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NBA PM: Utah Jazz Assemble Promising Core

The Jazz have assembled one of the best up-and-coming cores in the NBA, with lottery picks at nearly every position … Mavericks void Rashard Lewis’ contract … 2014 Summer League shatters records

Alex Kennedy

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Utah Jazz Assemble Promising Core

In recent years, the Utah Jazz have stockpiled young talent and assembled one of the best up-and-coming cores in the NBA.

Their roster features a number of lottery picks such as Trey Burke, Dante Exum, Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks as well as additional first-round picks like Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood. They have young talent at every position and this team could be very good in several years, if Utah’s coaching staff is able to maximize the group’s potential.

The Jazz hired Quin Snyder as their new head coach this summer, and he’s thrilled to work with this young core.

“It’s been great,” Snyder said. “I mean, the biggest thing is I’m part of a great organization and that in and of itself makes the opportunity a good one. Having the opportunity to be a head coach in the NBA is something that everybody in my profession aspires to, so having that opportunity, I feel very grateful.

“It’s a little early, we haven’t even had our full team together, but I think our goal generally would be to keep getting better. I mean, we want to [improve] every day, every practice. It sounds like a cliché, but particularly with a group as young as we are, that’s something we can aspire to. … We’ve approached it that way where we wanted these two, three weeks [of summer league] to be about growth and our staff has done a great job kind of pulling that out of them while here in Vegas.”

The players recognize that the group they have in place has a chance to be special, and they’re looking forward to developing alongside one another in the coming years.

“I think we just need to continue to grow together,” Burke said. “I definitely think we have the right talent, the right pieces, once everybody comes together during the season. It’ll definitely come along.”

Snyder has made it clear that he wants the Jazz to play at a fast pace with a lot of ball movement, which is something that the coaching staff and players are excited about.

“Hopefully we can get out on the floor and make plays for each other,” Synder said. “Playing with pace, hopefully, is not just getting the ball up the court quickly, but sharing the ball and playing with the pass. I saw some moments here [during summer league] where I was really happy with how the ball moved. We’re not perfect yet, never will be, but our spacing and a lot of things can improve. But I thought there was really a willingness and effort on our guys’ part to play with the pass. It’s just the idea of the ball moving. I think if you run 100 feet and I pass 100 feet, I’m going to win. The ball moves faster than people and if you play with the pass, it keeps people guessing and on the move.”

“It’s good; everybody wants to play fast,” Hood said. “It helps us as a team, and it’s hard to defend. I think that’s the reason we’re playing like that. We’re moving. When we play half-court offense, we’re moving the ball, we’re sharing the ball and it’s hard to guard.”

Having Burke and Exum in the backcourt – two players capable of playing point guard and running the offense – should make it easier for the Jazz to get out in transition. Snyder is confident that Burke and Exum will be able to coexist and form one of the more intriguing backcourts in the NBA.

“I was waiting for the Dante-Trey question,” Snyder said with a smile when asked about the duo. “I’ve talked about this every time we play, every time we practice. To me, there aren’t positions in basketball. If you have five guys on the floor that can defend the five guys on the other team, it doesn’t matter whether you call them ones, twos, threes, fours or fives. Those two guys, I think, can match up defensively with other guards and if they can play together, which I think they can, they really present a matchup problem. I do think that they can be a unique backcourt. And in my mind I see them as a backcourt, as opposed to a one and a two or a three.”

“We’re a tandem,” Burke said when asked about Exum. “We’re on the same team. I definitely think we can both play the point and handle the ball, so I definitely think it will work out.”

“It’s great,” Gobert said of playing with Burke and Exum. “When I get the rebound, I just pass to Trey or Dante, and I know it’s going to be quick so we can get easy baskets. They’re both good passers. Trey, Dante and even Rodney is a good passer – pretty much all the guards. I just want to be aggressive and if they shoot, I just go after the rebound.”

Exum admits that he’s still adjusting to playing alongside Burke, since he’s having to play off the ball and defer more than usual.

