The 2017 rookie class has been one of the more talented groups in recent memory. Multiple players have different qualities that make them all worthy of the Rookie of the Year award. Unfortunately, however, only one can take home the trophy. Entering All-Star Weekend, who is currently in line to take home the accolade?
6. Jarret Allen, Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets recently moved rookie center Jarret Allen into their starting lineup. With the trade of Tyler Zeller to Milwaukee, Allen has not only gained minutes, but has further stepped into Brooklyn spotlight.
He hasn’t disappointed.
Allen’s season averages of 7.6 points and five rebounds across 18.2 minutes a night don’t look like much. However, Allen has exploded in recent weeks with an increase in his playing time. In his last 10 games, eight of which were starts, Allen is averaging 12.9 points and 6.8 rebounds in 22.6 minutes per game. His per 36-minute stats — 14.9 points, 10 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per 36 — show that Allen should only improve as he continues to receive more playing time.
The Nets aren’t winning many games, but they have certainly found a keeper in Allen.
5. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers are winning games without Lonzo Ball. Kyle Kuzma, their other star rookie, isn’t doing much to help them win either.
Kuzma was perhaps the biggest surprise of the season. However, the forward out of the University of Utah just hasn’t been the same since the calendar turned to 2018. While he remains with a more than respectable stat line of 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 45.2 percent shooting on the season, Kuzma has averaged just 11.9 points and 4.6 rebounds on just 40.5 percent from the field in the new year.
It may be the proverbial rookie wall. It may be something completely unrelated. But with their pick either heading to Boston or, more likely, Philadelphia, Los Angeles has no incentive to tank the rest of the season. If they want to continue winning games, the Lakers are going to need Kuzma to get himself right.
4. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls have been bad this season. However, they certainly have more than their fair share of bright spots to keep them upbeat as their season winds down after the All-Star Break. Perhaps the most consistent positive for the Bulls has been rookie Lauri Markkanen.
The Finnish forward out of Arizona has played an integral role in what little success the Bulls have had to this point. Currently averaging 15.3 points and 7.7 rebounds, Markkanen has been one of the most consistent rookies thus far this season, if not the most consistent. He should soon have more space to work on the offensive end as well, as Zach LaVine rounds into form and Kris Dunn eventually returns to the lineup.
While his defense could certainly improve, the Bulls have to be happy with what Markkanen has been able to do this season as one of the better rookies in a highly touted class.
3. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Another forward potentially hitting the rookie wall, Jayson Tatum, hasn’t been the same player he was early in the season for the Boston Celtics.
Tatum hit a rut at the start the new year and has rebounded to a point; he has maintained averages of around 13.6 points, and 5.1 rebounds for much of the season. However, his efficiency, specifically from three-point range, hasn’t been the same since he dislocated his pinky finger in late December.
Tatum is currently shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 43.1 percent from three. While those are still great percentages — even more so for a rookie — they are a far cry from his early-season numbers, which include shooting over 50 percent from three. In the new year, Tatum has shot just 40.3 percent from the field and just 30.2 percent from deep.
During Tatum’s shooting slump, the Celtics have struggled mightily to produce on the offensive end and are currently dropping to the bottom of the NBA in terms of offensive rating. While they can certainly right the ship, they are going to need Tatum to make his shots in order to do so.
T-1. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
Depending on who you ask, the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell may or may not be the most exciting rookie of the 2017 class. He has certainly been the most explosive.
He is also the one best positioned to steal the Rookie of the Year award away from Ben Simmons.
In a season of mounting injuries, Mitchell has been Utah’s best player on the court and has willed a team that was once 19-28 into the Western Conference playoff hunt. Over their 10-game win streak, Mitchell has averaged 21 points, four rebounds and 3.6 assists. His season averages stand at 19.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists.
As the season has gone on, Mitchell has steadily improved in most areas. Most notably, his shooting percentages have increased from their early season lows. Mitchell hasn’t been terrible on the defensive end either, although it certainly helps to have towers Rudy Gobert — recently returned from injury — and Derrick Favors roaming the paint.
He isn’t as complete a player as Simmons, but the excitement Mitchell brings to the court on almost a nightly basis is pushing him far up the Rookie of the Year ladder. If he can keep things rolling in Utah, Mitchell’s name definitely has some staying power.
T-1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers have a true gift in the rookie forward Simmons. He is the most complete rookie since LeBron James first took to the court in 2003. Currently averaging 16.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists, Simmons has had a more than stellar rookie season.
But he is not without his problems.
Simmons still struggles to shoot the ball. One of the few negatives to his game, Simmons’ shooting holds him and the 76ers back greatly on the offensive end. His physical gifts allow him to get to the basket and dunk with ease — having a player with the defensive gravity that Joel Embiid possess has helped here too — but sooner or later Simmons will be put in positions where he is forced to shoot the ball.
