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NBA Daily: How Does the 2017-18 Rookie Class Stack Up?

Basketball Insiders examines and ranks some of the NBA’s best draft classes, including this year’s impressive class of rookies.

Shane Rhodes

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The 2017-18 rookie class has been one of the most productive in recent memory. A myriad of rookies, controversial or not, have all contributed to their respective teams, whether in the regular season, postseason or both.

But how do they stack up against the best? After all, the NBA has had some dominant rookie classes throughout its storied history.

While their careers are still in their infancy, the likes of Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell and others have proven themselves a special bunch. The bar has been set time and time again, but how do these kids compare?

For simplicity’s sake, this list will compare the combined top five win share marks from the 2017-18 group to some of the better rookie groups in NBA history (win shares being an estimate of the number of wins contributed to a team by a single player).

6. Class of 2003-04
Notable Rookies: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade
Top 5 Combined Win Shares: 26.8

One of the most anticipated groups of the last 20-odd years, the 2003-04 class, headlined by then high school phenom LeBron James, are still finding ways to produce in 2018. Four of the top five players went on to play multiple All-Star caliber seasons and, in all likelihood, will end up in the Hall of Fame (sorry, Darko).

However, things weren’t perfect during their freshman campaigns.

Chris Bosh actually led the group, posting 6.2 win shares for the Toronto Raptors. Carmelo Anthony (6.1) with the Denver Nuggets, James (5.1) with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Udonis Haslem — who had gone undrafted in 2002 — (4.8) and Dwyane Wade (4.6), both with the Miami HEAT, all followed.

This class produced plenty of other serviceable players as well. While the likes of Chris Kaman, David West, Mo Williams and Kyle Korver haven’t been superstars like the others, they found ways to produce for their teams and, in the case of West and Korver, are still playing important playoff minutes on their respective teams.

5. Class of 1996-97
Notable Rookies: Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash
Top 5 Combined Win Shares: 27.4

The 1996 rookie class was deep. The group was littered with future All-Stars and also produced three future MVPs in Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.

But, like the 2003-04 group, it took some time before they were playing their best basketball on the biggest stage.

Bryant and Nash averaged just 15.5 and 10.5 minutes per game, respectively, in their first pro seasons. While the likes of Iverson and Ray Allen played big minutes in their first season’s, it took them both multiple years before they were finally able to make an impact in the playoffs. Kerry Kittles (6.9), Dean Garrett (6.2) and Matt Melony (5.3) were actually the top three among rookies in win shares that season, but not many could tell you who they were.

4. Class of 2008-09
Notable Rookies: Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol
Top 5 Combined Win Shares: 28.8

Multiple players from this group contributed solid minutes immediately. Marc Gasol, who had come over after spending some time in Spain, led all rookies with 6.4 win shares while averaging 11.9 points and 7.4 rebounds. Brook Lopez (5.8) posted 13 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. Kevin Love (5.3) averaged 11.1 points and 9.1 rebounds.

While Derrick Rose (4.9) and Russell Westbrook (1.9) didn’t crack the top five in win shares, both posted solid stat lines — Rose averaged 16.8 points and 6.3 assists, Westbrook 15.3 and 5.3 — while Rose took home Rookie of the Year and led his team into the postseason.

Rudy Fernandez (6.1), who played just four seasons in the NBA, and Mario Chalmers (5.2) rounded out the top win share leaders among rookies that season.

3. Class of 2017-18
Notable Rookies: Ben Simmons, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Kuzma
Top 5 Combined Win Shares: 31.1

Simmons (9.2), Tatum (7.1) and Mitchell (5.2) made the difference all season long for their respective squads. Lauri Markkanen and Kyle Kuzma both proved to be major contributors on the offensive side of the ball, while the likes of John Collins, Bam Adebayo, Jarrett Allen and plenty others all found their own ways to contribute.

In terms of pure production, the 2017-18 group has been exceptional in all facets of the game. Simmons, Tatum and Mitchell alone produced over 4000 total points during the regular season. Multiple rookies have had a big impact in the playoffs as well.

And, with the emergence of other players toward the end of the season — Adebayo, Markelle Fultz, Malik Monk and others — this rookie group looks poised to take the league by storm in the coming seasons.