“I think I’m still comfortable at the point,” Exum said. “I still want to get the ball in my hands as much as possible. I didn’t get it a lot in my hands these last couple of games. … With Coach’s system, it’s open, but there’s been so many times where I just went away from the ball and let Trey take it.

“It’s just about having the confidence and just being aggressive because there’s so many times where I’m just running up and the down the floor and when the ball comes, I’m just being passive with the ball. I think if I just start to be aggressive [it’ll be better].”

Exum’s teammates came away from summer league extremely impressed with the 19-year-old. His stats didn’t jump off of the page, but he showed glimpses of brilliance and displayed the skills that made him so intriguing during the pre-draft process.

“He is one of the quickest guys I’ve ever seen with the ball,” Hood said of Exum. “He changes speeds just like that. It helps me, him getting into the lane and being able to pass the ball. He’s a really good passer as well. He can score. I mean he’s just ultra-quick.”

“I think Dante is what we thought he was,” Snyder said. “He’s young, he’s got work to do, but he’s a kid with a great deal of pride and a will to compete and improve. I think he’s tired. I think for anybody, let alone if you’re 19, to deal with a lot of this stuff is a lot – in addition to playing. But I think he’s done well, he looks fatigued to me right now, but that’s natural.”

“I’m adjusting alright,” Exum said. “It’s going to take some time, but it’s just about getting the repetitions up and getting some games under my belt. … It’s been tough and this is just a taste of what the real thing is. I look forward to learning from this experience and coming out better. I can’t wait to finally get to start the season. I’ve heard from so many people that it’s a grind, that it’s going to be so different than what I’m used to, so I’m just looking forward to getting into it.”

Burke, who is two years older than Exum and entering his second season in the NBA, is emerging as a leader for Utah and he’ll try to help the rookie guard as he makes his transition to the league.

“I definitely think their ears are open when I have instruction,” Burke said of becoming a leader. “That’s my job, to lead them on the court, get them to spots and set them up where they’re best at. I think I can continue to grow, learning this new offense. I can do a better job at doing so, but I think we’re on the right path.”

“[Playing in summer league was] important for the small things I want to work on. [Improving] on the defensive end, being a leader, running the offense. It’s a new offense for all of us, so we’re still learning how we can get our shots off in the offense, where we can attack and things like that. Playing summer league, a lot of people ask why I was playing, but I think it’s going to help me out. Every time I have the opportunity to play against NBA talent, I’m going to take that opportunity.”

Utah’s best basketball is obviously ahead of them and it’ll be a few years until this team is ready to potentially contend in the talented Western Conference. But Burke believes the team can experience some success in the near future as well, and thinks making the playoffs is a realistic goal for the group.

“We had a lot of big wins last year, and I think we can get a lot of big wins this year as well,” Burke said. “The playoffs is the goal for us this year, obviously, and we just got to continue to work hard to reach that goal.”

The Jazz have a promising young core in place and the future is certainly bright. If all goes as planned over the next few years, Utah may be a perennial playoff team with talent at every position.

Mavericks Void Lewis’ Contract Due to Injury

Yesterday, it was announced that Rashard Lewis would be undergoing surgery on his right knee, just one week after inking a one-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks worth the veteran’s minimum.

Well, the injury was news to the Mavericks, and they have decided to void the contract.

“It came to our attention during Rashard Lewis’s physical that he is in need of a medical procedure on his right knee,” Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said in a statement. “We wish him all the best for a speedy recovery and continued success in his remarkable career.”

Lewis is once again an unrestricted free agent, who’s free to sign wherever he wants once he has recovered from the surgery. It’s possible that he could join Dallas again once he proves he’s healthy, or he could sign elsewhere (perhaps after the season has gotten underway).

The 34-year-old Lewis has played 16 seasons in the NBA and averaged 14.9 points and 5.2 rebounds over the course of his career. He has made the eighth-most three-pointers in NBA history, hitting 1,787 in his 16 seasons.

Last season, the former All-Star averaged 4.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in 16.2 minutes with the Miami HEAT. He played well during the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers and NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, scoring in double figures in five straight games and stretching the floor for Miami by shooting above 40 percent from behind the arc in both series.

