Skip to main content

Top 10 Rookie Seasons In NBA History


Few players enter the league and dominate from the start, but the handful that do leave lasting impressions. This season there are a couple of rookies who seem to play like veterans from the early start of their respective careers. Time will only tell if they will be considered All-Time greats after their careers are over.

We take a look at the 10 greatest rookie performances in NBA history.

10. Shaquille O’Neal, Orlando Magic (1992-93)

Straight out of Louisiana State University with the reputation as one of the most prevailing college players, O’Neal posted 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game in his first season in the NBA. A native of Newark, New Jersey, O’Neal’s rookie rebound and blocks per game totals would be eventual career-highs in his remarkable 19-season career.

9. David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs (1989-90)

It was an easy choice for the San Antonio Spurs to draft David Robinson with the first pick in the 1987 NBA Draft. Robinson had to serve two years in the Navy before making his NBA debut. The Admiral averaged 24.3 points, 12 rebounds and 3.9 blocks his rookie season, unanimously winning the league's Rookie of the Year award leading the Spurs to the greatest single season turnaround in league history at the time. The Spurs went from 21-61 to 56-26, a remarkable 35-game improvement and good enough to garner him All-NBA Third Team honors.

8. Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers (1979-80)

Drafted by Los Angeles with the first pick in the 1979 NBA Draft, Johnson is the only rookie on this list to be named NBA Finals MVP. Playing alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he started in the All-Star Game and compiled a 60-22 record in the regular season. Magic averaged 18 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game during the regular season.

7. Wes Unseld, Baltimore Bullets (1968-69)

With the second pick in the 1968 NBA Draft, Baltimore Bullets drafted Unseld who joins Wilt Chamberlain as the only rookie to be named both the Rookie of the Year and NBA MVP. By the end of the season, he helped lead the Bullets to a 57-25 record and a division title, earning him All-NBA First Team honors. The center averaged 13.8 points and 18.2 rebounds his first year in the league.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

6. Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls (1984-85)

Drafted by Chicago with the third pick in the 1984 NBA Draft, the legacy of The G.O.A.T. started this year. And to think he only made the All-NBA Second Team.MJ averaged 28.2 points per game his rookie season while shooting an impressive 51.5 percent from the field. He was voted a starter to the All-Star team and would go on to win Rookie of the Year.

5. Larry Bird, Boston Celtics (1979-80)

Drafted by Boston with the sixth pick in the 1978 NBA Draft, Bird was an almost unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year,21.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists picking up 63 of 66 amazing feat considering Magic Johnson was also a rookie that season. The Celtics were 29-53 the year before his arrival, but with Bird improved to 61-21, posting the NBA’s best regular season record.

4. Walt Bellamy, Chicago Packers (1961-62)

Walt Bellamy was Chicago’s first pick in the 1961 NBA Draft. Bellamy’s name is often forgotten when discussing the best rookie seasons in NBA history. Walt Bellamy wreaked havoc on opposing front lines scoring 31.6 points per game and grabbing 19.0 rebounds per game. If that’s not enough of a reason to make this list, he also led the NBA in field goal percentage during his rookie year too.

3. Lew Alcindor, Milwaukee Bucks (1969-70)

The Milwaukee Bucks had no doubt in their mind who is their pick in the 1969 NBA. Then known as Lew Alcindor, Abdul-Jabbar dominated from day one with the Bucks after a legendary career at UCLA.T he big man scored 28.8 points and pulled down 14.5 rebounds per game his first season and even added 4.1 assists to boot. His presence -- and patented skyhook -- helped the Bucks go from 27-55 the year before to a 56-26 campaign his rookie season.

2. Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals (1960-61)

Drafted by Cincinnati with the first pick in the 1960 NBA Draft, all you have to know about Robertson is that he almost averaged a triple-double his first rookie year. Oscar came just short during his rookie campaign, putting up 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 9.7 assists per night. In his second year, he became the first player to average a triple-double for the entire season.

1. Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors (1959-60)

Chamberlain became the impact player everyone expected him to be. Drafted by Philadelphia in 1959, Wilt The Stilt won ROTY & MVP award and averaged an NBA-rookie record of 37.6 points and 27 rebounds per game. His rebounding total is the second highest average by any player in history, eclipsed only by Chamberlain's 27.2 mark the next season.

Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose dunks the ball against Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic

“This is my nightmare” - Goran Dragic on Derrick Rose's vicious dunk 12 years ago

Dragic has a sense of humor about one of the most memorable dunks in NBA history - “At least I'm on TV all the time.”

Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso

“The NBA told me I couldn’t” — Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso wasn't allowed to switch jersey number

Caruso wanted to honor Bill Russell, but the NBA had a surprising reason not to allow the switch.

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and assistant coach Phil Handy

“This man doesn’t work hard all the time” - Lebron James’ work ethic was once questioned by an assistant coach

Phil Handy initially thought LeBron James didn't give his full effort all the time until he witnessed Zero Dark Thirty 23 in the playoffs.

Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka talks with forward Jayson Tatum

"S**t, on Twitter, like everybody else." — Jayson Tatum on how he found out about Ime Udoka's suspension

Tatum, who mentioned that he developed a close bond with Udoka, also revealed that he hasn't spoken to his head coach since the suspension was reported.