Outside of that, however, there isn’t much to nitpick with Simmons’ game. He has been good on the defensive end and can positively impact or change the game in so many ways. Simmons has had his ups and downs, like all rookies, but he has laid claim to the Rookie of the Yea Award since the early goings of the season and he isn’t going anywhere.
It may be a tight two-man rookie race heading into the All-Star break, but the Rookie of the Year race has the potential to become much more competitive if others can break out of their own individual slumps.
Until that point, however, the battle for the award between Simmons and Mitchell should still be more than enough fun for both hardcore and casual NBA fans alike. As the season begins to wind down, expect their play, as well as that of other select rookies, to ramp up as their teams either make pushes towards the postseason or descend into NBA’s basement.
NBA Daily: Trade Watch: Southwest Division
Drew Maresca identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Southwest Division.
As of Thursday, 60 percent of the Southwest division was at or above .500. The Western Conference’s brutal competition will likely fix that as the season grinds on, but the number of surprises in the division thus far is shocking – be they pleasant or otherwise.
Basketball Insiders continues its Trade Watch series with an eye on the Southwest Division, examining players that might be on the move and teams that should be looking to wheel and deal.
- Houston needs Ariza (and vice versa)
The Houston Rockets need help on the defensive end of the floor; they will almost certainly look to add some wing defenders before the trade deadline in February. The Minnesota Timberwolves passed on their offer of four future first round picks, Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss for Jimmy Butler. But fortunately for the Rockets, there’s a player that should fit right in who may be available via trade – Trevor Ariza.
Yes, he would come at a price; but the Rockets see what life is like without Ariza patrolling the perimeter, and something or someone must stop the bleeding. The Rockers are 6-7 through 13 games. They need to recapture some of the magic they tapped into last season, and Ariza is part of what’s missing. They won’t be able to execute a deal until December 15 per NBA rules, which can’t come soon enough for the defenseless Rockets.
- New Orleans should be buyers at the deadline
This is the season in which the Pelicans must prove to Anthony Davis they’re serious about building a winner around him. They made nice additions this offseason in Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle, and they have a nice combo guard in Jrue Holiday.
But still, they’re only 7-7 despite Davis’ extraordinary play. They need a second star (and then some).mFortunately for New Orleans, such a player should be available – assuming he returns fully recovered from injury this season: Kevin Love. The Cavs are not interested in remaining competitive – in fact, they’re nearly openly welcoming losses at this point (Hello, Zion). The Pelicans can include Mirotic, E’Twaun Moore and others in a deal, which should be a net positive for the Pelicans depending on Love’s health.
- DeAndre Jordan
Early reports out of Dallas are that DeAndre Jordan isn’t overwhelmingly popular in the Mavericks’ locker room. And that’s fine because Jordan doesn’t align with the Mavericks’ young core of Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. Dallas should shop Jordan to a team that’s in need of an athletic center.
The Wizards have looked better at times with Dwight Howard on the floor than they did prior to his return. So why not upgrade? After all, it doesn’t seem like they’re ready to break-up the Wall-Beal core.
In return, the Wizards would probably be willing to build a deal around Otto Porter – who, at 25, arguably aligns much better with the Mavericks’ young core. While Porter’s deal extends as long as two years beyond Jordan’s one-year contract, the fact that the Mavericks traded the rights to their 2019 first-round pick to acquire Doncic makes nabbing a young, well-rounded player like Porter all the more appealing.
- Spurs need help at point guard
The Spurs’ 2018-point guard plan broke down before the season started with Dejounte Murray’s knee injury – and the team still needs help. While they don’t seem to have the assets to return high profile point guards like Terry Rozier or Goran Dragic, there are alternate options.
The Knicks have an abundance of point guards, none of whom stands out as a huge difference-maker for them this season, but any of whom could help as a short-term solution in San Antonio. And what’s more, the Knicks probably wouldn’t require much in return – with one caveat being that they prefer to move Courtney Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr., as well. Fortunately for the Spurs, Lee can contribute nicely in Coach Gregg Popovich’s system, assuming he gets healthy sometime soon.
The Spurs should look to flip some of the players who aren’t currently in the rotation for a capable point guard. While New York isn’t sending out capable players for free, the price tag on some of these guards shouldn’t be too high.
- Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol
Both Conley and Gasol are still members of the Memphis Grizzlies, and there have been no rumors of either of them being shipped elsewhere. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be.
The Grizzlies hold first place in the Southwest Division at 8-5 with wins against the Jazz (twice), Nuggets, Pacers and Sixers. They’ve dropped some easy ones, too. Basically, they’re good, but the cold, hard reality of the situation is that advancing beyond the second-round out west will require more than what they currently have on their roster.