2014 Las Vegas Summer League Shatters Records

This year’s NBA summer league in Las Vegas was incredibly successful, shattering all-time records for attendance, NBA TV viewership, digital consumption on NBA.com and NBA Mobile and overall merchandise sales.

There was much more interest in this year’s tournament than usual, most likely because this draft class is one of the best in recent memory. There were a record 513 media members credentialed for the event. Over the 11 days, there were 71,942 people in attendance, which is an increase of 16 percent from last year’s previous record. A new all-time single-day mark was set on July 14, when 8,013 people were in attendance.

This was the most-watched summer league ever on NBA TV, averaging 103,000 household impressions and 116,000 total viewers, which are increases of 40 percent and 28 percent, respectively, over last year. The network delivered six of its top-10 most-viewed NBA Summer League telecasts ever. NBA TV’s opening night game that featured the Milwaukee Bucks and Jabari Parker facing the Cleveland Cavaliers and Andrew Wiggins netted an average of 220,000 total viewers, becoming the second-most viewed summer league telecast of all time.

The NBA’s Summer League Live subscription package, which delivered televised and online access to all live games from Orlando and Las Vegas, received a record number of subscriptions, up 73 percent from the previous season. In addition, NBA.com and NBA Mobile set new records, with visits up 80 percent and videos viewed up more than 70 percent from the previous season.

Merchandise sales were also the highest ever, up a double-digit percentage from 2013 and a triple-digit percentage from 2012.

For all of Basketball Insiders’ coverage of the 2014 summer league including exclusive interviews, in-depth features and game analysis, check out our summer league section here.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Let The NBA Trade Chatter Begin

More than 95 NBA players become trade-eligible this week. Steve Kyler breaks them down.

Steve Kyler

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Let The Trade Chatter Begin

While NBA teams are always talking, whether aggressively or casually, the date most teams circle on the calendar to start really exploring trade options is December 15.

That’s mainly because that’s when the bulk of trade restrictions on players signed during the offseason to free agent deals lifts, but also because most teams have played 25 or more games.

While it’s easy to talk about trades, especially for teams that get off to a slow start, it’s also important to realize teams put in mountains of works assembling their rosters. That includes weeks and weeks of development and planning work, so rushing to tear it all up after a slow start isn’t always smart. Take the Cavaliers as a perfect example. The Cavs were 3-4 entering November looking dreadful, since then, the Cavs have gone 17-4.

Most teams want to give the roster they built a chance because change does not always equal improvement. However, as teams get to the 30-game mark, there is enough of a sample size to know where you stand, which is why trade talk tends to be lower until mid-December.

With more than 95 players becoming trade eligible tomorrow, trade talks are going to start to heat up.

NBA teams are prohibited from trading players signed during the offseason for 90 days or December 15th, whichever is greater.

Players who re-signed with the same team and received more than a 20 percent increase in salary from last season, are further restricted until January 15th.

Players that signed one-year deals with the same team, also gain the ability to veto trades, as do rookie scale players that signed a Qualifying Offer.

Equally, players who had free agent offer sheets matched, like Washington’s Otto Porter Jr., also gain veto rights for the first calendar year of their deal.

With all of that said, here is how the 2017 free agent trade eligibility breaks down:

Atlanta Hawks

Luke Babbitt
Dewayne Dedmon
Ersan Ilyasova (Veto Rights)
Mike Muscala (Veto Rights) 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Boston Celtics

Aron Baynes
Gordon Hayward
Shane Larkin
Daniel Theis 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Brooklyn Nets

Tyler Zeller 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Charlotte Hornets

Michael Carter-Williams
Julyan Stone 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Chicago Bulls

Justin Holiday

Trade Eligible January 15th

Cristiano Felicio
Nikola Mirotic  

Cleveland Cavaliers

Jose Calderon
Jeff Green
Derrick Rose

Trade Eligible January 15th

Kyle Korver

Dallas Mavericks

Maxi Kleber
Jeff Withey
Nerlens Noel (Veto Rights)
Dirk Nowitzki (Veto Rights)

