NBA Rookie Rankings: From Knicks’ Quickley to Celtics’ Pritchard, five rookies to watch in the playoffs

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The play-in tournament is almost over, which means the playoffs are just on the horizon, and although most rookies have already concluded their season, there’s still a handful of first-year players who look to make an impact on their team in the playoffs. It’s pretty atypical for rookies to have such a big role on playoff teams, given that most of the top names go to squads that are in the middle of a rebuild. However, every team is always in the search for role players to add depth off the bench — or even in the starting lineup — and that’s exactly what the following crop of players are.

From mainstays in the rotation, to guys who may only see a couple minutes here and there, here’s several first-year players to keep an eye on as the postseason begins. 

Although Quickley isn’t a finalist for Rookie of the Year, that’s more a reflection on the competitiveness of the field rather than his performance this season. Quickley’s season averages might look pedestrian, but the former Kentucky product averaged 29 points per 100 possessions this season, the highest of any rookie in the league. Although he never broke into the starting lineup for New York, he quickly became in integral piece off the bench with impressive execution in the pick-and-roll, and a matured style of play that made you shocked to think he was a first-year player at all.

What’s even more telling of his impact on the Knicks this season, is that their offensive rating dips when he’s on the bench. When Quickly is on the floor, New York’s offensive rating is 111.3, as opposed to a slightly lower 108.1 offensive rating with him on the bench. He’s never forcing his shot too much, always knows when to pick his spots and does a good job of getting his teammates involved on offense. He plays like he knows he’s not the star of the show, but will still finish some games with 15 or 20 points when you look at the final box score. He’s played with a level of maturity all season, so it will be interesting to see if that cool, calm and collected attitude carries over into the playoffs.

The oldest rookie in the bunch at 30 years of age, Campazzo made an instant impact off the bench for the Denver Nuggets this season. It really isn’t even fair to put him amongst this group, considering he has nine seasons of professional ball under his belt overseas where he had a stellar career, but by NBA standards he’s a rookie and Denver has certainly been thrilled with his contributions. Between the dazzling passes, spot up shooting, and more importantly the pesky defense, Campazzo has certainly earned his spot in the rotation. 

Toward the end of the season, Campazzo was thrusted into the starting lineup after the Nuggets experienced injuries in the backcourt, most notably to star guard Jamal Murray who suffered a devastating ACL tear. Since being moved to the starting lineup, Campazzo’s play has only improved. He’s averaging nine points, 5.2 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals a game since starting most games for the Nuggets dating back to early-April, while also shooting 35.5 percent from deep on 4.4 attempts per game. 

As solid as he’s been on offense, though, where he really shines is on the defensive side of the ball. Denver coach Mike Malone already said Campazzo will be starting in Game 1 of the Nuggets’ first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers, and on top of that he announced that the 5-9 guard will be tasked with guarding both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum throughout the series. Although he’s undersized, he’s an absolute menace on defense, ranking in the top-25 in the league in deflections per game (2.7), and ranking third among rookies in steals per game (1.2), the other two rookies ahead of him are two Rookie of the Year finalists by the way. 

Although Pritchard only saw the floor for five minutes in Boston’s play-in game against the Washington Wizards, that may not be indicative of his playing time when the Celtics face the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs. He’s averaging over 19 minutes a game this season, and his shooting has been incredibly crucial for a Boston team that has an up and down season this year. Pritchard is shooting 41.1 percent from deep, including a ridiculous 47 percent (!) on corner 3s. Granted, he takes far more above-the-break 3s than corner ones, but he’s still knocking them down, which can’t be overlooked. 

In fact, the former Oregon product has even caught the attention of Nets superstar Kevin Durant, who made a point to call out his hot shooting this season when talking about game planning for the Celtics. If Boston needs a sparkplug off the bench, Pritchard is the go-to guy, and against the Nets I’m sure Brad Stevens will throw the kitchen sink at trying to keep pace with the scoring barrage that Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving are bound to put on.

Although teammate Joel Embiid has publicly lobbied for more playing time for the rookie, it remains to be seen if that will come to fruition for Maxey as the Sixers prepare for their first-round playoff series. If he does, though, there’s no doubt he’ll certainly make the most of the opportunity, whether its in a crucial stretch or in garbage time against the eighth-seeded Washington Wizards. Philly is pretty deep in the backcourt with Ben Simmons, George Hill, Seth Curry, Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle, so it may be difficult for the rookie to carve out some meaningful playing time. 

However, whenever he’s stepped on the floor this season in any capacity he’s made sure to make an impact on both ends of the floor. His defense isn’t where it needs to be just yet, but he shows a level of aggression and hustle on that side of the ball that is encouraging for a first-year player. On offense, he’s making 47 percent of his mid-range jumpers, where he’s probably most dangerous. He’s certainly had his breakout moments on offense, most notably his 39-point outing in his first career start early on in the season. Maxey’s been the epitome of stepping up to the challenge when called upon this season, so don’t be surprised if he’s making big plays for the Sixers in crucial moments throughout the postseason.

As exciting as the Knicks season has been, it’s happened largely with Toppin on the bench as the athletic forward has been stuck behind All-Star Julius Randle, who has had an outstanding season and is in line to win Most Improved Player. Toppin averaged just 11 minutes in a crowded frontcourt, and even when starting center Mitchell Robinson went down with a fractured foot at the end of March, Toppin still didn’t see a significant increase in minutes. 

The former Dayton product may not see a ton of playing time in the postseason, but don’t put it past coach Tom Thibodeau to throw the rookie out there to fight for boards and try to make life difficult on guys like John Collins and Clint Capela in their first-round matchup against the Atlanta Hawks. 

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