Zion Williamson’s NBA debut has got everyone in sports talking. The Pelicans’ future star blew the world away with a sensational start to life at the top of the game. However, not everybody can make a dream debut like the former Duke player. In fact, some take much longer to get going. Today we’re going to take a look at the best and worst of NBA rookie debuts through the years.
The results are very diverse. For example, some players like LeBron James have always been brilliant. Others had magnificent debuts but then their careers spluttered out. Then you have the reverse where the player didn’t make any impression in their first appearance but went on to be an All-Star.
Check out the list here.
10. Kenyon Martin
It seems wild now, but Martin had a very weak debut for the New Jersey Nets. It was an extremely wasteful showing as he scored only four out of 16 attempts. That isn’t exactly prolific by any stretch of the imagination. But he would get better over time. In this case, it was just a case of taking some time to get going.
Martin lasted for four seasons with the Nets before moving to the Nuggets where he spent the majority of his career. He won All-Star status in 2004. Sometimes you need to show a bit of patience with a player. It’s easy to criticize people from the comfort of your couch.
If you knew nothing about Irving, then his rookie debut wouldn’t inspire you. However, he did go on to win the NBA Rookie of the Year award which says a lot about his character. He was able to bounce back from criticism in his first game to become one of the league’s most effective players.
He only shot 2-12 on his debut for the Cavaliers against the Toronto Raptors. It was a frustrating start to life in the NBA for an extremely talented young player. This was just a minor blip on the road to glory. He went on to be an NBA champion and a seven-time All-Star.
Oden looked good during the preseason but that proved to be a poor prediction. He came into his NBA debut about 40 lbs. overweight, which should tell you a lot about how it went. He lasted 13 minutes, scoring zero points and left the court with a foot injury. That’s about as bad as it gets.
After the Trail Blazers picked him in the draft, the excitement was palpable. But he couldn’t live up to it. Considered one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history, Oden’s career was a story of injuries and indiscipline. Finally, he finished his career in China.
Ming is one of the greatest foreign NBA players of all-time. He singlehandedly changed perceptions of China in the US. It turns out if you’re good at sport then nobody cares where you come from. But if you were basing his talents off of his rookie debut, then it would have been a surprise to see how good he is.
In short, the Chinese star’s debut had nothing exciting about it. He was only on the court for 11 minutes scoring zero points during that time. Of course, it only took him a couple of weeks to start firing and then he was unstoppable. Sometimes patience is the name of the game.
Monk really struggled in his debut season for the Charlotte Hornets. He scored just 36% of shots all season despite being prolific in college. Monk stayed on the bench as he watched fellow rookie Dwayne Bacon, selected 29 picks behind him, establish himself in the team.
In 21 minutes he managed a single field goal from nine attempts on his debut. Furthermore, his slim frame struggled to cope with the physical intensity of the NBA. This was a big jump up from college basketball for Monk. However, his career has stabilized and he’s finally found his form in Charlotte.
Rodman went onto have a brilliant career. He became one of the best rebounders in NBA history. However, his actual rookie debut wasn’t that great.
He played 14 minutes in his first appearance and they didn’t amount to much. He scored a grand total of zero points and secured only two rebounds. But Rodman went on and led the league in rebounds for seven straight seasons. In short, he started slow but was brilliant when he got going.
Now working as a color commentator for ESPN, Toney’s 10-minute debut for the Hawks was one of the worst of all time. You probably don’t know anything about it. That’s because there is literally nothing to know about it. He only had three field-goal attempts. Which is worse? Missing a lot of attempts or not having the space to take the shots?
In the end, Toney went on to have a very average career. There’s nothing wrong with that because he got to live the dream. The 59th draft pick played in five seasons for six teams. In short, the most dramatic aspect of his time as an NBA player was his awful debut. Statistically, it’s one of the worst ever.
Hardaway’s debut with the Golden State Warriors was the definition of unexceptional. He only scored on none of his seven attempts ,which just goes to show how forgettable it was. But it’s important not to judge a book by its cover, as Hardaway went on to prove.
He quickly settled and had an outstanding overall Rookie campaign. As a Warrior, Hardaway made the NBA All-Star Game three straight years, and a knee injury kept him out of the entire 1993–94 season. He reached 5,000 points and 2,500 assists faster than any other NBA player except Oscar Robertson.
The NBA expected massive things from Ball in his debut. However, things definitely didn’t turn out the way we expected. After leading the nation in assists in college, the Lakers drafted him with the second overall pick. However, he missed 13 out of 15 shots, picking up just five points on his debut.
Ball’s own body let him down. A poor debut became a poor season. Finally, the Lakers lost patience and traded him to the Pelicans. It appears that he has turned a corner in New Orleans. Let’s hope it’s for real.
Bennett took so long to start firing it was embarrassing. He had the worst debut ever for a first-round pick. Bennett shot 0-5 from the field in his pro debut, scoring only 2 points and collecting 5 rebounds in 15 minutes. Those are dreadful numbers and it was almost painful to watch him.