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Denver Nuggets

Paul Millsap 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Mason Plumlee 

Detroit Pistons

Reggie Bullock
Langston Galloway
Eric Moreland
Anthony Tolliver 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Golden State Warriors

Nick Young
Omri Casspi
Zaza Pachulia (Veto Rights)
Kevin Durant (Veto Rights)
David West (Veto Rights)
JaVale McGee (Veto Rights)
 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Andre Iguodala
Shaun Livingston 

Houston Rockets

Tarik Black
Nene
Luc Mbah a Moute
P.J. Tucker
Troy Williams 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Indiana Pacers

Bojan Bogdanovic
Darren Collison
Damien Wilkins 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Los Angeles Clippers

Danilo Gallinari
Marshall Plumlee
Willie Reed
Milos Teodosic 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Blake Griffin 

Los Angeles Lakers

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Tyler Ennis
  

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Memphis Grizzlies

Mario Chalmers
Tyreke Evans
Ben McLemore
Wayne Selden
 

Trade Eligible January 15th

JaMychal Green 

Miami Heat

James Johnson
Jordan Mickey
Kelly Olynyk
Dion Waiters
Udonis Haslem (Veto Rights)

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Milwaukee Bucks

None

Trade Eligible January 15th

Tony Snell  

Minnesota Timberwolves

Jamal Crawford
Jeff Teague
Marcus Georges-Hunt
Taj Gibson
Shabazz Muhammad (Veto Rights)

Trade Eligible January 15th

None   

New Orleans Pelicans

Tony Allen
Ian Clark
Darius Miller
Rajon Rondo

Trade Eligible January 15th

Jrue Holiday  

New York Knicks

Ron Baker
Michael Beasley
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Jarrett Jack
Ramon Sessions

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Oklahoma City Thunder

Raymond Felton
Patrick Patterson
Nick Collison (Veto Rights)

Trade Eligible January 15th

Andre Roberson  

Orlando Magic

Arron Afflalo
Khem Birch
Shelvin Mack
Jonathon Simmons
Marreese Speights

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Philadelphia 76ers

Amir Johnson
J.J. Redick
Phoenix Suns
Alan Williams

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Phoenix Suns

Alan Williams

Trade Eligible January 15th

None   

Portland Trail Blazers

None 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Sacramento Kings

Vince Carter
George Hill
Zach Randolph 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

San Antonio Spurs

Pau Gasol
Rudy Gay
Manu Ginobili
Joffrey Lauvergne
Brandon Paul 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Patty Mills  

Toronto Raptors

Alfonzo McKinnie
C.J. Miles
  

Trade Eligible January 15th

Serge Ibaka
Kyle Lowry 

Utah Jazz

Jonas Jerebko
Royce O’Neale
Thabo Sefolosha
Ekpe Udoh 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Joe Ingles 

Washington Wizards

Jodie Meeks
Mike Scott 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Otto Porter (Veto Rights) 

Tracking all of these details is pretty tedious, which is what makes Basketball Insiders’ salary cap guru Eric Pincus so amazing. If you want to know more about each teams’ cap situation, make sure to check out the team links here for a detailed break down of every team’s cap position and restrictions.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: One Year Later, Yogi Ferrell Continues To Rise

One year after a turbulent start to his NBA career, Yogi Ferrell is still thriving with the Dallas Mavericks.

Ben Nadeau

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It was never going to be easy for Yogi Ferrell.

At just 6-foot-0, there were major concerns about Ferrell and his ability to effectively contribute at the professional level, so the 24-year-old was a near-lock to go undrafted despite his impressive haul of collegiate honors. In 2016, he did not hear his name called on draft night — but for a gamer like Ferrell, pushing on was always the only option.

However, on this particularly cold mid-season evening, Ferrell sits at his locker and studies film on a tablet. He looks comfortable and focused as if he knows that this moment cannot be ripped away from him once again. Today, Ferrell is the Dallas Mavericks’ backup point guard and is settled into a steady role amongst a currently crowded backcourt. For Ferrell, he now finally has the life of an everyday NBA player.

