TV Review – “NBA Rooks: Opening Night” on ESPN+

ESPN+ has taken us behind the scenes of our favorite sports and given us a peek into the lives of coaches, general managers, athletic directors and of course, athletes. The new series NBA Rooks gives us a look at what it’s like to be a rookie in the NBA as they make their way into the league, from the NBA Draft Lottery through the 2019-2020 season.

The latest episode, titled “Opening Night,” gives us our first look at the rookies we’ve been following as they finally step onto the court during real NBA action.

This was the episode I had been waiting for since NBA Rooks debuted back in September, introducing us to these six players at a time when they were still awaiting the results of the NBA Draft lottery. I have to say, after the wait, the episode actually let me down a bit.

Now, the show’s short format doesn’t allow for a whole lot of detail, but I was hoping for more than a quick scan through some highlights from each player’s first game. We did get a few words from each player regarding their experiences, but they were mostly just the typical postgame press conference answers designed to simply get in and get out without creating any headlines.

Another problem I had was the overall positive vibe of the episode. Bol Bol, one of the rookies we’ve been following from the beginning, was sent to play in the G-League and didn’t make his NBA debut with the Denver Nuggets on opening night. His story wasn’t mentioned at all and instead he was completely absent from the episode.

Zion Williamson, the highest profile player on the show, missed opening night with an injury and will miss some time beyond that. This was at least mentioned during the episode but was quickly looked past as he was replaced on the show with his teammate Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

On top of that news, only one of the remaining players’ teams actually won their respective opening night games. RJ Barrett had a nice game with 21 points, but also turned the ball over a team-high 3 times and shot just 50% from the free throw line. Ja Morant posted just 4 assists compared to his 6 turnovers, a line you never want to see from your point guard. Coby White had the best game out of all of them with 17 points and 7 assists off the bench and he was the player we probably saw the least from (aside from Bol and Williamson of course).

Obviously, I’m not expecting the show to embarrass these guys by highlighting their flaws. But shows like this can actually take advantage of these negative outcomes to build drama for future episodes. Show us Bol’s disappointment with being sent to the G-League. Show us Zion’s frustration in dealing with an injury. These moments will allow us to connect more with the players and become more invested in how the show progresses. None on that was done here and it feels like a missed opportunity.

Overall though, the episode still wasn’t all that bad. I think more than anything, it suffered from its 11-minute run time, which didn’t allow us to get enough of an inside look at what was going through the players’ minds as they stepped onto an NBA court for the first time. I’m still looking forward to seeing more from NBA Rooks as the season progresses.

The first 7 episodes of NBA Rooks are available now on ESPN+. Fans can subscribe to ESPN+ for just $4.99 a month (or $49.99 per year) and can cancel at any time.

Mike Mack
Mack is the Editorial Director for Marvel and ESPN content and he has covered comic cons, theme park events, video game showcases and other fun events. He is a fan of theme parks, sports, movies, Marvel Comics and is a self-proclaimed "nerd."