2. Class of 1992-93
Notable Rookies: Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Christian Laettner, Latrell Sprewell, Robert Horry
Top 5 Combined Win Shares: 35.6

Has there ever been a player as physically dominant as Shaquille O’Neal? An instant All-Star, Shaq feasted on competition from the get-go and racked up numerous stats and accolades, including 1893 points, 1122 rebounds, 286 blocks, Rookie of the Year and All-Rookie honors in his first season. Shaq finished 12th in the league and tops among rookies in win shares with 10.4.

As great as Shaq was, Alonzo Mourning (8.2), Christian Laettner (5) and Latrell Sprewell (4) were nothing to scoff at. All three were immediate contributors for their respective teams — all three averaged at least 15 points on the season, Mourning and Laettner both averaged more than eight rebounds while Sprewell averaged 1.2 steals per game.

Others, including LaPhonso Ellis (8), Robert Horry (3.6) and Tom Gugliotta (1.6), had solid rookie seasons and went on to have great careers as well.

1. Class of 1984-85
Notable Rookies: Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Sam Perkins
Top 5 Combined Win Shares: 43.2

Is this really a surprise?

Often regarded as one of the best rookie classes EVER, the 1984-85 class immediately claimed the NBA as their own. Multiple players revolutionized their respective franchises and changed the landscape of the league.

The rookie phenom Michael Jordan (14) led all rookies and was second in the NBA in win shares after posting a stat line of 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists in his inaugural campaign. Hakeem Olajuwon (10.2) completely changed the fortunes of the Houston Rockets, taking them from a record of 29-53 to 48-34 in just a single year. Charles Barkley (7.5) found his way to a more than talented Philadelphia 76ers team stocked with frontcourt talent, including Julius Irving and Moses Malone, and made an immediate impact, averaging 14 points and 8.6 rebounds.

Even Sam Bowie (5.7), often thought to be one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history, had a solid rookie season averaging 10 points and 8.6 rebounds for the Portland Trail Blazers.

The most successful periods in NBA history have been marked with major influxes of talent and youth. Each group, in some form, managed to change the game or grow the culture of the NBA. The 2017-18 rookie class, which has proven itself to be a special group, appears to be in a similar vein.

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NBA Daily: The Memphis Grizzlies’ Young Core Rises

The Memphis Grizzlies have built one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA – and it won’t be long before they’re competing at the top of the Western Conference.

Zach Dupont

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Needless to say, the NBA is flush with some exciting young rosters. Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks, Luka Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks and Zion Williamson’s New Orleans Pelicans are bursting at the seams with talent and, in short order, have sparked discussions as to which team might be basketball’s next big thing.

While each of those teams excites in their own, unique way, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies that stand out from the rest of the pack.

The Grizzlies are led by Ja Morant, their sophomore star point guard out of Murray State. As a rookie, Morant proved he was one of the NBA’s brightest up-and-comers, but he’s taken it to another level this season. While he missed time with an ankle injury, Morant has averaged 22.6 points and 7.0 assists per game on 53.2 percent shooting. Morant is also first in the NBA in fast-break points per game, averaging 5.8 per game.

The bright hooper hasn’t had the hype that someone like Young did early on in the season, but there’s a case to be made that Morant is just as promising as the Hawks’ star guard. Per 48 minutes, Morant is averaging 37.1 points and 11.5 assists versus Young at 33.6 points and 13.1 assists per game. While not a perfect comparison given the former’s smaller sample size in 2020-21, it does show that Morant is absolutely in the discussion for the best young guard in the league.

The Grizzlies already have their cornerstone of the future, but what separates them from the rest of the NBA’s fascinating teams is the organization’s ability to acquire talented role players. Five of the Grizzlies’ top seven scorers are players the Grizzlies drafted in the last four seasons; better, four of them were players selected in the previous two.

Memphis only has two players older than 30, Gorgui Dieng and Tim Frazier, the latter of which has played just 33 minutes this season. That number jumps to three with players 28-years-and-older by adding Jonas Valanciunas to the list.

Lead amongst those role players is the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer Dillon Brooks, the 45th overall selection for Memphis in 2017. Brooks is putting up 15.2 points per game in his fourth season in the NBA despite not shooting the ball well, just 36.9 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from three-point range. Brooks has never shot below 35 percent from three or 40 percent from the field in his career, so it stands to reason his percentages will increase by the end of the year and, with it, his entire scoring output.