But just over one year ago, Ferrell had to take the road less traveled to reach professional basketball for good.

“It was actually about this time [last year] when [the Nets] decided to waive me and I went back to Long Island,” Ferrell told Basketball Insiders. “I didn’t know I’d be here. I’m just thankful for the opportunity the Mavericks gave me and I’m just still trying to be here in Dallas.”

To be exact, the Brooklyn Nets waived Ferrell on December 8th, 2016. 365 days (and counting) later, Ferrell has earned his guaranteed contract but he’s still playing like he has something to prove.

* * * * * *

In order to fully understand Ferrell’s winding journey, it’s necessary to go back to where his story really kicked off: Summer league. Following a solid audition in Las Vegas — 8.8 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game — Ferrell was shifted to Brooklyn’s G-League affiliate, the Long Island Nets. With the offseason signings of Jeremy Lin and Greivis Vasquez, plus the addition of rookie point guard Isaiah Whitehead, there was no room for Ferrell and he was the last man cut in training camp.

Before the Nets could even blink, Vasquez re-injured his problematic ankle just three games into the campaign, an ailment that would eventually require season-ending surgery. Lin, of course, lasted just two more games before a hamstring injury derailed the key free agent acquisition until deep into the season.

Out of nowhere, it was time for Ferrell.

After waiving Vasquez, the Nets signed Ferrell on November 9th — the same day as his NBA debut, where he logged five points and three assists in a 14-point loss to the New York Knicks. But as the Nets continued to free fall without their veteran point guards, Ferrell grew more confidently into his role and was a solid fit in head coach Kenny Atkinson’s three-point heavy rotation. Over 10 contests with Brooklyn, Ferrell tallied just 5.4 points and 1.7 assists in 15 minutes per game. Nonetheless, for a suddenly talent-deficient roster, it appeared as if the point guard was poised to stick around through the winter.

In a surprise twist of fate, the Nets waived Ferrell to sign Spencer Dinwiddie to a partially guaranteed three-year deal, opting to tie their future to a different G-League point guard instead. Just like that, it was back to Long Island for Ferrell — but surprisingly, it wasn’t something that he hung his head over for too long.

“I knew my next opportunity was going to come — I didn’t know when, but I just wanted to make sure I was ready for it,” Ferrell said. “I had a great coach — coach [Ronald] Nored — and he told me to still go about my business as if I was still in the NBA. I didn’t get all the luxuries, but if you treat yourself like a pro, like you’re there now, once you get there, it’ll make it easier and you can make a splash.”

Upon returning to the G-League, Ferrell continued his hot streak and ended up averaging 18.7 points and 5.8 rebounds over a total of 18 games — both before and after his NBA call-up with the Nets. Ultimately, it wasn’t long before another franchise took notice of the enigmatic guard and the Mavericks capitalized, signing Ferrell to a 10-day contract while both Deron Williams and Devin Harris were hampered by injury. His debut with Dallas saw Ferrell tally nine points and seven assists in a win over the San Antonio Spurs and future Hall of Famer Tony Parker — but somehow, that was only the beginning

Affectionately nicknamed Yogi-Mania — a play on Linsanity, Lin’s historic stretch with the Knicks back in 2012 — Ferrell re-joined the NBA red-hot, even leading Dallas to back-to-back wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers. Quickly thereafter, Ferrell signed a multi-year deal with Dallas and then promptly torched the Portland Trail Blazers for nine three-pointers and a total of 32 points. Over his initial two-week stretch with the Mavericks, Ferrell scored 10 or more points in seven of his first nine games and made a serious claim for a permanent spot in the rotation.

Of course, the multi-year contract offered Ferrell something else he hadn’t yet experienced in the NBA: Job security. After Ferrell’s team option was picked up last June, he was happy to have a role with the Mavericks once again, no matter how big or small. Without the worry of being on borrowed time, Ferrell was able to train, learn the system and embrace of the city of Dallas during the offseason.