The early warning signs were there. Skepticism met the Cavaliers’ decision to make him the first overall pick. In fairness that was their mistake. But it did mean that he had nowhere to hide. Bennett is one of the worst draft busts in the history of basketball. Not a record you want to set.
Don’t be fooled by the numbers, this was a superb debut by the Swiss stopper. He came off the bench for the Bulls in his debut and went on to play a fantastic defensive game. Sefolosha was only on the court for 11 minutes, but he made every second count during his time in the game.
He scored on four out of four shots and produced zero turnovers in an all-action display. Sefolosha produced an offensive scoreline better than anybody else on the team. Also, this was against a Miami Heat team that was fresh off winning the NBA Championship.
Thomas was immensely popular with the Detroit Pistons and made a scorching debut. He recorded 31 points and 11 dimes against the Boston Celtics. The Babyface Assassin had arrived. He was the second overall pick for the Pistons and stayed with them for his whole career.
A 12-time All-Star, Thomas also became a two-time NBA champion. However, he didn’t win the Rookie of the Year award but did make the Team of the Year. It’s still one of the best debuts in the history of the league. This wasn’t just a flash in the pan either as Thomas was a genuine star
A legend was born. The greatest NBA player of his generation, we knew it from the moment he stepped onto the court. During his debut, he recorded 25 points, 6 rebounds, 9 assists and 4 steals against the Sacramento Kings. Those are excellent numbers and James was only going to get better with the Cavaliers.
Eventually, he won the Rookie of the Year award by posting 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.7 blocks per game. Consistency and amazing talent helped him to the top of the game. Many think he’s the best NBA player of all-time, although Michael Jordan might disagree.
Odom’s story is one of wasted potential. He wasn’t able to live up to it because he was a wild man off the court. But on his best days, he was still capable of brilliance. The two-time NBA champion could have been one of the best if it wasn’t for his extracurricular activities.
However, Odom did have an outstanding debut. He produced a plethora of brilliant numbers including 30 points, 12 rebounds, a couple of steals and 2 blocks. Odom also made the Rookie Team of the Year but didn’t win the individual award. A great debut.
Robertson’s debut was as good as anybody else. ‘The Big O’ had a magnificent entry to the NBA with the Cincinnati Royals. He scored 21 points to go along with a dozen boards and 10 assists. This kicked off the legend of “Mr. Triple Double.” The rebranded Sacramento Kings retired his shirt.
At the end of the season, he won the Rookie of the Year after averaging 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds. and a league-leading 9.5 assists per game. Those are some stellar numbers, and it just goes to show how brilliant he was from the beginning of his career. This man knew how to fill up the stat sheet.
Singleton scored a grand total of 13 double-doubles in his NBA career. The first came in his first two appearances for the Los Angeles Clippers. In summary, he was excellent on his debut as he recorded 14 points and 10 rebounds. Furthermore, he didn’t turn the ball over a single time.
However, that was as good as it got for Singleton because he wasn’t able to keep it up. He only lasted for four seasons in the NBA before spells in China and Europe. Singleton wasn’t even close to Rookie of the Year numbers with 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds. That’s quite the fall.
Ford came into the NBA with a bang back in 2003. Point guards don’t record many triple-doubles, but he somehow managed to achieve it in his debut. He got 11 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists against the Indiana Pacers. That was a superb output from the Milwaukee Bucks man.
The Texan came through one of the strongest drafts in history. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony were all drafted in the same year. The Bucks drafted him as the eighth first-round pick after an outstanding college career. But his college success didn’t translate to the NBA.
One of the best debuts since 2010, this was an outrageous performance by Carter-Williams. The 76ers were playing a Miami Heat side with the likes of LeBron James and Chris Bosh in the side. Everybody expected Philly to lose heavily, but that’s not what happened.
Instead, Carter-Williams put on an absolute clinic. He logged 22 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds and 9 steals in a tremendous display. He also won the Rookie of the Year award which is crazy to think of looking back. Unfortunately, inconsistency and injuries have hampered his career.
Williamson had a ridiculous amount of pressure to live up to, but he managed to do so in style. This was the most anticipated debut since James suited up for the Cavaliers. Somehow he managed to do even better than expected. Williamson possesses extraordinary physical gifts and he made it count.
It did take him a while to find his way, but he suddenly exploded into life. Just three minutes into the fourth quarter he scored 17 consecutive points, including four three-pointers. The Pelicans lost the game but nobody cares about that. This could and should be the beginning of a new superstar.
‘The Big Dipper’ had an outrageous start to life in the NBA. There just wasn’t anybody out there who could compete with him at the time. He scorched the opposition with an outrageous 43-point performance. There has been nothing like it before or after. Chamberlain was out on his own.
Not only that, but he also managed 28 rebounds. They didn’t even count blocks back then so this number is all the more extraordinary. After averaging ludicrous numbers of 37.6 points and 27 rebounds per game, Chamberlain easily won the Rookie of the Year award.