The ceiling for an NBA player is often decided on how they fare in their rookie season. Many live up to the hype surrounding them, but a few falter. There have also been many NBA players who have not been too successful in their rookie seasons. But they improved later and won laurels, both individual and collective.
The league awards players who have terrific rookie seasons with the 'rookie of the year' honors. Players like Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan, Kareem- Abdul Jabbar and Magic Johnson are the most notable recipients of this award.
On that note, here are the top five active players to have won the rookie of the year award.
# 5 Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving was the no. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft. He was picked by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and was expected to have a great future with them. Irving impressed fans in his first season with the Cavs. He showed off some flashy moves, and appeared in highlight reels, courtesy his ankle-breaking skills.
Irving made it to the 2012 Rising Stars Challenge and scored 34 points to win the MVP honors there. He went 8-8 from the three-point range and put on a shooting spectacle for the fans. Throughout the NBA season, he played 51 games, averaging 18.7 points, 4.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game. His brilliance on the court helped him win the NBA rookie of the year award that campaign.
Out of a possible 120 votes, Irving received 117 to win the honor. He was also the only player in his class to unanimously get selected into the All-NBA first team. Irving has come a long way since then, becoming an NBA champion with the Cavs. He is now known as one of the best point guards in the league.
#4 Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard was drafted sixth overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2012. He has now become one of the faces of the franchise. Lillard lit up the league in his rookie season, averaging 19 points and 6.5 assists per game.
He was announced as the Western Conference rookie of the month throughout his stint there. Lillard also won the skills challenge during the All-Star weekend. That season, he became the first player after Blake Griffin (2011), David Robinson (1990) and Ralph Sampson (1984) to win the rookie of the year honors unanimously.
Lillard proved his three-point shooting ability in his rookie NBA season itself. Dame scored 185 times from beyond the arc, and was the leader amongst all rookies that year. He has only grown stronger every year. His ability to pull from the deep and score at a high volume has helped the Trail Blazers out of tough situations.
#3 Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic was one of the brightest young prospects coming out of Europe. He was drafted third overall in 2018 by the Atlanta Hawks. However, he moved to the Dallas Mavericks later that night in a deal that saw Trae Young move to the Hawks.
Doncic lived up to expectations, averaging 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and six assists in the 72 games he played. In the process, he became only the fifth NBA player to average more than 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in his rookie season. Moreover, he also recorded eight triple-doubles.
Doncic won the Rookie of the Year honors for the 2018-19 season, becoming only the second European, after Pau Gasol, to achieve that feat. After three seasons, Doncic has proven to be a superstar in the league. He starred for the Mavericks in the 2021 NBA playoffs. and also signed a five-year $207 million extension with them this offseason.
#2 Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant was drafted second overall by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2008. He impressed with his ability to shoot from his 6' 10" frame. In his rookie season, Durant averaged 20.3 points on 43% shooting from the field. He started all games for them that season, and won a few with his ability to shoot in the clutch.
Durant was awarded the rookie of the season award, and was also part of the All-Rookie first team. The following year, the franchise relocated, and came to be known as the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was there where Durant met Westbrook. and the two of them subsequently formed a sensational team and also made a trip to the NBA Finals.
Durant left OKC in 2016 to join forces with the Golden State Warriors. He won two championships there to cement his name in the history books. Durant left the Warriors to be part of another superteam in Brooklyn. There he joined forces with Kyrie Irving and James Harden as he strives to add another ring/
#1 LeBron James
LeBron James was one of the most talked-about players coming into the 2003 NBA draft. He was picked no. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he became one of the stars of the team during his rookie season itself. James averaged 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game in his first year.
In the process, he became only the third NBA player to average over 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in their rookie season. His brilliance that season helped him win the rookie of the year award. That made James the first Cavaliers player to achieve this feat. His career has only taken off from there.
After leaving Cleveland, James joined Miami, where he formed a superteam with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. After winning two championships there, he returned home to fulfil the championship promise. In 2016, he finally guided the Cavs to their first NBA championship after overcoming a 3-1 deficit against the Golden State Warriors.
His ability to make big moves and the pace at which he plays despite being 36 makes James one of the best players in the NBA. About to enter his 19th year in the league, James once again looks like a man on a mission. After falling early in the playoffs last season, he will look to lead the Lakers to another title run this season.