With 4 weeks of the NBA season in the books, we’ve had enough of a sample size to take stock of the rookies so far this year. Ranking rookies is always tough since some are thrust into starting roles, while others are able to ease into things off the bench. Some are on contenders, surrounded by stars, and others are not. Here’s a reminder of the top 5 picks from this year’s draft:
- 76ers: Markelle Fultz (G) – Washington
- Lakers: Lonzo Ball (G) – UCLA
- Celtics: Jayson Tatum (F) – Duke
- Suns: Josh Jackson (F) – Kansas
- Kings: DeAaron Fox (G) – Kentucky
Here’s how I rank the top 5 as of right now:
1. Ben Simmons, SF/PG, PHI, 18.0 ppg, 8.2 apg, 9.8 rpg
Ben Simmons was worth the wait for the 76ers who have had the #1 overall pick two years in a row. With Ben Simmons taking such a successful approach to passing the ball (8.2 assists are sixth overall in the NBA!), it’s fair to wonder why the 76ers took Markelle Fultz with the first pick. I know Simmons was injured last year, but couldn’t they foresee Simmons taking on responsibility of point guard and use the pick on Tatum or Josh Jackson? Time will tell. I have a tough time coming up with a comparison for Simmons because he is just so unique. His ability to finish with both hands is impressive. It’s clear he’ll be a star in this league for a long time. The ROTY award is his to lose at this point.
2. Jason Tatum, SF, BOS, 14.3 ppg, 1.9 apg, 6.5 rpg
Tatum’s stats don’t jump off the page like Simmons’ do, but from watching the Celtics religiously, I’m impressed with his defense, his basketball IQ and his intangibles. Tatum just looks comfortable in NBA games, he takes good shots and he knows when to drive to the hoop for easy lay-ups or to draw a foul. He hit a clutch corner three to help seal the epic comeback win on Friday. Six and a half rebounds per game is nothing to scoff at either. If the 2017 NBA draft were re-done today, I’d imagine Tatum would go number 1 overall.
3. Dennis Smith Jr., PG, DAL, 14.8 ppg, 4.9 apg, 4.0 rpg
Maybe LeBron James had a point when he said the Knicks should’ve drafted Smith Jr. He’s been one of the few bright spots for the lowly Mavericks, and he’s been even better as of late, averaging 18.4 ppg over his last 5 games. He’s athletic like Russell Westbrook, and he can shoot from the perimeter (40% from the field this season).
4. Kyle Kuzma, PF, 14.9 ppg, 1.4 apg, 6.8 rpg
He’s definitely the steal of this past year’s draft, where he was taken at no. 27 overall. He has quietly recorded three triple-doubles in his last five games. He runs the floor well and is able to get some easy baskets in transition.
5. Lauri Markkanen, PF, CHI, 16.3 ppg, 1.3 apg, 9.0 rpg
The Bulls are among the NBA’s worst teams, but it has provided the 7-footer from Finland the opportunity for a lot of minutes as a rookie. He has taken advantage of the Bulls missing Zach Lavine to injury and he just looks comfortable out there in the NBA. He became the first player to score 10 three-pointers in his first three games. He looks like a store-brand version of Kristaps Porzingis, and if that comes true, then the Bulls won the Jimmy Butler trade.
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