Heading into the summer of 2022, 25 NBA players drafted in 2019 and entering the final year of their rookie deals became eligible for rookie scale extensions. As of opening night, the league-mandated deadline, a league-record tying 11 players re-newed their rookie deals. Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Ja Morant, and Jordan Poole were among the top players to ink their rookie extensions.
Ty Jerome, the No. 24 NBA pick in 2019, was waived by Houston after the Rockets acquired him in a trade with Oklahoma City in late September – the 25-year-old is currently on a two-way NBA contract with Golden State – meaning he was ineligible for the extension. Therefore, the remaining 13 players that didn’t receive an NBA extension will be restricted free agents at the end of the season. The following is my list of the top five players slated to be restricted free agents from the 2019 rookie class.
1. Cameron Johnson, Suns
Johnson heads the list, and it is a total surprise that he did not receive a rookie scale contract extension through Deandre Ayton didn’t receive one last year. Ayton ended up staying with the Suns after Phoenix matched Indiana’s NBA four-year, nearly $133 million offer sheet. I don’t expect that Johnson will get that massive of a contract, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up between $80-100 million.
This year will be Johnson’s first year as a full-time starter. The versatile 26-year-old forward has been a part of the Suns’ rotation since the beginning, making 36 starts before this season. The 2019 No. 11 draft pick’s best attribute is scoring, and he is deadly behind the arc.
Johnson has improved each year and is coming off his most productive season. Johnson averaged 12.5 points and 4.1 rebounds while producing career-high shooting percentages of .460/.425/.860 last year.
2. PJ Washington, Hornets
Washington has been a professional his whole NBA career. He does a solid job at protecting the rim, although he is just an average rebounder on the defensive end and will get an offensive rebound due to his continuous effort.
The former lottery pick, who can stretch the floor with his shooting, is coming off the most efficient season of his career as he made over 60% of shots from the field and cut down on his turnovers last year. Washington should be a 10-plus-year NBA veteran before all is said and done. He can come off the bench or start.
3. Grant Williams, Celtics
Williams proved his worth last season as the Celtics dealt with several NBA injuries. The 6-6 undersized power forward is a physical defender with a high motor who can knock down open 3-point shots.
The No. 22 draft pick, who has started 35 games going into the season, has improved each year of his pro career. He will be the first big off the bench for the C’s this year, at least until Robert Williams returns from injury, and then remain in the team’s rotation as likely either the eighth or ninth man. Williams had 15 points in Boston’s season-opening victory over Philadelphia on Tuesday as he knocked down all five of his shots, including going 3-for-3 from long distance.
4. Rui Hachumura, Wizards
Health has been the 23-year-old’s biggest issue though he is not a good rebounder. Hachumura’s best attribute is his offensive ability though he is not great on that end. He is an excellent finisher around the basket and shot a career-best 44.7% from beyond the arc last season.
Hachumura has some starting experience though he will come off the bench for Washington this season. While Hachumura is still very young, this season may go a long way in determining his place in the league.
5. Coby White, Bulls
White is a “bucket-getter” who loves to launch it from deep. The 22-year-old is an average 3-point shooter and doesn’t get to the rim enough, nor is he a great distributor. However, White did shoot a career-high 38% from beyond the arc in 2021-22 and doesn’t turn over the ball.
Health has been an issue for the former No. 7 draft selection. Similarly to Hachumura, this year is enormous for White though he has improved his shooting in each season of his career.
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