Most early award predictions carry familiar names and faces. However, predicting Rookie of the Year candidacy is much more difficult based on many variables and factors. Because these players are drafted very young, it’s difficult to forecast a player’s output on any given team. Essentially, every rookie is a free agent coming into a new team and a new system, hoping to make an impact. But hoping can only get you so far in the NBA. Players who’ve previously been stars and played entire games from elementary school to college have to deal with a limited role. Some can take the emotional and physical toll immediately, while it takes others more time to acclimate to the NBA.
That’s what makes forecasting for Rookie of the Year so difficult. The past two seasons, the number one overall pick has taken home the award. But prior to that, it hasn’t been as cut and dried. Michael Carter-Williams won the award as the 11th pick in the 2013-2014 campaign, while Damian Lillard, the sixth overall pick, won it in 2012-2013. In fact, over the past ten seasons only five Rookie of the Year recipients have also been the number one pick.
Rookie of the Year is not like the MVP, where you’re looking for a rookie who’s on a winning team. In fact, in the past 10 seasons no rookie of the year has led their team to a winning record in their first season. Needless to say, winning isn’t a factor when it comes to winning the award.
So what are the common denominators that add up to winning the award? Well, statistics show us that every recipient since Mike Miller (2000-2001) has played over 30 minutes per game. Along with that, no rookie of the year has averaged single digits in points, and for the past 14 seasons we haven’t seen anyone who averaged fewer than 15 points per game win the award.
As much as we’d think injuries would be a disqualifier from the award, they haven’t been. Two recent examples are Kyrie Irving and Brandon Roy: They only played 51 and 57 games respectively, yet still managed to win the award. We’ve seen only three players in the past 13 seasons play all 82 games.
Coming into this season, there are several legitimate candidates for the award. We’ve listed seven players that we think could win Rookie of the Year based on some of the facts listed above.
- Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers
Embiid is someone who probably wouldn’t be on this list three weeks ago. But due to Ben Simmons’ recent foot injury and Embiid’s strong preseason performances, he is definitely in the mix. Embiid, who was injured all of last season, looks revitalized and more mobile than anticipated. The third overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Embiid has been through two season-ending injuries and has never played in a regular season game, so while he’s older than just about every other candidate, he’s still technically eligible for the award.
The seven-foot center has been working out all summer and it has shown in preseason. Although he’s on a minutes restriction for good reason, he’s still been impressive. Most recently, he posted a double-double against the Washington Wizards in only 14 minutes.
It’s going to be hard for people to see him as a Rookie of the Year candidate when they’ve only seen him play five preseason games, but Embiid has a ton of potential on a team that needs him. While the front court has a backlog of talent, Embiid is clearly one of the best two-way centers they have. If the team can increase his minutes to over 25 per game and Embiid can manage to stay healthy, he can seriously challenge for the crown.
- Buddy Hield – New Orleans Pelicans
Hield is subject to a lot of criticism. His Summer League play was sub-par and his age begs the question: how much more can he develop and grow? At 22 years old, he’s older than a lot of players drafted in the 2013 and 2014’s draft classes.
The shooting guard out of Oklahoma was one of the most efficient scorers in NCAA history, but it took him 4 years to really develop into the talent he became. It’s good to see the progressive development year over year (7.8 points his freshman year to 25 points his senior year), but his ceiling is probably lower than other top-end players selected early in this year’s draft because of his age.
The great thing about Hield is the team he went to. New Orleans desperately needed shooting and they got it with Hield.
Hield’s ability to create his own shot off the dribble isn’t amazing, but his catch-and-shoot ability can be. It’s a good thing for New Orleans, because they already have multiple players that need the ball in their hands. Hield seems to work well in Gentry’s system and he should receive a steady number of minutes. As long as he shows progression throughout the year and receives the minutes we expect, it’s hard to believe he wont be in contention for Rookie of the Year.
- Brandon Ingram
New Lakers coach Luke Walton has already confirmed that Ingram won’t be starting. The former Duke standout has tons of potential, but many see him as an extreme work in progress. Of course, Ingram could find himself starting sooner rather than later if he shows that he can produce even with the learning curve ahead. But starting or not, he’s bound to see a lot of time. With his size and shooting ability, don’t be surprised to see him get into the race.