Elsewhere, Brandon Clarke, a second-year forward out of Gonzaga, is one of Memphis’ five players averaging over 10 points per game this year, putting up 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. While his scoring numbers are substantial, Clarke’s value comes on the defensive end – much like the two Grizzlies’ rookies, Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman.

Bane and Tillman were picked between 30-35th overall, and through a handful of games, both have well exceeded their draft slots. Bane is averaging 8.6 points per game on crazy efficient shooting percentages of 47.1/48.9/77.8. Beyond that, Tillman has shown his worth on both ends of the ball too, averaging 8.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the Grizzlies’ talented young core which includes two ultra-talented youngsters who have yet to play this season.

Jaren Jackson Jr. may be the Grizzlies’ second-best player behind Morant; last year, he averaged 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 46.9/39.4/74.7 shooting splits. Winslow hasn’t played since early on in the 2019-20 season with the Miami HEAT, before being traded to Memphis at the deadline for Andre Iguodala. During his last full season, Winslow averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game on 43.3/37.5/62.8 shooting splits, making him a valuable wing player that the Grizzlies have just waiting on the bench.

Of course, Memphis is one of the youngest teams in the NBA with an average age of 24.3, second-youngest in the league, and have dealt with significant injury problems early on this season. Despite this, the Grizzlies are one of the best defensive units in the league, holding a defensive rating of 106.66, second-best league-wide. The Memphis offense has struggled so far this year, but a major reason why is because of Morant’s injury.

When Morant plays, the Grizzlies’ offensive numbers are much improved. With Morant on the floor, they’ve got an offensive rating of 115.4, which would be the sixth-best mark in the NBA. Without him on the floor, their offensive rating drops to 103.8, good for second-worst. Given that Morant has missed more than half the Grizzlies’ games this year, it’s no wonder their offensive rating is a 105.66 on the season.

Ultimately, this has left the Grizzlies with a record of 7-6, putting them at the eighth seed in the Western Conference and right in the hunt for the playoffs.

The scary thing is that the Grizzlies are only going to get better. Morant and Jackson Jr. are both 21-years-old, Tillman and Bane are 22 and Brooks, Winslow and Clarke are 24. The entirety of the core is young, while their two best players are hardly old enough to buy alcohol. Even though the Grizzlies are young, they’ve already shown themselves to be one of the league’s best defenses and possess the tools to improve their offense in-house.

Come the end of the season, the Grizzlies will be a real playoff contender – and with such a young roster, it’s only a matter of time before Memphis is competing for more than just the backend of the playoffs.

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NBA Daily: Reggie Jackson Staying Ready for the Clippers

Reggie Jackson hasn’t had much opportunity with the Los Angeles Clippers this season. Still, he’s ready for whenever the team may need him.

David Yapkowitz

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There’s an old saying: “if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.” That saying would certainly apply to Reggie Jackson this season.

Jackson, who joined the Los Angeles Clippers last season after he was bought out by the Detroit Pistons, re-upped with team on a one-year deal. A once-promising young guard that the Pistons pried away from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015 with a five-year, $80 million contract, his time in Detroit was unfortunately marred by injuries and inconsistency.

Still, he was coveted on the buyout market. When Jackson arrived in Los Angeles, the prevailing thought was that he would provide the Clippers with extra guard depth and an additional ball-handler and solid playmaker off the bench. They even had competition from the Los Angeles Lakers for his services.

And, for the most part, Jackson did just that in his 17 regular-season games — including the Orlando bubble seeding games — that he suited up with the Clippers. He put up 9.5 points per game and 3.2 assists while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from three-point range.

But the playoffs were a different story. Inconsistency reared its ugly head and Jackson’s numbers dropped to 4.9 points and 0.9 assists while his field goal percentage dipped to 43.8 percent. The Clippers as a whole were inconsistent, especially in their second-round loss to the Denver Nuggets, and it was unsure if Jackson would be back with the team for the 2020-21 season.

He did come back, although it looked as if this year he was going to have some competition at the backup point guard spot with second-year guard Terance Mann. When the season began, new head coach Tyronn Lue alternated between the two from game-to-game, but eventually settled on a rotation that didn’t necessarily include either of them.

