This years rookie class is a very intriguing one to say the least. The crazy part is the one who will win rookie of the year wasn’t even drafted in this past draft. Ben Simmons of the 76ers has the award on lock and I believed that before the season got under way. Now, through just six games, I’ve seen all I need to see to say that the rookie of the year is Simmons’ to lose. Here I will run through some rookies who have shown either promise or some questionable play after almost two weeks of regular season action.
Ben Simmons: Everyone knows his upside is tremendous and he wasn’t drafted 1st overall to not be a star. He can almost do it all. At 6’10”, he can finish with the best of them, has a decent mid range game, can pass like a point guard, and has 10+ rebound per game upside. His only flaw is he has no three point shot but as his career goes on it may be something he works on improving. So far he has put all the tools on display through six games. His averages right now stand at 17.5 PPG 9.5 RPG 7.5 APG. Those are all star/MVP type numbers right there. When you watch Simmons play you would think he has been in the league for six years. He is that good and that smooth when he is on the court. His ability to step in and make an instant impact like he already has for the 76ers shows what kind of talent he is. He can fill the stat sheet as good as anyone already and he is a rookie. Barring injury and if Simmons is able to keep this pace up, and there is no reason he shouldn’t, the rookie of the year is a lock. There is even a good chance he makes the all star game too.
Lonzo Ball: Hype upon hype. Ball garners so many expectations because of his father, Lavar, and the fact he is on one of the most storied franchises in the Lakers. He comes into the league with the best passing ability out of anyone in this past draft class without question and he hasn’t failed to put his teammates in great positions for open shots. Ball so far is sporting a 10.0 PPG 7.7 APG 7.5 RPG average. You would sit back and think that means he is playing exceptionally well but in reality, he isn’t. His shooting has been terrible in all aspects. His FG% is 31.1%, his 3PT% is 28.1%, and his FT% is 55.6%. Ball is simply not going to last when his percentages are that terrible especially for a guard. He has shown he can run an offense and there is no denying that, but if he is going to reach that perennial all star potential, defenders are gonna need to be able to respect his shot. There’s lots of room to improve especially with the season being so young along with him being so you (just turned 20), but right now that unorthodox shot isn’t doing the trick.
Jayson Tatum: Tatum has been thrusted into a lot more playing time and has gotten a lot more touches due to the Gordon Hayward injury. The Celtics love this guy and rightfully so. They valued him more than anyone else in the draft and were confident enough to even move down two spots to still get him. So far, it has payed off and replacing hayward with the Tatum/Jaylen Brown tandem has worked well. Obviously they would be figured into the rotation anyways but both have handled the increased workload very well along with other role players on the team. Tatum stands right now in a position where his shooting is the complete opposite story of Ball. In every part of his shooting he has been fantastic posting a 50.9% FG%, 50.0% 3PT%, and a 86.2% FT%. All are significantly better than Ball and tells me that Tatum has the potential of being one of the best all around shooting small forwards in the game. He gets many comparisons to Carmelo Anthony and rightfully so. Melo is known as a guy with the ability to shoot from anywhere and especially in the post, a part of Tatum’s game he has put on display also. Any shot you need Tatum to take he can make, and at a good percentage right now. He is due for regression as his 50% from three will not last but he can certainly be a 40% or higher guy as long as he continues to take efficient shots. As of now, his ceiling is capped with the amount of star power around him but the Celtics got themselves a great pick here.
Dennis Smith Jr.: The most explosive finisher in the draft. DSJ has as good of bounce as anyone in the league and it still comes with the capability of being an above average point guard in the NBA. His only issue is the same as Ball’s, his shooting. DSJ is posting currently a 42.6 FG% which isn’t bad, but his 23.8 3PT% and 45.0 FT% are dreadful. At least Ball has the excuse of an unorthodox shot that may need fixing but DSJ is just flat out shooting terribly. This says he will be known as a finisher around the basket because if his FG% is still solid with a terrible 3PT%, that means he is making a lot of shots there, and it can only improve. His free throw percentage is also for sure only going to increase since he shot 71.5% at the stripe in college. It can’t get much worse than what it is. The only thing he’ll need to really improve is his three ball cause in college it was 35.9% and that is with the line being closer to the basket. I would say he’ll cap out at around 32-33% from three unless he significantly improves. Currently DSJ is averaging 13.2 PPG 6.6 APG 3.0 RPG. He shows he can put up solid point guard numbers and this is while at his lowest point in shooting ability. He has Kemba Walker upside with the ability to put up highlight reel dunks.
Lauri Markkanen: The big man from Finland has been very impressive on what is a completely rebuilding Bulls team this year. He is easily the best shooting big man coming out of the draft and hasn’t been afraid to show everyone that this is true. He ranks 13th in three point attempts per game which is by far higher than any other rookie, and still posting 41.7% from the arc which is very good. Keep in mind we’re talking about a 7 footer here. The most remarkable thing about what Markkanen has been able to do is still average 9.6 rebounds per game. He grabs 8.0 defensive rebounds per game right now so the 1.6 offensive boards may have to go down. If he is hanging around the three point line as often as he is there is almost no way he can be a 10 rebound per game guy. But, it isn’t impossible and maybe he decides to cut down on threes more and play down low a little more. Either way Markkanen is showing he is pretty special and has Dirk Nowitzki upside.
Some players not mentioned include Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson, and De’Aaron Fox because they either have injuries or are not yet starting so it isn’t fair to critique them compared to the others mentioned above. That being said, all have shown flashes and all have shown some ability to show the reason they were drafted where they were. This rookie class has a chance to be very special in a few years, but this year, Simmons will reign as rookie of the year.