As we near the end of the second month of the 2017-18 NBA season and most teams having played upwards if 18 games it’s a good time to check up on the rookies we were all so excited to see tip off.
This draft class was hyped up as one of the best of recent years, with depth in all positions and when you throw into the mix the number 1 pick from 2016, Ben Simmons, beginning his NBA career after an ankle injury kept him out all of last year the race for rookie of the year was sure to be a good one (although now its pretty much a forgone conclusion).
I don’t really think there is any other place to start than with the 2nd pick in the draft Lonzo Ball. Perhaps the most anticipated player since Bron came straight out of high school back in 2003. Now we know what Lonzo was about coming out of UCLA, exceptional court vision and passing ability with a dodgy looking shooting stroke and perhaps not the quickest feet when defending one on one but by no means a poor defender. Personally after all the expectation, created mainly by his opinion dividing Dad Lavar, I was expecting slightly more from Lonzo, although his rebounding has been good, averaging 8.2 over the season which is very high for a PG, he’s been dropping dimes consistently as well with 7.5 a game, it’s been his shooting or lack of shooting that has been a concern. Although he did join Magic as the only Lakers rookies to hit 2 triple doubles in his opening season.
It seems his confidence from all 3 lines just is not there, he is shooting a feeble 0.315% from field goal range, 0.250% from beyond the arc and a dismal 0.429% from the free throw line. Now we knew before the season this was something he was going to need to work on but I don’t think many people, let alone Lakers GM Magic Johnson, thought it would be quite this bad. Saying all this though with the sheer amount of pressure on his shoulders and the fact the spotlight is on him every night on the floor he has handled himself brilliantly and is turning into one of the most popular players in the NBA and for some reason you just can’t help but root for him. Once his shooting improves he will no doubt be a star in the future.
Verdict: NOT HOT (but very very close)
Moving onto what was a maybe a shock trade between the 76ers and the Celtics, allowing the Celtics to get possibly the best player in the draft and a first round pick from the Kings in 2019 for the number 1 pick and ultimately Markelle Fultz, who Philly believe is the final part of the ‘process. The trade moved them down to third with which they took Jayson Tatum out of Duke. Which is no surprise with the sensational numbers he put up in his freshman season averaging 16.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists with a true shooting percentage of 56.8
So really it has been no surprise that for the players to of come out of this years draft he has been the best player, you could argue this is because currently he’s playing on the best team with a fantastic supporting cast including new Celtic superstar Kyrie Irving and last years 3rd pick Jaylen Brown who has been complementing Tatum superbly, with his slightly more defensive minded approach allowing Tatum to express himself more on offence. But take nothing away from his defensive capabilities he his still part of the stingiest defence in all of the NBA.
Now the 4th pick in the 2017 class small forward Josh Jackson from the University of Kansas, a young player many experts expected to go maybe higher. Unlike the previous two NBA newcomers Jackson has had a lesser role in the team and has played only around 22 minutes per game, however has proved himself an efficient player if not spectacular so far, very hard to do so on a Suns team poor on defence and after the exit of Eric Bledsoe has no other option but to force the offence through guard Devin Booker.
Jackson has helped where he can like a season high 18 points last week against Orlando, earning praise from Booker who was looking for others to step up whilst facing double teams himself all night. “Josh was really good tonight,” Booker said. “I think every night it’s getting easier for him. He was great on both ends, getting out in transition, getting steals. He played incredible.” However overall his inconsistency with turnovers (he has 43 to 24 assists, which is poor from a playmaking wing) and his defensive struggles have also been noted with an average of 4.9 per 36 minutes highlighting his inability to adapt to the physicality of the big league. His biggest strength in college, attacking and driving at the rim, has also somewhat been neutralised. His ability to beat an initial defender is not in question but when producing the slam or the layup the small forward needs to understand he does not have as much time as when at Kansas and good NBA players or able to make plays against him blocking the shot.