For a young player like Mann, finding yourself out of the rotation might seem like necessary growing pains as your career is in its infancy. But, for a vet like Jackson, it can be tough. Lue admitted as much in a recent call with media.

“It was a hard conversation for me because I thought he had been playing well,” Lue said, “but we couldn’t play all the guys, we knew that coming into the season.”

“He took it well. I think when you’re a veteran, when you’re a pro, when you want to win you do whatever it takes to try to win. I just told him to stay ready, it’s a long season with Covid, with injuries and things like that, you got to be ready.”

To Jackson’s credit, he’s done just that and stayed ready for when his next opportunity should arise.

And, luckily for him, it came maybe a bit sooner than expected.

Last Friday against the Sacramento Kings, the Clippers found themselves without both Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams. And, so, Jackson found himself in the starting lineup.

In the win against the Kings, Jackson finished with 11 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists, shot 50 percent from long-range and even threw down a dunk in traffic. After the game, he joked that his teammates had been teasing him for not dunking and for being 30 years old. That moment made him feel like he was younger again.

“It feels good, especially at 30. Seeing the open lane and having a chance to attack,” Jackson said. “I’ve had an injury-plagued career these past few years, I just feel like I’m getting my legs back under me and feel somewhat 20 again, it felt great to go out there to get a dunk.”

“I’m just glad to get it in there. I got a little nervous.”

Before being told he was going to be out of the rotation, Jackson had strung together some solid games off the bench as Lue was experimenting with the lineup. In the Clippers Dec 29 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jackson had perhaps his best game of the season with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and a block.

He followed that up with another strong performance in a win against a good Portland Trail Blazers team with 11 points, 2 assists and 66.7 percent shooting from the field including 50 percent from downtown. Jackson understands that some nights he might not see any playing time while other nights he may be called upon to provide a spark.

“I just want to be ready, I’m just trying to stay ready for anything and whenever my name is called this year,” he said. “I just try to manage the point guard like a quarterback, on wins. There’s things I can improve on, things I could be better at. For the most part I just want to find a way to help my team get a win.”

With the return of Beverley, Jackson only played 13 minutes off the bench in the Clippers most recent game against the Indiana Pacers. Still, he figures to be a regular in the rotation with Williams still day-to-day and Lue has liked what he’s seen from him in these recent wins.

“He’s a point guard, he did a good job with catch and shoot, distributing the basketball, but also running the team,” Lue said. “That’s what we expect him to do. I’m happy for Reggie, staying ready and being a professional.”

For Jackson, one of the things that have helped him the most this season is having two championship-caliber point guards on the sideline in Lue and assistant coach Chauncey Billups, as well as assistants Larry Drew and Kenny Atkinson who were solid point guards in their playing days, too.

Although he’s a veteran, he’s always trying to learn and always trying to improve and he feels like this is the best group for him to learn from.

“They’re helping me day-in and day-out. Having a slew of point guards and great minds at the helm is just helping me with my maturation and seeing the game,” Jackson said. “Having somebody to bounce ideas off of steadily, I think it’s working really well right now. I’m just fortunate to have their minds and try to pick their brains as much as possible. I know I’ve been doing this 10 years but to have those guys in my corner, they’ve forgotten more basketball than I know. I always try to soak it up.”

And if Jackson can continue to refine his game — to pick up what he can as he picks the brains of Lue, Billups and the others — and stay ready, he just might come up big for Los Angeles when they need him most.

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NBA Daily: Youth Fueling San Antonio

Gregg Popovich has typically relied heavily on his veteran players. Now, he has a cast of young talent that is fueling a Spurs resurgence. Chad Smith puts the spotlight on the rising stars in San Antonio.

Chad Smith

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Last season was strange for everyone, but especially San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. It was the first time in his 25-year tenure that his team missed the playoffs. Heck, it was the first time his team ever finished with a losing record since he took the job in 1996. But, in spite of that season and the fact that Popovich will turn 72 next week, his motivation and excitement are still there.

Popovich has done it and seen it all during his time on the bench. From winning five NBA titles to coaching countless Hall of Fame players along the way. His list of accomplishments is endless, but the coaching job he is doing this year might just rank right near the top.