Meanwhile, Conley and Gasol are still assets, but aging ones who will return exponentially less every year they’re not moved. Conley is still playing well in his twelfth year, averaging 18.6 points, 5.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game. And Gasol is averaging 14.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in his eleventh season. It would behoove the Grizzlies to put feelers out there to any team that fancies themselves buyers in the lead up to the deadline. The time is now to embrace a rebuild around Jaren Jackson Jr. and get everything they can out of their star point guard and center.
In all likelihood, teams will only become more desperate as the season plays out. With the Philadelphia-Minnesota deal in the books, other teams are sure to follow suit. Considering the parity, every team in the Southwest Division should seriously consider making moves — after all, the division is still entirely up for grabs.
NBA Daily: Role Players Vital to Pacers’ Success
In a star-heavy league, Jordan Hicks takes a look at why role players are so vital to the Pacers’ wins this season.
In today’s NBA, you have to have star players if you want to compete. Gone are the days of having one or two All-NBA caliber players take you deep into the playoffs. Nowadays, with as much talent as there is in the league, you need three or four. And for teams located in northern California, you might even need five.
But does this apply to everyone?
The Indiana Pacers have started the season off on a quiet note. They aren’t doing anything incredibly flashy, nor do they have any overt weaknesses. But they do have eight wins compared to only six losses. Three of those wins have come against teams with above .500 records, and all of their losses have come from the Bucks, 76ers, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, and Rockets – all good teams if you don’t want to look it up.
Most would consider Victor Oladipo a star. Sure, he’s only had one All-Star nod in his young career, but he’s proven on more than one occasion that he can be elite on both ends of the floor.
But apart from him, the Pacers are nothing but a mix of role players. But the role players on the roster aren’t just “good” – they seem to know their roles and execute them to a high degree.
To the casual fan, this would seem like it should be a given. But getting grown men with egos to consistently play their part isn’t as easy as it seems, and the Pacers organization might actually have something to work with. Sure, they are still a star (or two) away from actually competing for a title, but they were one game away from knocking off the former Eastern Conference Champions in last year’s playoffs, and, with any luck, could make it even further in the playoffs this year.
After the departure of Paul George, it was easy to read the writing on the wall. Most assumed that the Pacers would be headed to the lottery for a year or two while they worked their eventual rebuild. The franchise itself has consistently been considered one of the better small market organizations. With players like Reggie Miller, Danny Granger and George – it is easy to see why. They’ve only missed the playoffs five times in the last 20 years. But losing a mega-star like George usually contributes to a negative campaign the following season.
To the shock of the entire NBA, Oladipo led the Pacers to the five seed last year after posting a 48-34 record. Oladipo obviously played a huge part in this, but it was the help of the many role players, most of whom remained on the roster for this season, that likely made the biggest contribution to their positive season.
Through the beginning of the the 2018-19 campaign, the team statistic that sticks out the most for the Pacers is their opponent points per game. They are currently second in the league, allowing only 103 points a night behind only the Grizzlies. In comparison, both teams are also in the bottom two for pace. Controlling the flow of the game seems to be an important part of their game plan, and it is currently paying off as they sit fourth in the Eastern Conference.
The list of role players making a significant contribution for the Pacers is quite long. In fact, over nine players are averaging more than 15 minutes a game. Keep in mind that eight of the nine players have a positive plus-minus, with Tyreke Evans being the sole player to fall under zero at -0.8. Let’s take a look at a few individuals and see what they may be doing to make a significant splash.
Oladipo is leading the team in scoring at 23.8 points per night, but he also leads the team in assist percentage at 24.4 percent and steal percentage at 27.8 percent. His impact on both ends of the floor is tremendous, and he is one of the few players in the NBA that leads his team in usage percentage and still maintains All-NBA level defense on the other end.
Domantas Sabonis is currently leading the team in rebound percentage at 18.3 percent. He is also second on the team in scoring at 14.1 points per game on a 68.8 effective field goal percentage. He’s doing all that coming off the bench.
Cory Joseph is currently posting the highest net rating on that team at 8.4. The Pacers also enjoy their lowest defensive rating, 98.7, when Joseph is on the court.
Myles Turner is starting to come into his own on the defensive end of the court. Currently posting 2.4 blocks a game, good for fourth in the league, his presence is being felt more and more at the rim. While his offensive game still needs to be polished, Turner has done a great job at amplifying his defensive position on the court.
Bojan Bogdanovic is tied for second in scoring at 14.1 points a game. He’s doing so by shooting a blistering 51.7 percent from three on over four attempts a night. He’s second on the team in minutes and eighth in usage percentage, showing just how effective he can be off the ball. He boasts the third best plus-minus and fourth best net rating.
Plenty of other players could get nods here – guys like Thaddeus Young, Doug McDermott, Darren Collison and Evans. This just shows the talent night-in and night-out that the Pacers deploy.
