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NBA Rookie Of The Year Watch – 2/14/18

Shane Rhodes provides his weekly check in on the NBA’s impressive 2017 rookie class.

Shane Rhodes



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.


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Mitchell Robinson May Prove Competence of Scott Perry

Scott Perry is still fairly new on the job, but it’s impossible to argue with the early returns.

Moke Hamilton



With some eye-popping performances, the neophyte simultaneously caught the attention of the New York Knicks and front offices and scouts across the league.

Sure, merely a few weeks ago, he was largely considered an unknown quantity, but after an impressive stint at the Las Vegas Summer League, we all know his name.

It’s Mitchell Robinson.

Like his fellow rookie Kevin Knox, in short order, Robinson has caused quite a bit of a stir.

He’s just the latest example of things that Scott Perry has done right.

As players like Brook Lopez and Isaiah Thomas accept contracts barely worth enough to buy LeBron James lunch on a consistent basis, the predictions of a “nuclear winter” for NBA free agents seem to have mostly come to fruition.

For the past two summers, general managers and team executives have spent their money as if it were on fire, and as a result, we’ve seen many of the league’s teams watch their flexibility go up in smoke.

Since hiring Perry, the Knicks have done the opposite. Time and time again, the message tossed around internally at Penn Plaza has mirrored what we’ve been told publicly—the Knicks believe they will have a serious shot at signing a marquee free agent in 2019 and have put their emphasis on shedding salary to the best of their abilities.

It took all of one summer league game for us to learn that the club had signed Robinson to a team-friendly four-year contract. According to the New York Post, the deal is only guaranteed for three years and $4.8 million. If Robinson comes anywhere near the productivity he showed in summer league, the value and return on investment will be remarkably high.

So if you’re keeping count, let the record fairly reflect that Perry’s major moves for the Knicks have been trading Carmelo Anthony, hiring David Fizdale, drafting Kevin Knox and Robinson, and subsequently strategically managing his salary cap situation so that he could offer Robinson a contract that was so advantageous to the Knicks that some believe Robinson fired his agent as a result.

With the Knicks, Robinson will have to earn playing time and beat out Enes Kanter and Luke Kornet for minutes, but Kanter isn’t considered to be a core member for the club’s future, so the task doesn’t appear that difficult.

What this all means in the end is that Knox and Robinson will combine to earn just $5.4 million next season.

And what it also means for the Knicks is that the performance of Knox and Robinson at the Las Vegas Summer League isn’t the only thing the club should be celebrating.

It’s fair at this point to say that Perry has both improved the team’s future prospects and made a few moves that at least appear to have been the right decision.

Of course, time will tell, but on the continuum of unknown quantity to certain conclusion, the best you can hope for is a positive sign.

Perry has given Knicks fans quite a few. And when you realize that the selection that the club used to grab Robinson was a critical piece of the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City—a trade executed by Perry—that statement becomes all the more credible.

* * * * * *

It’s been quite some time since the Knicks had two rookies who opened eyes the way Knox and Robinson have. What’s been most pleasing about the two, however, have been the ways in which they complement one another on the basketball court.

Knox has impressed mostly with what he’s done on the ball, while Robinson has for what he’s accomplished off of it. The instincts and timing that Robinson has in conjunction with his athleticism are quite reminiscent of Marcus Camby.

In hindsight, we can fairly proclaim Camby to have been ahead of his time. Camby was the prototype to which players like Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan aspired.

As a big man, Camby was one of the few players in the NBA who could capably guard all five positions on the basketball court and wasn’t at the mercy of an opposing point guard when switched out on a pick-and-roll. His nimbleness and second jump ability were remarkable for a man his size, and it didn’t take long for him to find his niche playing alongside more offensively talented players such as Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell and Larry Johnson.

We don’t know if Robinson himself will succeed in the NBA, but we do know that his archetype is the kind that does. So much of what gets young players drafted and paid in the NBA is about physics. If a guy can do one or two things better than other players his size, the job of his coaches and front office is to find ways to maximize those advantages and fit them within a team concept to exploit inferior players at his position.

