It is the moment that every player dreams of and an experience that they will never forget - stepping foot onto the court for the very first time as an NBA player. To have made it this far they will have excelled as a youngster, throughout school and college, but to pull on an NBA jersey and walk out onto the court under the lights, in front of thousands of people and to play against and alongside players that they have looked up to and idolized is unlike any experience they will ever have had. The debut game will be one that is filled with adrenaline and nerves, and often you will see this affect the player and they will sometimes have a quiet or poor game. This is not always the case, however.
Going back through NBA history there have been many notable debut performances that have taken everyone by surprise. In many cases this has been a sign of things to come, and there are a few entries on this list that you would expect to find as they have gone on to become the stars of this league. There are also a few surprise entries and players that struggled to replicate the type of performance that they put in on their very first night as an NBA player.
Whether you were the 1st pick in the draft, a second round pick, a player from the development league or a player from overseas, making your NBA debut will always be an enormous moment and a game that you will always remember. Often these games will quickly be forgotten by everyone else, but sometimes a player will amaze everyone in their first game and look more settled on the hardwood than the most seasoned veterans.
Here are the top 10 debut performances of all time
10 Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard has emerged as one of the premier guards in the NBA in just under three seasons. He showed his potential in his rookie year, where he averaged an incredible 19 PPG, 6.5 APG and 3.1 RPG to become the unanimous Rookie of the Year (just the 4th player to achieve this). His talent and ability to dominate in the NBA was clear from his debut, when he scored 23 points and handed out 11 assists in a victory over the Lakers. This is a statline that any point guard would be happy with, but to do it in your very first game is a remarkable accomplishment. He joined Isiah Thomas and Oscar Robertson as the only players to record 20 points and 10 assists on their debut.
9 David Robinson
The Admiral is one of the greatest Big Men to play the game and accomplished many astonishing statistics and records during his career, and he showed signs of this from the get go in his NBA debut. He was the 1st pick in the 1987 draft but would not make his debut until 1989 due to a military commitment, but he would prove to be worth the wait. His debut would come against the Lakers, and Robinson put up a monster 23 points and 17 rebounds, a statline the most seasoned Big Man would take pride in. Following the impressive performance, Magic Johnson would state “some rookies are never really rookies”.
8 Allen Iverson
There are few players that have dazzled crowds quite like Allen Iverson, who inspired an entire generation of players and his impact can still be felt today. Many felt that AI would be too small to make an impact in the NBA, but like he did so many times throughout his career he soon proved these critics wrong. His NBA debut against the Bucks was something to behold, with Iverson amazing the crowd and leading his team with 30 points as well as dishing out 6 assists. The 6-foot guard also pulled off the first of hundreds of career highlights, soaring for a one-handed dunk to stun the entire arena and make his presence felt around the league.
7 Isiah Thomas
Isiah Thomas would go on to be one of the greatest point guards in NBA history and he inspired dozens of modern day guards with his tenacious play. On October 30th, 1981, a very young Thomas would make his NBA debut against the Bucks and would show that he was ready to dominate. Zeke scored 31 points and handed out 11 assists, and importantly the Pistons got the win thanks to his stellar play. He was immediately a Pistons hero, giving hope to a franchise that had won only 37 games in the previous two seasons.
6 Brandon Jennings
NBA life for Brandon Jennings got off to a flying start, and he came agonizingly close to joining Oscar Robertson as the only player to record a triple double on his NBA debut. Jennings went for 17 points 9 rebounds and 9 assists for the Bucks in the season opener against the 76ers, an impressive statline for a guard to put up no matter how experienced they are. Later in his impressive rookie year Jennings would drop 55 points, but unfortunately he has never really topped this first campaign and progressed like many hoped he would.
5 LeBron James
There has never been an NBA debut that was as highly anticipated as this, as LeBron was the most hotly followed high school athlete and he had just signed a $90 million shoe deal with Nike. Coming straight out of high school is always a risk, but most expected LeBron to excel and he managed this right off the bat. Making his debut against the Kings, LeBron made a statement and would go for 25 points, 6 rebounds, 9 assists and 4 steals. James did not even need a quarter to get used to NBA life, as in the first 12 minutes he managed 12 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals, including 2 breakaway dunks.
4 Lamar Odom
It has been a somewhat turbulent career for Lamar Odom, who is a 2x NBA champion, 6th Man of the Year and part of the All-Rookie First Team for 2000, but also a player with off-court issues and a personality that many have clashed with. “The Candy Man” made his NBA debut for the Clippers against the Sonics in 1999 and he would score an impressive 30 points. He also added 12 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks in 44 minutes. He has had plenty of ups and downs, but Odom has proven to be a handful over his career and this was evident from his very first game.
3 Oscar Robertson
The Big O started as he meant to go on in his NBA debut in 1960, recording a triple double in a victory over the Lakers. Robertson had 21 points, 10 assists and 12 rebounds in the victory, an astonishing accomplishment for a rookie as he proved he was well polished in each area of the game. This would of course become the norm for Robertson, who amazingly averaged a triple double in his second season. Robertson is the only player to record a triple double in his NBA debut, although as this list demonstrates, a number have come very close since.
2 Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain’s incredible dominance is well known and he is of course best known for scoring 100 points in a game. Even as a rookie, Chamberlain was a force to be reckoned with and created havoc for opponents trying to contain Wilt “The Stilt”. On October 24th, 1959, Chamberlain would make his NBA debut for the Philadelphia Warriors and would score an incredible 43 points and pull down a mammoth 28 rebounds. He also impressed in his college debut for Kansas where he scored 52 and had 31 rebounds. This marked the beginning of a remarkable career which forever changed the game.
1 Michael Carter-Williams
It must be a strange feeling knowing that you are unlikely to ever have a game as complete as your debut, but this is a feeling Michael Carter-Williams must know as he flirted with a quadruple double in his very first game. In a historic performance in 2013, the number 11 pick had a statline of 22 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds and 9 steals. Carter-Williams also sank 2 clutch free throws to seal the win over the Heat. His 9 steals are the most by a player on their debut, and also a tied franchise record best with Allen Iverson. Michael Carter-Williams has gone on to impress and notched a few triple doubles, but in his very first game he almost achieved a rare quadruple double, something that has not been done since David Robinson in 1994.