Each year, the NBA’s rookies become freakier, more skilled and better prepared to do battle with the world’s best hoopers. The 2018 class features Euro sensation Luka Doncic (Mavericks), All-World big man DeAndre Ayton (Suns) and point guard extraordinaire Trae Young (Hawks), a trio that has infiltrated hoops’ highest level, setting it ablaze with a host of show-stopping moves, primetime moments and historical performances.
“We’re the future of the league,” Ayton said. “We’ve got 7-footers dribbling the ball and shooting the ball, and you got 6-foot-8 point guards who can do anything. So, yeah, I think we’re pretty unique.”
While these three amigos have garnered the majority of rookie headlines this season by providing an instant impact for their squads, this class boasts a host of potential stars who continue to make a splash. Here is a look at some of the NBA’s budding ballers and why it’d be wise to make a play for their Panini America Rookie Cards now.

A year ago, the 19-year-old Doncic dominated the EuroLeague, becoming the youngest MVP in league history. There are no questions about whether he’d attain similar success in the NBA. “Swaggy L” narrowly missed making the All-Star team and brought an aura around the Dallas franchise that hadn’t surfaced since surefire Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki led the team to a championship (2010-11). Doncic became the first player in league history to record multiple games with at least 35 points, 10 rebounds and five assists as a teenager, tallied three of the NBA’s four triple-doubles ever recorded by a teen, and set the team rookie record for most 3-pointers.
“Luka Doncic is by far the leader in sales and the most marketable among the class,” said David Porter, Panini America Product Development Director of Basketball. “His prices are similar to what LeBron James’ were when he was a rookie in 2003. Nobody else has been like that since we got the license, which was 2009-10.”

In Phoenix, Ayton’s served as the brightest spot on an infant Suns roster looking to glow up and compete with the Western Conference juggernauts. The big man became the first rookie since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1969-70) to tally at least 18 points 10 rebounds and six dimes in his debut, the only first-year player since 1983-84 to record three straight games with at least 20 points and 15 boards on 60 percent shooting, and the first rookie to shoot at least 80 percent from the field in a game on 20-plus field goal attempts since Hakeem Olajuwon (1984-85).
“Deandre Ayton has had a big year,” Porter said. “I’d say Luka and Deandre are leading the class right now, but if you asked me to forecast the second half of the season and next year, I’d say there are about four or five guys who can come on strong later.”

Before the 2018 NBA Draft, Atlanta music titan Quavo tweeted the Hawks, persuading them to bring in their very own “Splash Bro” in Young. The wish turned into reality when the team acquired Young and instantly billed him as the face of the franchise. The 20-year-old “Ice Trae” became the first Hawks player to be named Rookie of the Month multiple times. In January, he also became the first rookie to average at least 18.0 points and 7.0 assists in at least 10 games in any month since John Wall in March 2011.
Those three aren’t the only youngsters doing their part to make this deep rookie class special.

A prestigious school like Duke has always bolstered the marketability of its players. With that said, the success of Marvin Bagley III, a former Blue Devils big man, has further enhanced that theory. On Jan. 22, 2019, he became the first Kings rookie to tally at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in his first start since Mike Ratliff (1972).
A product of Alabama, Collin Sexton is one of the rare players who left the university and was drafted in the NBA – the fourth to be exact since 2000. Taking over as the face of the Cavaliers’ franchise, the rookie has been nothing short of impressive. At the All-Star break, he ranked first among rookies in free-throw percentage (84.6), second in double-digit scoring games (50) and fourth in points (15.1).
Kentucky is a basketball factory that produces some of the NBA’s best talent and features a massive fanbase. As Kevin Knox, a former Wildcat, has made a big splash in the Big Apple, the school’s reputation has only improved. He’s authored several highlight-worthy slams, drilled his share of clutch buckets and been the bright spot on a Knicks team in rebuild mode.
“Schools can play a factor in how guys sell,” Porter says. “Usually kids from the bigger schools come in with a lot of attention because they have the exposure. They still need to come in and play and perform. Market helps too, but on-court success is the most important.”
The bigger market teams struck gold in the draft as well, landing players who possess skills just as massive as their new squad’s fan bases.
In Los Angeles, point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has taken the league by storm, showing a vast offensive game and the energy it takes to be a star defensively. On Jan. 28, 2019, he became the first rookie guard to record at least four blocks and three steals in less than 22 minutes.
Brooklyn found a formidable forward in Rodions Kurucs, a second-round pick from Latvia who notched a pair of double-doubles in December. The Knicks have gotten a ton of production from undrafted swingman Allonzo Trier. He joined Bill Cartwright as one of two Knicks rookies to post at least 230 points, 55 rebounds and 30 assists while shooting at least 49 percent through his first 20 games.
So far the rookies have been well worth the hype, starting off fast and providing fans with a clear view of the future of the NBA. If you don’t want to miss out on a card of a potential All-Star or even a Hall of Famer, head to your local hobby store, Walmart, Target or iCollectPanini.com and dive in.
Robert Halliman is a Staff Writer for Panini America.


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