped the Bullets go from just a playoff team to a championship recording a 57-25 record while Unseld averaged 13.8 points and 18.2 rebounds on his way to winning Rookie of the Year and the regular season MVP award. Wes Unseld is the only rookie in NBA history to ever win a regular season MVP award. Unfortunately, the Bullets were unable to replicate their regular season success losing in the first round of the playoffs. However, they would have profound success in the 1970s appearing in four NBA Finals winning the NBA championship in 1978.

  1. Magic Johnson: 1979-1980

Magic Johnson entered the NBA as the number one overall pick in the 1979 Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. He joined a Lakers team that included Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as well as All-Stars Jamaal Wilkes and Norm Nixon. In 77 games, Magic averaged 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists recording seven triple-doubles leading the Lakers to a 60-22 record the best in the Western Conference. It was Magic Johnson’s performance in the playoffs that truly put his rookie season ahead of his competition averaging 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 9.4 assists recording five triple-doubles. The Lakers went on to win the NBA championship on the heels of a historic performance by Magic in the series deciding game six. Magic Johnson started game six of the NBA Finals at the center position in place of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who sat out the game in the injury. Magic recorded 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and three steals leading the Lakers to a 123-107 win securing the championship for his team. As a result, Magic won the Finals MVP becoming the only rookie to ever win the award.

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