“The offseason was pretty good, I played summer league with some of the young guys,” Ferrell said. “It was great to work every day and get to know the coaches better, the area of Dallas better. Headed into training camp, I just wanted to work on my game and I had lot more confidence.”

One of those coaches he’s gotten to know better is Rick Carlisle, an old-school guard that has found success as both a player and coach. Under Carlisle, Ferrell is averaging 9.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists on 42.5 percent from the floor — numbers slightly below his Yogi-Mania marks, but he’s consistently reliable in a way the Mavericks so badly need. Additionally, Ferrell has garnered 28.3 minutes per game so far as a sophomore, good for the third-highest total on the entire roster. Ferrell, who was in the G-League at this time last year, has merited more playing time than any other point guard on the team — a list that includes rookie sensation Dennis Smith Jr. (28.1), J.J. Barea (22.5), and the aforementioned Harris (18.9).

For Ferrell, much of his second-year successes have come from simply putting Carlisle’s words of wisdom into action.

“He’s just always telling me to be a threat,” Ferrell told Basketball Insiders of Carlisle. “First of all, be a threat to score because that’s what opens up everything else. If you’re pushing the pace and getting in the paint, attacking, especially for somebody like myself in my position. You want to just cause 2-on-1s and kicks and find whatever the defense gives us.”

While Yogi-Mania was built off of an electric career-altering hot streak, Ferrell has been a contributor this season in a more dependable, experienced way. Building off the All-NBA Rookie Second Team berth Ferrell earned in just 36 games with Dallas last season, the point guard is now often one of the first guards off the bench, a role that Barea has long excelled in. The comparisons between Ferrell and Barea are all too obvious, the latter being another 6-foot-nothing guard that carved out a 12-year career after going undrafted in 2006.

During the Mavericks’ championship-winning playoff run in 2011, Barea averaged 8.9 points and 3.4 assists, including massive back-to-back 15-plus point outings in Dallas’ series-defining Game 5 and 6 victories. While tearing up the NBA Finals is undoubtedly a long-term goal for Ferrell, he’s just thankful to have teammates like Barea and Harris to learn from on and off the court.

“I always say that I like watching them, especially how they play,” Ferrell said. “I try to mimic the older guys, Devin and J.J., they’re so synced together when they play, it’s something special to watch. I just try to go out there and mimic what they do, they’ve been successful at it and been in this league for a long time, so I’m just trying to learn from guys like them.”

* * * * * *

Precisely, it’s been 370 days since Ferrell was first waived by Brooklyn and found success at the NBA level that little believed was possible. Not one to let an obstacle get in his way, Ferrell went undrafted and still managed to earn a multi-year contract before he even hit 20 career appearances. For his dominating stretch in the G-League last season, Ferrell was named an All-Star — although he was too busy with Dallas to attend the festivities — and he still went on to earn a spot with the All-NBA Rookie Second Team as well.

Overcoming roadblocks and adversity at every turn, it’d be easy to now exhale and relax — after all, his contract is currently guaranteed and he’s got a solidified role in an NBA rotation — but Ferrell, forever hungry, isn’t ready to stop there. Staying motivated isn’t difficult for Ferrell because he knows that much of his journey is still left in front of him and he’s ready to keep climbing upward.

“I’m a winner, I came from a winning program,” Ferrell said. “My mentality is still to prove that I belong here. I just want to win, that’s it.”

For Ferrell, this isn’t the end of an underdog story — this is just the beginning of something even greater.

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Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17

Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.

Shane Rhodes

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It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.

Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.

Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.

stockup456. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls (Last Week: Unranked)

By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.

Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.

Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.

stockup455. Dennis Smith, Jr., Dallas Mavericks (Last Week: 6)

His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.

While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.

stockdown454. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)

While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.

Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.

stockup453. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (Last Week: 4)

Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.

Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.

stocknochanges452. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (Last Week: 2)

Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.

The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.

Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.

While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.

stocknochanges451. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Last Week: 1)

It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.

Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.

So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.

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