The point of this article is not to say that the Pacers have a legitimate chance to win the East. They’ll likely finish outside the top four behind the Bucks, Raptors, 76ers and Celtics. But the Pacers definitely have one thing going for them – a roster full of talented role players that, in today’s NBA, can certainly be positive when deployed correctly.
We are still very early in the season. Another star could potentially emerge mid-season for the Pacers or they could make a bold move at the All-Star break. It is very unlikely that Indiana brings home a championship this year or even the next. However, they are still a team to watch throughout the season. They are a well-coached squad and play an incredibly selfless style of basketball.
Who knows? Maybe they can turn heads in the postseason. But in the meantime, they for sure prove one thing.
Role players are vitally important to a team’s success.
NBA Daily: Trade Watch Northwest Division
David Yapkowitz identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Northwest Division.
We kick off a new series this week at Basketball Insiders. With the Jimmy Butler saga finally over, we’re taking a look at other players in each division who are possible trade candidates.
Some teams have holes in their respective rosters that they need to patch up. Others have contracts that are expiring or just don’t make sense for the team anymore. Some players and teams just need to move on at this point for a variety of reasons. Here’s a look at some of those situations, starting with the Northwest Division.
1. Tyus Jones – Minnesota Timberwolves
There’s an argument to be made that when he actually receives regular playing time, Tyus Jones is the best overall point guard on the Timberwolves’ roster. He’s been the primary backup for Minnesota for the time being with Jeff Teague out with an injury.
However, with Derrick Rose’s reemergence this season, it remains to be seen what happens once Teague returns. It’s no secret that Tom Thibodeau has his preference for veteran guys and Jones has often found himself as the odd man out. The Phoenix Suns, desperate for a point guard, have been rumored to have interest in him.
Jones was apparently close with Butler, if that means anything, and it just seems like his future is elsewhere. If the Timberwolves aren’t going to use him properly, then maybe a split is necessary. Should Minnesota really look to deal him, they probably won’t have any shortage of suitors.
2. Gorgui Dieng – Minnesota Timberwolves
A few years ago, Gorgui Dieng looked like an up and coming prize for Minnesota. He ended up being rewarded with a big contract based off of that. But since then, he’s seen both his playing time and production decrease.
The Timberwolves reportedly tried to include Dieng in possible deals for Butler in order to offload his contract. Obviously that didn’t happen, and Minnesota is locked into his contract for two more seasons after this one.
Backup big man Anthony Tolliver has surpassed Dieng in the rotation at this point as he’s a better fit as a stretch big man in today’s NBA. It’s hard to imagine any team trading for Dieng straight up with that contract but the Timberwolves could try and include him any potential Jones deal.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder – In Need of Outside Shooting
The Oklahoma City Thunder don’t have any bad contracts per se, nor do they have any players that they’re aggressively looking to move on from. They do, however, have a glaring need and that is three-point shooting.
Currently, they’re shooting 30.1 percent from the three-point line as a team. That’s not going to get it done in today’s league if they truly want to be among the Western Conference’s elite. They do have Patrick Patterson reemerging as one of the better stretch fours in the league (38.6 percent), but after that everyone just kind of drops off a bit.
The Thunder could certainly use the addition of another outside shooter as the season goes on. Kyle Korver is rumored to be available although he’s been linked to Philadelphia recently. Perhaps they could put in an inquiry with the Miami HEAT about Wayne Ellington if the HEAT continues to struggle. Either way, unless the guys they already have step up, perimeter shooting will need to be addressed.
4. Meyers Leonard – Portland Trail Blazers
It’s not that Meyers Leonard has been bad for Portland, he’s actually been decent so far this season. But with the contract he has, Portland isn’t getting the value they expected when they entered that deal.
Instead, Zach Collins has supplanted him in the rotation, and Caleb Swanigan is close to doing so as well. Leonard has been mentioned in trade rumors for some time, so perhaps this season is the one where he and the Blazers part ways. His contract is expiring next season so that might be enticing to some teams.
He isn’t a bad player, and there might be a team out there willing to take a chance on an athletic big man who can run the floor and even stretch defenses out to the three-point line. At any rate, it might be time for both parties to go their separate ways.
5. Tyler Lydon – Denver Nuggets
The writing was on the wall when the Nuggets declined Tyler Lydon’s third-year option prior to the start of the season. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
He suffered an unfortunate injury early in his career and just hasn’t been given an opportunity to prove his worth as an NBA player. He played well in the G-League last season and has promise as a stretch big man. It’s just obvious that it won’t be realized in Denver.
He’s worth taking chance on for a team looking to add intriguing, youngish talent – especially since it shouldn’t cost too much to acquire him in a deal.
As the season progresses, there will be other situations around the division that might emerge on the trade front. But, as of now, these are arguably some of the most active situations to keep an eye on.