There are signs during a prospect’s college career that point to NBA success. The trouble is finding them. Using new AutoStats data, we take a shot at figuring out what we should’ve known about this year’s top rookies.

Heading down the stretch of the 2020-21 season, Tyrese Haliburton, LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards and Immanuel Quickley have separated themselves from the pack in the race for the NBA’s top rookie and ignited fan bases desperate for hope. 

But in the case of Haliburton and Quickley, they weren’t drafted in the top five or even the top 10. In fact, Quickley wasn’t selected until pick 25. Their performances leads to an important question concerning the 2020 draft: Is there any way we should have seen this coming?

Using new AutoStats data, which includes advanced college tracking metrics that were previously unavailable, we’re able to take a look back to see if we could identify stats for every non-international player that should’ve been obvious green lights (or potential red flags). 

Alright, let’s get into it and identify which rookies have overperformed based on their draft slot:

At Iowa State in 2019-20, Tyrese Haliburton ended up leading all guards in the 2020 draft class for which we have data (this covers most Division I draft-eligible prospects) by hitting 65.7% of his uncontested jumpers and in the 95.4 percentile (Rank%) by having 20.5% of his passes lead to shots for the Cyclones. That’s transferred over to the NBA during a sensational rookie season for the Sacramento Kings. 

Haliburton has been one of the most efficient players – not rookies, players – in the league with ..487/.423/.868 shooting splits and a 3.3 assist-to-turnover ratio. Labeled a “plug and play, high-end role player who excels at the team aspects of basketball,” Haliburton has established himself as a future star next to De’Aaron Fox in Sacramento, and his 62.2 catch-and-shoot percentage at Iowa State (97.9 Rank%) may have been an indicator of one of his best skills so far in the NBA.

FG% on Uncontested Jumpers 2019-20, Guards

(min. 20 field-goal attempts)
1Tyrese HaliburtonIowa St. 65.7
2Aaron NesmithVandy[no-pill]64.9
3Lindsey DrewNevada[no-pill]63.9
4Markus HowardMarquette[no-pill]62.5
5Tevin MackClemson[no-pill]61.9

With Kemba Walker missing the first 11 games of the season, Payton Pritchard stepped up for Brad Stevens and earned himself a spot in the Celtics rotation. That ultimately made veteran point guard Jeff Teague expendable. With shooting splits of .459/.418/.864 and a 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio entering the week, the 2020 26th overall pick is looking like a lock for a long career. 

It shouldn’t be a surprise after he shot 40.6% on contested jumpers (65.7 Rank%) at Oregon in 2019-20. Pritchard is also averaging 5.0 assists per 48 minutes and should continue to improve in that regard after posting a 6.8 assist percentage (84.3 Rank%) in his final year with the Ducks.  

Immanuel Quickley has been perhaps the biggest surprise of the rookie class, especially after receiving poor draft grades from multiple experts. But his ability to create his own shot – and score – after averaging 0.6 points per isolation touch (88.6 Rank%) in 2019-20 at Kentucky has been evident.

Quickley ranks first among all rookies with 4.7 3-point field goals per 48 minutes and an 88.8 free-throw percentage, and second with 30.7 points per 48 minutes for Tom Thibodeau. There’s a good chance Quickley could be a key part of the next great Knicks team.

Desmond Bane projected to be a reliable shooter off the bench after posting a 46.2 field-goal percentage off-the-dribble (83.8 Rank%) and ranking sixth in our database with a 57.1 field-goal percentage on off-the-dribble 3s in 2019-20 at TCU. But he’s been more than that as a promising 30th overall pick for the Memphis Grizzlies. Bane is shooting .486/.458/.833 in his first 40 NBA games – including the seventh-best mark from 3-point range in the entire league – after shooting .495/.433/.804 in four years at TCU. 

Bane’s 62.1 true shooting percentage ranks fourth among qualified rookies. He also projects as a solid defender after allowing an average of 0.2 points per isolation touch (84.5 Rank%) at TCU. Whether he becomes an everyday starter remains to be seen, but Bane has quieted concerns in his first few months in the Association.

3-Point% off-the-Dribble 2019-20, All Positions

(min. 10 3-point attempts)
1Anthony MathisOregon[no-pill]75.0
2Christian BraunKansas[no-pill]71.4
3Alan GriffinSyracuse[no-pill]66.7
4Aljami DurhamIndiana[no-pill]58.3
4Marcus Sheffield IIElon[no-pill]58.3
6Desmond BaneTCU57.1

No rookie has quite defied expectations like Saddiq Bey of the Detroit Pistons. Drafted 19th overall, many expected Bey to fill the classic 3-and-D role off the bench – an increasingly coveted player in the NBA. Aided by injuries to Blake Griffin and others, Bey has found his way into Detroit’s rotation and stayed there, starting 27 of the 44 games he’s played and averaging 14.1 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 40.8% from 3 and 95.1% from the foul line over his last 21.

We should have seen this coming after Bey put up a 51.3 field-goal percentage on catch-and-shoot jumpers (86.1 Rank%) and a 51.6 expected field goal percentage on 3-pointers (70.7 Rank%) in 2019-20 at Villanova. It probably shouldn’t be a surprise he holds promise as he ranked in the 96.3 percentile in percentage of jumpers contested and in the 97.2 percentile in percentage of 3s contested while with the Wildcats. With the Pistons in the midst of a transitionary period, Bey appears to have become one of their building blocks. 

Zachary Moore and Jon Chepkevich assisted with data analysis.