Verdict: NOT HOT
Wow. Just wow. I don’t think anyone expected the first overall pick from 2016 to be just this good so soon. He leads all rookies in points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocks. He is looking to become only the 4th rookie to lead all the statistics at season end since the beginning of the NBA and join a list that includes greats such as Oscar Robertson.
Last week he played his first game against his hero, LeBron, and in the build up all the talk was about how he his the closest thing to the king since, well the king himself. Power, Speed, athleticism and unbelievably good ball handling skills for a guy standing at 6″10. Like James his biggest strength seems to be driving at the rim and finishing. People simply can’t defend against him. If he can polish up his jump shot and fadeaway, which to be fair are pretty terrible at this point, he’ll surely be a candidate for MVP later in his career. With him and Embiid in the side and if they both stay fit you can really see the Sixers becoming a force late on in the season again, maybe they were right to trust the process. Especially with the number one pick from this year Markelle Fultz still to come back from his shoulder injury. But Ben is the new LeBron with a little bit of Magic’s vision thrown in. Runaway winner of Rookie of the year already.
You’d have to say so far the steal of the draft. Drafted 13th out of the University of Louisville, made the decision to declare himself eligible for the draft after making the All-ACC first team in his sophomore year. He also decided not to hire an agent which could be a reason for not making the top 10 of the draft. Initially drafted by the Denver Nuggets he was traded to the Jazz for the 24th pick Tyler Lydon and Trey Lyles (which seems a silly decision now).
Donovan has been leading the Jazz’s offence of late and recently put up 41 against the Pelicans, becoming the first rookie since Blake Griffin to score 40+ points in his debut season, and the first Jazz player to ever do so. He’s averaged 19.6 points in his last 10 games as a consistent starter, on only 29 minutes per game. His shooting efficiency is also good, above 40% from the field above 35% from beyond the arc, and above 80% from the free throw line. You might think that a rookie taking a good share of the ball and shots might lead to an increase in turnovers but another stat in his favour is his positive assist to turnover ratio. Now by no means is he the finished article, he’s still quite small and can easily find himself getting bullied by bigger shooting guards but he has quick feet and looks as though he’s eager to learn and improve. And like Simmons he can improve his fadeaway but he’s quick becoming a star offensive player for the Jazz who’s best players are all defensive minded.
The big Fin drafted 7th by the Timberwolves and then traded to the Bulls as part of the deal for Jimmy Butler. The only good thing to come out of Chicago this season, as undoubtedly the Bulls are the worst team in the NBA this season, but on a positive they have a potential franchise player who can defend very well due to his big size, shoots well and has lots of room for improvement. He’s done exceptionally well to stand out on such a poor team.
One of the most exciting prospects to come out of the draft after scoring 30+ on Lonzo in a college matchup making many people wonder if he was a better player than the UCLA prospect. I’ve got to say all round so far they still look even. Fox, although a better shooter and averaging double figures in points, doesn’t have Lonzo’z size, passing ability and vision. Playing in a poor team again hinders his ability to make plays as he feels he needs to do it all himself. But has definitely shown flashes he can become a star point guard in the league. But at the minute he only produces rare flashes and needs to improve his decision making.
Verdict: NOT HOT
Dennis Smith Jr.
Attracted a lot of attention recently when he got caught up in a war of words between LeBron James and Knicks GM Phil Jackson, with James suggesting he should’ve been a knick and drafted one place higher than he was at 9th. However it looks as though Smith still has a long way to go to prove Jackson wrong. There is no doubt he’s got talent with superb dribbling ability and good one on one defence, but his shooting has been poor and he’s currently committing a lot of turnovers (substantially more than Fox). Like all other top 10 picks, he was obviously picked for a reason he just needs to work on decision making and that comes with experience of playing in the league.
Verdict: NOT HOT
The Number one overall pick for Philadelphia coming out of Washington, Fultz was supposed to be the final piece of of the Jigsaw in Philly complementing Simmons and Embiid to bring them out of the wilderness and into the playoff picture. However a ‘scapular muscular imbalance’ has limited him to playing only 4 games so far this season, and he’s being sat until fully recovered.