Most teams around the league are either primarily comprised of young and inexperienced players or made up mostly of veterans who know how to manage the game. You won’t find many that have a nice mixture of both, let alone having the talent that the Spurs seem to have. Their roster doesn’t have an All-Time great player, either; you won’t find a Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Manu GinĂłbili or Tony Parker here. They have a great veteran duo, to be fair — both DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are capable of playing at a high level — but neither can be asked to carry a team at this stage of their respective careers.

It is Popovich’s job to take those ingredients and cook up something special. And it’s here where his and San Antonio’s player development abilities shine through.

The 2019 NBA Draft was oozing with talent at the top with guys like Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and RJ Barret taking the spotlight. And while no one wants to miss out on the postseason, their down year could have been a blessing in disguise for Spurs, who have long had a knack for plucking hidden gems in the first round. Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Keldon Johnson were all drafted by the Spurs as the 29th overall selection.

And this season, while White has only played one game because of an injury, it has been the duo of Murray and Johnson that has been the spark for a reinvigorated San Antonio.

Murray, in particular, is finally having the breakout season that many envisioned. He has improved his scoring average by five points per game and is posting career-high averages in rebounds, assists and free throw percentage. Not only is he hitting the free throws, but Murray is also getting to the line more often instead of settling for mid-range jumpers.

As good as Murray has played thus far, it has been Johnson’s emergence that has been turning heads around the league.

Not many players from the loaded 2019 draft have busted onto the scene in their second year quite like Johnson has. After appearing in just 17 games last season, the former Kentucky product has elevated his game to new heights. So far this season he is averaging 14 points and seven rebounds while starting every game for San Antonio.

While his minutes and shot attempts have greatly increased in his new role, Johnson has maintained an efficiency that has allowed him to blossom. The Spurs desperately need some floor spacing, as they rank in the bottom five of the league in terms of three-point shot attempts; Johnson’s ability to shoot both vital to their strong start and has been heavily relied upon with guys like DeRozan, Murray and Aldridge all making their living in the mid-range area.

Johnson also has the tools and intelligence to make a major impact on the defensive end of the floor. His large frame allows him to guard bigger players and take contact, while his length and athleticism make him a great closeout defender. Popovich has relied on him heavily in their games where they’ve had to face the likes of LeBron James, Christian Wood, Pascal Siakam and former Spur Kawhi Leonard.

White’s prolonged absence has opened the door for another youngster, Lonnie Walker, who has flourished with the opportunity. There is a reason San Antonio took him with the 18th overall pick a few years ago and, now, he seems to be putting it all together. His scoring and efficiency have drastically improved, while his patience and understanding of what is happening on the floor seem more apparent.

Walker has always had elite-level athleticism, but he has worked on his jump shot and finishing ability at the rim. He has been one of their best scoring options this season, capable of putting up 20 points or more on any given night. Walker and Popovich have given much of the credit to Murray’s leadership.

The 24-year-old point guard seems to be establishing himself as the leader of this team. His patience running the offense and finding teammates in half-court sets has been crucial. Their transition game has been thriving as well, with their young guys getting downhill and putting pressure on defenders. They rank in the top-five in terms of drives per game, as Popovich has emphasized the importance of getting to the rim and creating open shots for others.

Another statistic that Popovich has to be thrilled with speaks volumes about the growth of his backcourt: the Spurs turn the ball over less than any other team in the league. In fact, they are the only team that commits fewer than 10 turnovers per game.

Confidence plays a major role in how well a player develops. And it appears as though Popovich has instilled confidence in Murray and Walker, which has enabled them to take off. Johnson’s confidence was evident last season, where he erupted in his final games at the bubble in Orlando.

Just as he has injected confidence into his young guys, Popovich has channeled patience and better decision-making into DeRozan as well. No longer is he forcing up shots and shying away from the three-point line. It may have taken a bit longer than many expected, but Popovich may have molded DeRozan into the best version of himself.

Whether attacking their talented trio of young players or a veteran like DeRozan, Aldridge or Patty Mills, San Antonio is going to be a tough team to keep down or put away. The Western Conference is stacked once again but, while they may roster the same names as last season, this Spurs team is vastly different.

And, if they continue to grow and trust one another, there could be another playoff run on the horizon for Popovich and San Antonio.

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