Who will be the top rookie in 2018-19?
The NBA regular season can be a perilous journey for rookies. Few figures it out right away while most take time to adjust. The 82-game season stands tall, an imposing mountain chalk with challenges: proven veteran opponents, back-to-backs in different cities and complicated systems.
Climbing that rookie mountain tests both physical and mental endurance. The treacherous journey pushes young players beyond the brink of what they previously thought possible while demanding consistent excellence and effort.
Many will try but at the end, only one will stand alone as the King of Rookie Mountain.
Who will it be? Here are the top contenders on the eve of the regular season.
5. Collin Sexton
The 8th overall pick in the draft, Sexton is the Cleveland Cavaliers' first young building block in the post-LeBron era.
Although Kevin Love is still around and will be the team's best player, Sexton is the future. He'll also have the opportunity to make an immediate impact and is likely to see big minutes even if he will come off the bench to start the season.
You know who else came off the bench to start as a rookie? Utah's Donovan Mitchell, who by the end of last season had all the makings of a future star.
Sexton has also earned the respect of his peers as he was picked as a co-favourite to win Rookie of the Year during NBA.com's rookie survey back in August.
MORE: Sexton's case for winning Rookie of the Year
4. Kevin Knox
The Knicks wing was the talk of Summer League, where he averaged 21.3 points per game while flashing advanced skills not often on display in college. Though just 19-years-old, Knox plays with a confidence and polish that's rare for a player his age and has drawn some comparisons to Jayson Tatum, who displayed that same type of on-the-court maturity at this time last season.
With Kristaps Porzingis still out recovering from a torn ACL and on a Knicks team expected to finish towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference, Knox should get every opportunity to expand his game relatively free of unrealistic expectations and without looking over his shoulder.
Knox stands a decent chance to lead all rookies in scoring as Tim Hardaway Jr. is the only other true scoring perimeter threat on the Knicks roster. Knox ranked second on the team in field goal attempts per game in the preseason.
MORE: Rookies in best position to succeed
3. Trae Young
One thing's for certain after watching preseason: Young will entertain and dazzle all season long.
He's thrown alley oops off the backboard…
He's dropped dimes between defenders' legs…
He's drilled game winners from a different area code…
There's certainly high variance with projecting Young's career, but he enters the NBA as an already elite shooter and playmaker. If he's able to adjust to the size and speed while fine tuning his sometimes erratic decision making, the sky is the limit for Atlanta's newest franchise player who patterns his game after Stephen Curry and Steve Nash.
2. Deandre Ayton
The top overall pick in the draft, Ayton's looked dominant at times in the preseason while leading all rookies in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots.
Suns guard Devin Booker is likely out to start the season as he recovers from hand surgery, which means Ayton could get off to a particularly strong start as the focal point of Phoenix's offence.
Playing just under 27 minutes per game - a figure that's sure to increase in the regular season - Ayton is averaging 18.2 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. With a bit more playing time, it's possible that Ayton could average 20 points, 10 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game as a rookie, something that's only been done by Tim Duncan, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson.
MORE: What should the Suns expect from Ayton this season?
1. Luka Doncic
When NBA general managers were asked to pick their favourite for Rookie of the Year, the most popular pick was Doncic, who received over twice as many votes as any other player.
Given his pedigree of playing professionally in Spain - and winning EuroLeague MVP, nonetheless - Doncic isn't your typical wide-eyed rookie and isn't likely to be phased by the rigors of the NBA schedule.
Back in September, Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki raved about his new teammate in a radio interview, comparing their games as young players while pointing out the subtle genius that won't show up in any box score.
"I could shoot a little bit [at 19], but I never had the court vision, the savviness and the stuff that he brings to the game. Just the way he already reads pick-and-rolls. You go under, he shoots. If the man goes over, he kind of keeps him behind him like the best, like Chris Paul and these guys do. He does all of that. He's going to be fun -- fun to watch."
Who will climb to the top and finish as King of Rookie Mountain? Stay tuned.
MORE: Doncic is next in line among the most anticipated international debuts
On our radar
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: He might not put up big enough numbers to take home Rookie of the Year, but the 6-foot-6 point guard has looked impressive for the Clippers this preseason. In a crowded backcourt with veterans Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Avery Bradley, there should be tempered expectations out of the gate for SGA.
Wendell Carter Jr. : On a team starving for impact defensive players, there's certainly an opportunity for the shot-blocking centre to play a big role early in Chicago. Although Robin Lopez is likely to start the season at centre, Carter Jr. is someone worth keeping an eye on as he could make it difficult for coach Fred Hoiberg to keep him off the floor.
Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles : Sacramento is very excited about both of its promising bigs. Bagley III was perhaps the most productive player in college last season and could put up big numbers from Day 1. Giles is reportedly healthy after missing all of last season and has flashed some of the skills that once had him ranked as the top NBA prospect in his class as recently as three years ago.
Miles Bridges: It's obviously incredibly early, but Bridges has looked like potentially the steal of the draft in preseason for the Charlotte Hornets. Selected with the 12th overall pick, Bridges has shown consistent 3-point range while also playing above the rim. Look out for an instant impact in Charlotte.
Grayson Allen : In today's game dominated by outside shooting, Allen has been the sweetest shooting rookie this preseason. He's averaging 2.6 makes from beyond the arc per game, easily the most among rookies. Though he won't continue to shoot 52 percent from 3-point range in the regular season, Allen's shooting could be enough to carve out a significant reserve role in Utah.