Prediction: Bilal Coulibaly will make the All-Rookie 1st Team

Bilal Coulibaly of the Washington Wizards (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Bilal Coulibaly of the Washington Wizards (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

The Washington Wizards rookie Bilal Coulibaly had set the expectations high in one of his first interviews as a Wizard, declaring his desire to win the Rookie of the Year. It may still be far-fetched considering how this rookie class has looked in the preseason, but one thing is clear: Bilal Coulibaly will be one of the most impactful rookies in the NBA this season.

The 19-year-old Frenchman has already earned the trust of the coaching staff. Not only did he start both preseason games, but he also played the most minutes of anyone on the Wizards in the win against the Charlotte Hornets. His on-ball defense and rim protection continue to be impressive, but he showcased an improved creation and shot-making on the offensive end. He was able to create his own shots and hit off-the-dribble jumpers. His incredible pace of improvement suggests that he should continue to get better throughout the season.

It is unclear whether Coulibaly will hold onto his starting spot to begin the season. Once Deni Avdija is cleared to return, there is a chance Coulibaly will come off the bench. The rookie should nevertheless find a way to make an impact as he is probably already the most athletic and best defensive player on the Wizards. He will almost certainly get the starting spot at some point in the season.

However, his usage rate will likely still be too low to be in the conversation to win the Rookie of the Year. It’s difficult to imagine him averaging as many points or assists as some of the best prospects of the draft class. It’s fairly reasonable, however, to imagine him as a top-5 rookie in the 2023-24 season.

Victor Wembanyama, Chet Holmgren, and Scoot Henderson have all looked as advertised so far in the preseason. Barring major injuries, that trio should be a lock to make the All-Rookie First Team. However, after that, the race is wide open. No other lottery pick has established himself as a clear-cut starter or a 30-minute-a-night player so far.

Considering where the Washington Wizards are as a franchise, Bilal Coulibaly should play significant minutes this season. He should have a major role in the rotation, giving him plenty of opportunities to make an impact. Looking at what he has shown so far, it shouldn’t shock anyone if he is one of the best five rookies in the league.