After playing 28 minutes in his most recent preseason game, it’s apparent Ingram still has a lot of growing to do. He had seven points, two assists, and two rebounds in that game, but has yet to get into double figures in any statistical category throughout preseason. Given the amount of time he’s played, his numbers are a little underwhelming. But we should have confidence that he’ll improve game by game.
The early comparisons to Kevin Durant is a reach to say the least. No one should expect Ingram to average 20 points, 2.4 assists, and 4.4 rebounds like Durant in his rookie year. But it wouldn’t be far-fetched to see Ingram develop quickly and make significant growth as a double-digit scorer for the Lakers.
- Jamal Murray – Denver Nuggets
Murray, the 6’4 shooting guard out of Kentucky, is bound to get an opportunity with the Nuggets. With fellow starting shooting guard Gary Harris out with a groin injury, we may see Murray get more minutes early on.
In preseason, Murray is averaging 11.3 points on 41 percent shooting. With the ability to create shots off the dribble and rebound efficiently, he’ll be a prime candidate to win Rookie of the Year.
While Will Barton and fellow rookie Malik Beasley may take minutes from Murray, he still seems in line for a hefty workload. At only 19, Murray still has loads of potential to go along with a primary scorer’s skill set.
Remember, Murray averaged 20 points and five rebounds per game in college on a team that’s produced the most NBA talent in the country over the past 10 seasons. If he can get a hold of a starting role while playing close to 30 minutes a game, put Murray up there as a contender for the award.
- Kris Dunn – Minnesota Timberwolves
Dunn lit up the Summer League with 24 points per game on 54 percent shooting. Even though it was Summer League, the efficiency and ability were clearly there.
However, preseason has certainly changed that mentality for Dunn. Averaging 24 minutes in preseason, you would’ve thought Dunn’s output would be better than 4.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 18.5 percent from the field and with Rubio on the roster, some fear Dunn may not get much playing time early on.
Even if he doesn’t start, Dunn should still ultimately average about 24 minutes a night. Currently, Rubio may be the known commodity and a safer bet. But if Dunn can regain some of his confidence and return to a more efficient game, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him starting eventually.
The other added element is that Rubio has been subject to many trade rumors. If Rubio were to be traded, Dunn would immediately see an increase in minutes.
So while Dunn isn’t a surefire ROY candidate, it’s hard to see him outside of contention because of his situation. He’s got a coach with a great reputation in Tom Thibodeau, and a team that’s got a lot of young talent. Both are extremely hard to come by when you’re a high lottery pick.
- Ben Simmons – Philadelphia 76ers
This should have an asterisk next to him because of his most recent injury. Simmons won’t be able to compete in an NBA game for at least the next three months. The number one overall pick and consensus pick for rookie of the year suffered a significant foot injury that will likely keep him sidelined for the majority of the season.
If he can beat the odds in his rehab, Simmons could likely make an immediate impact for the 76ers. His physical ability, vision, and size are something very few players possess. While he may not be an efficient scorer, he still has the makings of an extremely unique NBA talent.
- Thon Maker – Milwaukee Bucks
Maker came into the draft with so many question marks. From his true age to his raw ability, there were many “red flags.” Even so, the Bucks felt confident enough to take him with the No. 10 pick in this year’s draft. Boasting the highest no-step vertical (32″) of any player over 6’11 in NBA draft history, Maker clearly has tremendous potential.
In Summer League, Maker made opposing teams feel guilty for not putting him on their draft boards. He averaged 14.6 points and 9.6 rebounds in Summer League, becoming a standout due to his size and production.
This preseason, though, it’s been a clear learning curve for him. Maker has averaged 5.5 points and three rebounds per outing in 19.5 minutes a night. While this isn’t great, it isn’t bad either. The 19-year old Maker has tons of potential and room to grow in Milwaukee, but he’ll need to work through his mistakes and continue to be given opportunities to succeed.
