ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Mo Bamba heard his name over Orlando’s public address system for the first time during introductions, and waved his arms to the crowd asking for their cheers.
Then the game started.
He didn’t have to solicit noise anymore.
Welcome to the NBA, rookie class of 2018-19. There were 31 newcomers who got their first official playing time Wednesday, the initial hectic night on this season’s schedule. Some of those debuts were forgettable, some barely noticeable, but a few — like No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton in Phoenix, the No. 6 overall pick in Bamba and even undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier in New York — stood out.
“Felt pretty good,” Bamba said. “It was everything I expected it to be.”
He wasn’t the only rookie smiling Wednesday.
Ayton made his first three shots and finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists as Phoenix eased past Dallas. Bamba was clutch for Orlando, putting together a 13-point, seven-rebound, two-block effort in the Magic win over Miami. And maybe it was fitting — Ayton and Trier had plenty of big nights together at Arizona as collegians last season, and they had another one Wednesday, albeit about 2,400 miles apart.
Trier had 15 points for the Knicks in their easy win over Atlanta, two of those points coming on a down-the-lane dunk where he went either past or over four Hawks players, a play that even had New York coach David Fizdale celebrating.
“Some things happen in a game sometimes and you just go, ‘Whoa,'” Fizdale said.
After two nights of this season, 35 players have made their NBA debuts. That’s just the first of many waves; 119 rookies got into at least one game last season, a figure helped mightily by the emergence of two-way contracts. Last season’s newcomer total was the league’s highest since 1949-50 when 120 debuted — in large part because what was the 12-team BAA the year before became the 17-team NBA that season.
Atlanta’s Trae Young, the No. 5 pick in the draft, made his first NBA shot. The make was a notable event for Young, who said that he airballed his first shot attempt in high school, in college and at the NBA Summer League in July.
“This is just one of many,” Young said, not sounding worried about the Hawks’ rocky opener.
None of the rookies so far have had monster numbers, but then again, those are rare in debuts.
The record for points by someone in his first game is held by Wilt Chamberlain, who scored 43 for the Philadelphia Warriors at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks on Oct. 24, 1959. A year later, Oscar Robertson’s first NBA game resulted in his first triple-double – 21 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists. LeBron James had 25 in 2003, two months shy of his 19th birthday.
Those were the start of great careers.
But bad first games don’t doom anyone to a life of mediocrity, either.
Steve Nash, Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming and Dennis Rodman combined for zero points in their debuts. Kobe Bryant went scoreless his first time out as well, and he’ll be joining that foursome in the Basketball Hall of Fame soon anyway. Michael Jordan shot 5 for 16 to start his career. Kevin Durant went 7 for 22 in his opening game with Seattle.
“You never forget the first game,” said Miami’s Dwyane Wade, who scored 18 points in his debut in 2003 and still recalls how he spent some of that night being guarded by Allen Iverson. “You’re going to get better. You’re nervous. You can’t change that. It’s going to be a big moment in your life, and you’re going to grow from that moment. And then you’re going to have a lot of other moments.”
Ayton might have looked ready on the court, but in the locker room he’s going to be reminded of his newcomer status all season.
The Suns’ Trevor Ariza interrupted Ayton’s first NBA postgame interview. “Where are the towels, rook?” Ariza asked, reminding the rookie of one of his rookie duties.
Ayton stopped, stepped out and returned with a tall stack of towels. Lighthearted hazing notwithstanding, the Suns know what they have.
“I knew he was something special,” Phoenix guard Devin Booker said. “I think people are always nervous for their first game. That’s usually three trips down the court and then it just comes back to basketball. When you are that talented and have the abilities that he does, the game is just going to come to you.”
Some of the openers on Wednesday were statistically nonexistent — three debuts were logged officially at lasting less than one minute, seven of the rookies on the floor didn’t attempt any shots, and the average per-rook was less than 5 points per game.
Ayton and Bamba dazzled. No. 3 pick Luka Doncic had 10 points and eight rebounds, but misfired on 11 of his 16 shots. No. 11 pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 11 points for the Clippers. It wasn’t just lottery guys who stood out – second-round pick Bruce Brown started for Detroit, and Trier made MSG take notice.
The challenge now for Trier, Bamba, Ayton and every other rookie? Getting ready for the rest of the season.
“Now it’s just a matter of doing that 81 more times,” Bamba said.
AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney in New York and AP Sports Writer Bob Baum in Phoenix contributed to this story.
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