TARRYTOWN, N.Y. — Ask any member of the 2018 NBA draft class who’s going to win Rookie of the Year, and the response is almost universal: “Can I pick myself?”
Yes, this year’s rookie class does not appear short on confidence, or opinions. We sought out some of the top names from this year’s class at the league’s annual Panini rookie photo shoot to talk about their most anticipated matchups, LeBron James joining the Los Angeles Lakers and what they’ve splurged on with their first NBA paychecks.
1. Which player are you most looking forward to facing during your rookie season?
Mo Bamba, Orlando Magic: Honestly, I’m looking forward to going against the best player and that’s LeBron [James]. Not a lot of people can say they played against Kobe [Bryant]. And not a lot of people can say they played against [Michael] Jordan. Everyone who does kinda has a story about it. I’m looking forward to playing against LeBron.
Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic headline a loaded rookie class. Who will win rookie of the year? Our ESPN Forecast panel unveils its early projections.
Is Deandre Ayton or Luka Doncic the front-runner, and who else will contend for best rookie?
Kevin Knox, New York Knicks: Kevin Durant’s kind of been my favorite player my whole life, so it’s going to be fun going against him in the Garden. To be able to go against him for multiple nights this season — that’s an amazing opportunity.
Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls: Joel Embiid. He had a phenomenal year last year, but I’m a competitor. I just like to go out and compete. I’ll be looking forward to that matchup.
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks: It’s definitely LeBron James because he was my idol. He is my idol. That will be fun.
Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks: I can’t necessarily say there’s one player. I’m looking forward to playing against all the top guards. Every night is another top guard. I’m excited to play against all of them.
2. Who will win the Rookie of the Year award?
Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings: I can’t pick myself? Well, if I had to pick someone I’d go with [Kings teammate] Harry [Giles]. I’ve seen how he works, man. I’ve been around for a while now, seeing how he plays the game. When he’s playing without thinking and playing at his best, he’s real good.
Knox: There’s a lot of guys that could probably win Rookie of the Year. I’d probably have to go with my boy Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander]. I feel like he’ll have the keys, he’ll have to handle the ball, come off the pick-and-roll. He had a really good summer league. That’s my Kentucky boy and I’m being biased, but I think he’s one of the best players in the draft.
Grayson Allen, Utah Jazz: See, I like what the Kings have because I think either Marvin or Harry could win it. Harry’s still coming up on his rookie year. I think one of them, or both of them, are going to have a big year.
Doncic: I would say [Phoenix center Deandre] Ayton. He was the No. 1 pick. He’s tall, he’s strong, he can do so many things.
Carter: Either Marvin Bagley or Kevin Knox. I feel like, with Marvin, the proof is the pudding. He’s done a lot of great things in college and I think he’s going to translate to the NBA very well. And Kevin Knox, he’s a very dynamic player and people have not yet seen it. I think he’s definitely going to showcase that he can score at all three levels.
3. What went through your mind when LeBron signed with the Lakers?
Knox: For me, I was like, “Yeah, get out of the East!” It was cool, though. L.A. is going to be fun again. You got a lot of young guys out there — LeBron’s going to help them out, get to the playoffs. What a great city for him to go to, but I’m glad he’s out of the East.
Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns: I called it. I did call it. I said LeBron is going to the Lakers. LeBron is a very smart man. He wants a young team that listens, and kids who can get better. Because he’s going to get old one day and he’s going to want to just chill down low.
Allen: I was shocked and then I was like, “Dang, so this is what the West looks like now?” I’m looking at the list of teams and it’s like, “OK, playoff team, playoff team, playoff team, playoff team, playoff team, playoff team.” You just keep going on and on. Every game will be a nice matchup for sure.
Bagley: It was a surprise. I didn’t expect it. It’s basketball, and you have to do what’s best for yourself and your career. If he’s happy, and he’s happy with what he did, I’m happy for him, too. We gotta go out there and compete against him now and just play basketball.
Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers: Nothing. I just understood it was time for me and my teammates to step up. Make sure we’re all good and then continue to work hard and get better.
4. What’s the biggest purchase you’ve made since signing your rookie deal?
Ayton: I got my mom a house. Her reaction was priceless. Obviously, you can’t repay her for what she’s done for you, but I’m trying. Trying to keep her as comfortable as possible, stress-free. She is living probably five or 10 minutes from [Phoenix] owner [Robert Sarver]. She lives in the same area as him and Devin Booker.
Young: I bought my mom a car. I got myself an Audi R8, matte black, black rims, everything. I got a Batmobile. It’s a great feeling whenever you can do something like that for yourself and your family.
Carter: I just bought myself a car. I got a Mercedes-Benz. Growing up, when I knew what cars were, a Mercedes was always the car that I always wanted to get. Now that I’m able to purchase that car with my own money, it just feels amazing. It’s an S550 and it’s all black. It’s real nice.
Allen: I haven’t made a big purchase yet. Maybe I’ll buy a big dinner. I love food. I’m a big food guy. I really don’t know food well enough to know what would be a really expensive meal. Back at school in Durham, there’s always Ruth’s Chris — that’s super nice. I love a really nice Italian restaurant — I love Italian food. So I heard there’s a really good Italian restaurant in Salt Lake City and I can’t remember the name of it, but I gotta check it out.
Sexton: Man, I haven’t bought anything. No, I’m cheap. I’m real cheap.
5. Best advice you’ve received early in your pro career?
Bamba: The best advice that I’ve gotten was to not lay your eggs in one basket, but to lay your eggs in one basket, which is the oddest thing I’ve ever heard in my life but it actually makes a lot of sense. See, when you’re involved in basketball, you’re told to have backup plans, so that resembles laying your eggs in multiple baskets. But if you really want to be great at this and you really want to be special, you gotta lay your eggs in that one basket. You gotta go for it and not be afraid to fail. Who told me that? Kobe Bryant.
Bagley: I know one piece of advice that I got from Coach K [Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski] was just to live in the moment, stay in the moment no matter what you’re doing. And everything you’re doing is important because you’re involved in it. That’s something that I’ll take with me the rest of my life.
Allen: It might be kinda cliché, but the work starts now. A lot of rookies don’t make it more than a few years. There are lot of names that were big a couple years ago that probably aren’t in the league anymore. Your work starts now. You’re at a different level; your work has to be at a different level. Your attention to detail has to be at a different level. You have to step everything up: off the court, sleep, recovery, nutrition. On the court, film, everything, everything is a step up. It’s not time to relax now that you’ve got a little paycheck coming in.
Knox: The best advice I’ve gotten so far is just this: 82 games. You gotta have your body right. No matter whether you’re hurting or it’s just a precaution, you gotta eat right, make sure that you’re protecting your body because 82 games and all those road trips — it’s going to be a lot.
Ayton: I’m still waiting for some good advice. I’m waiting for my veterans to come back to Arizona from their lovely vacations. I’m sure they’ll help me and have plenty of advice.
Bonus: Who wins league MVP in 2018-19?
Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets: I’m hoping Kawhi [Leonard] wins it. I want Kawhi to have a great comeback. He can do it if he’s healthy.
Doncic: LeBron James. I think it’s going to be tough for him [in Los Angeles]. They’re a young team, but it’s still LeBron.
Bagley: I would say myself because that’s the type of confidence I have. Not a lot of [rookies] do it, obviously, but if your dreams and goals aren’t high, then you don’t have nothing to work for. So I would say myself.
Allen: Probably Bron. He’s been the best player in the league and I feel like, moving to a new team, like we see every year, he’s going to lead the Lakers to the playoffs and maybe further. Easy choice.
Carter: I’ve been a LeBron fan all my life so I’m going to say LeBron. I don’t think being in L.A. is really going to affect him. He makes the players around him a whole lot better.