In the early stage of the NBA season, a particular set of rookies garnered most of the class’ buzz. Specifically, Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren have dominated the headlines. Ausar Thompson and Brandon Miller have also created some of their own. Even Jordan Hawkins and Jaime Jaquez Jr. have earned praise for their play. However, one of the best rookies has largely flown under the radar amongst all this: Holmgren’s Oklahoma City Thunder teammate, Cason Wallace.
In 14 games, Wallace has earned a permanent spot in the rotation thanks to his high shooting prowess and defensive upside. He’s been the one to close games and play down the stretch over Josh Giddey in many closer Thunder games this season.
Cason Wallace Is Not Your Average NBA Rookie
Early Signs of Positive Defensive Impact
When you mention the words rookie and Thunder, Holmgren is the name that pops into everyone’s head. But Wallace has been solid in his early career and has been trusted to defend Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Dejounte Murray, Trae Young, and Donovan Mitchell. When Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missed a game due to a knee injury, coach Mark Daigneault turned to Wallace to start in his place. We all expected the gangly Holmgren, the No. 2 overall pick, to be good immediately, but look out for the Thunder’s other rookie.
Coach Daigneault has been very complimentary of the former Kentucky guard in his young career, constantly praising his defensive effort. “Trust him on anybody, even this short into his career. He doesn’t play with his tuxedo on; he’s a grimy, gritty player.”
Incredible Efficiency on All Three Levels
The most impressive thing about Wallace’s start is his incredible efficiency to start the season. It’s early, but here’s the list of the most efficient rookies on catch-and-shoot jumpers (who have played more than two games and average over one shot attempt):
- Cason Wallace (1.6 FGA, 76.1 EFG%)
- Chet Holmgren (3.7 FGA, 74 EFG%)
- Marcus Sasser (1.9 FGA, 67.9 EFG%)
Wallace has immediately alleviated some of those concerns for a team that came into this season with concerns about their lack of three-point threats. Wallace is shooting above 50% from deep this season, and the Thunder have the best three-point percentage in the league (41%).
Wallace’s efficiency applies to his three-point scoring and what he can do inside the line. Overall, he’s notched a wildly impressive mark of 72.7% true shooting while averaging 7.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.6 steals, and 0.4 blocks per game.
Cason Wallace: The Perfect Role Player
Wallace is the perfect role player. He fits in any lineup, defends, and does all the little things that add up to winning.
Through 14 games, Wallace has excelled in his role with the Thunder. Playing alongside on-ball creators like Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams, the former Kentucky guard has keyed into an off-ball role. He finishes plays off the catch by shooting triples or attacking a recovering defense.
Wallace sees less usage due to the amount of preexisting talent on the team, but he has been able to find his role and play it at a very high level. There’s no doubt Wallace could see more outstanding production on a lesser team, but the Thunder are happy to have him and hope he will be a crucial contributor moving forward.