Maker can become a double-double machine on the Bucks, but Milwaukee will need to let him play through mistakes in order to keep him confident. With Greg Monroe on the outside looking in and Jabari Parker, Miles Plumlee, and John Henson in the frontcourt, it won’t be easy for Maker to make an impact. But if he can, we may see him breakout and turn into the Rookie of the Year.
Winslow and the Miami HEAT Are “Believing in Each Other”
Justise Winslow discusses the all-around team effort of the Miami HEAT with Basketball Insiders.
The days of LeBron James in Miami are over. Chris Bosh isn’t there anymore, either. No more Ray Allen or Shane Battier. Dwyane Wade is back, but he’s not “Flash” nowadays.
Actually, check the entire Miami HEAT roster; there’s no superstar. They have an All-Star in Goran Dragic, even if he was the third alternate. But during this most recent playoff push, the HEAT don’t have a worldwide household name to plaster all over billboards as a reason for their success.
With 10 games remaining until the playoffs, Miami doesn’t have a player averaging more than 33 minutes per game. Instead, they have 11 players who average at least 20 minutes a contest. Their approach is that of a deep rotation, and its led them to a 39-33 record and the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. All while the rest of the league is star-driven.
One of those key cogs to the Miami machine is third-year wing, Justise Winslow. A former top-10 pick out of Duke, Winslow is enjoying most efficient season so far for the HEAT. To him, the fact that his squad isn’t littered with names like LeBron and Steph doesn’t make a difference.
“I think our team is extremely confident in each other,” Winslow said. “I think that’s a big thing is that we all believe in each other. We play to each other’s strengths, and most importantly we’re a defensive-minded team. We hang our hats on the defensive end, and that’s really what gets us going as a team.”
Winslow isn’t exaggerating. The HEAT is seventh in the NBA in defensive rating. Head coach Erik Spoelstra harps on the team’s defensive scheme and preparation. Without a go-to scorer capable of getting the team 30 any given night, Miami needs to do their job as a collective unit on the defensive end of the floor night in and night out.
“Each night the coaching staff preaching to us that we have enough, no matter who is in the lineup,” Winslow said. “So it’s just about going out there and executing and putting together a good game of 48-minute basketball. I think our belief in each other that we have enough to get the job done is key.”
In the current NBA landscape, a lot of the playoff contenders are centered around players with big resumes and bigger names. As a result, the HEAT get lost in the shuffle of the national conversation from time to time. Their culture of togetherness and slight from the media outside of their city could make for the perfect “chip on the shoulder” recipe. Or so you would think. Winslow doesn’t believe the chatter, or lack thereof, matters any to Miami.
“We don’t pay too much attention to that,” Winslow said. ‘We’re so focused, and locked in on our team, and each other, and trying to win each game. For us, it’s about having the respect of your peers, of the other team. I think every night no matter who we have or who’s healthy, I think teams know we’re going to be a tough, physical team. Guys in this league don’t want that, you don’t want to have to play against a Miami HEAT team that’s going to be physical, that’s going to get into your body, that’s going to make you play a hard, 48-minute basketball game.”
Because of the HEAT’s brand of basketball, an 82-game season can be grueling. For Winslow, keeping his body right throughout the grind is important to him. After dealing with a few injuries last season, and ultimately being shut down for the year last January to undergo right shoulder surgery for a torn labrum, Winslow was determined to make sure he kept his body in check throughout his comeback so he would be available for a long playoff run.
While his numbers aren’t flashy, Winslow is showing improvement. His 49.3 true shooting percentage is the highest of his career, along with shooting nearly 43 percent from beyond the arc, Winslow made strides in arguably the biggest knock against his game since coming out of college.
Because NBA players have the freedom to form partnerships with whichever companies they’d like, Winslow made the choice to strike up a partnership that he felt would not only help him off the court but more importantly, on it as well.
“My partnership with MET-Rx has been great,” Winslow said. “They’ve really helped take my game to the next level with all their nutritional supplements, and the Big 100 bar. So, for me, I’m always looking for ways to stay off my feet, but also get in the best shape possible and this was just a great way to help.”
The grind of the NBA season is also eased for playoff teams by a veteran presence. So, when the HEAT brought back franchise legend Wade at the trade deadline, their locker room suddenly had a face and feel of someone who’s been there before. A player who reached the pinnacle, with the very team that traded for him nonetheless.
