t’s not easy to come into a professional basketball league at 21 years of age and dominate. Even the most elite NBA prospects often need an adjustment period upon coming to The Association, so expectations are usually pretty low in a player’s first year. A few examples: Kobe Bryant averaged just 7.6 points per game as a rookie. Think that’s bad? Steve Nash averaged 3.3, and Jimmy Butler only played 8.6 minutes per game in his first season. Development doesn’t usually happen overnight.
But sometimes it does.
Most NBA teams will draft a player in the hopes that the player will eventually become an asset and help turn a franchise around. If that player starts performing right away, however, the fate of of a franchise can change instantaneously. A powerful rookie can take a team from the cellar to the playoffs in the blink of an eye.
Consider the Lakers; they were a middling franchise before a rookie sensation named Magic Johnson bought them a title in 1980. The Bulls had never won a championship—and had won just three playoff series’—before Michael Jordan was drafted in 1984. And when LeBron James joined the Cavs out of high school in 2003, the team went from being one of the NBA’s lowliest franchises to one of its most dominant in just a few years.
Not everyone can can change the game as a rookie, but some can. When they do, they deserve a special place in league history. With that said, here are the best rookies in NBA history.