Getting Wade back to Miami was crucial for the team’s playoff run down the stretch, and more importantly for Winslow, who benefited greatly from his time with the future Hall of Famer when he was fresh out of college.
“First and foremost, it was great to get him back,” Winslow said. “Just the role that he played in my career as a rookie, and everything I learned from him. But then also, just the energy and positivity that he brought to the locker room, and also the community of Miami, the city of Miami as a whole. It was a much-needed energy boost, and good vibes that he brought back for that post All-Star break push for playoffs. So, it’s just been great having him back, and it’s kind of rejuvenated the team and the locker room, and just the city in general.”
Wade is the MVP-caliber player he once was this time around, though. But that’s okay. This version of the Miami HEAT is charging toward the postseason with a team-first mentality.
NBA Daily: The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.
Michael Porter Jr. is an elite prospect, but questions surrounding his back will determine his landing spot in the NBA.
The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.
While some of the highly thought of college players have made their intentions on declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft known, Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr still hasn’t made his proclamation. Most people in NBA circles believe he’ll be in the 2018 NBA Draft class—you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think he’s in.
Back in November, the Missouri staff was somewhat vague and guarded about Porter’s condition until it was announced that he’d have back surgery on a couple of problematic discs in the lumbar area of his spine. The procedure is called a microdiscectomy and by all accounts was a success.
Porter missed virtually all of his college season but opted to play in the post-season for Missouri, who got eliminated fairly quickly.
There were certainly a lot of ugly things about Porter’s game. He looked out of shape, and certainly wasn’t the overwhelming dominating force he’d been in high school. Some executives applauded his decision to play, even though he wasn’t at a 100 percent. Some pointed to that fact that too many college players play it safe and that’s not always viewed positively. Almost no one Basketball Insiders spoke with was holding the less than stellar outing against him. In fact, most had far more positive things to say than negative. There was one resounding theme from the NBA executives who spoke about this situation—none of it matters until they see his medical.
Assuming Porter does as expected and hires an agent and enters the draft, the next challenge he’ll face is how open he wants to be to teams looking at drafting him.
In recent years, NBA teams have not shied away from using high draft picks on injured or recently injured players. Once a team can get a sense of how the player is recovering, they can make a value judgment.
Agents often use this information and access to the player to help steer their client to the situation they deem most favorable. While fans and outsiders often get caught up in the pick number a player ultimately lands at, more and more agents are concerned with fit, especially for a player that may need time to get back to 100 percent.
Most agents would want to steer their client to a team with favorable medical staff, a team with a proven track record of patience or more importantly, a team with the best chance at a long and fruitful career.
This won’t be good news for some team that could end up in the top 10, as it’s more likely that Porter isn’t made available to everyone. NBA executives will tell you, they can certainly draft him if they wanted to, but most teams won’t draft a player if their medical staff doesn’t sign off, and without information and access how can they do that?
There is a significant financial difference in going third in the draft ($5.47 million) and 10th ($2.964 million) – but several agents commented that the short-term money shouldn’t drive the long-term decision, especially if the player isn’t 100 percent. The fit and situation typically trump everything in these situations.
Another concept to consider is while Porter did play, there are questions about whether he’ll host a pro-day, take part in private team workouts or simply let his body of work drive his draft value.
Almost no one who spoke about this situation believed Porter would take part in the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, as he’d have to subject himself to the medical testing that’s part of that event.
The common perception on Porter is he’s a top-five talent, although it seems more likely that his camp is going to try and work the process to ensure he lands in a favorable situation. That could mean he falls out of top-five selections, simply because he and his agents choose to.
There is still a lot that needs to play out for Porter, including his announcement that he will enter the draft. But given where things stand with him, it’s more likely than not he’s coming into the draft, and it’s more likely than not he’ll have a lot of questions NBA teams will want to understand before his real draft position is clear.
The NBA Draft Lottery will be held in Chicago this year and is scheduled for May 15th. The annual Draft Combine, also in Chicago, gets underway on May 16th.
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NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.