That concept has been where the Golden State Warriors have run circles around the rest of the league. So no, while you can’t conclude that Robinson is going to end up being anything near the player that Marcus Camby was, what you can conclude is that he has the physical gifts to be effective. Whether he ends up being effective will ultimately boil down to what Robinson has inside of him and what David Fizdale is able to do to bring it out.

Rest assured, though, to this point, Scott Perry has certainly done his job.

That much is a fact.

* * * * * *

Of all words in the English language, “irony” and its adjective (“ironic”) are among those that are most often misused. Irony is often confused with coincidence.

In its simplest term, irony is meant to describe a situation where there’s an occurrence that’s the opposite of what should have been expected.

In other words, just a few weeks after Carmelo Anthony dropped a career-high 62 points on the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden, a reporter asked him whether it was “ironic” that the Hornets also yielded 61 points to his buddy LeBron James in Miami.

That wasn’t ironic. That was just Charlotte.

On the other hand, irony was more along the lines of the Denver Nuggets seemingly becoming a better and more cohesive team after Anthony’s talents had been traded to New York.

To do you one better, a more recent example of irony can be found in the fact that Isaiah Thomas was traded by the Boston Celtics after recording the highest single-season scoring average of all time among player shorter than six-foot tall.

Irony is fans of the Los Angeles Lakers having no choice but to embrace LeBron James after spending the entirety of his existence downplaying his career accomplishments in order to properly exalt Kobe Bryant.

Most appropriately, though, for a fan of the New York Knicks, irony is knowing that, despite Kristaps Porzingis being on the shelf and the Knicks not signing or trading for any big named player, there’s probably more reason to be optimistic about the club’s future than there has been in recent memory.

Yea. That’s irony. The Knicks have always been looking for their savior—before Carmelo Anthony, it was Stephon Marbury.

In it all, who would have thought that the franchise’s savior could end up being Scott Perry?

Like Knox and Robinson, it’s still a bit early to certainly declare that Perry is who will lead the Knicks from the abyss.

But just like Knox and Robinson, to this point, it’d be quite difficult to argue with the early returns

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Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

Basketball Insiders



Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding up to four new voices in 2018, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team other than in New York & LA; we are full in those markets.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.

Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.

If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:

Your Name:

The NBA Market You Live Near:

And Why We Should Consider You:

We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful. E-mail that to


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NBA Daily: Yuta Watanabe Using Versatility, Defense To Push Forward

Undrafted forward Yuta Watanabe impressed all week at Summer League for the Brooklyn Nets — now he’s ready to do whatever it takes to get an NBA opportunity.

Ben Nadeau



Heading into Las Vegas Summer League, it finally became difficult to look past the Brooklyn Nets. After three-straight seasons merely existing in the equivalency of basketball purgatory, the Nets brought an exciting, young roster out west — one that included Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and their two recent first-round selections, Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs. But when three of the four marquee names ended up watching from the sidelines, Brooklyn needed somebody to save the day — and as it turned out, his name was Yuta Watanabe.

Watanabe, 23, was an undrafted four-year senior out of George Washington this summer, but very quickly, the 6-foot-9 prospect has made a name for himself. Through his five games in Vegas, Watanabe averaged 9.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 41 percent from the floor, while nearly leading the banged-up Nets in minutes along the way. And although they were the only winless team in Vegas, Watanabe was a major bright spot for Brooklyn and said that he felt himself improving early in the process.

“Yeah, I’m starting to get comfortable,” Watanabe said following a recent Summer League defeat. “Our teammates didn’t know each other and we didn’t play well today — but fourth quarter, I thought we played together. I could attack the rim more, so I think I’m getting comfortable right now.”

Of course, Watanabe’s eye-opening stretch is not an indictment on every other franchise for not taking a late flier on the Japanese-born shooter either. With front offices looking to lengthen and shape the careers of their draftees at every turn, seniors are often passed up in favor of younger potential. In 2018 alone, only 11 seniors were selected at all — Grayson Allen and Chandler Hutchison were the lone first-rounders — a number down two from the year prior.

In spite of his pre-draft workouts and favorable numbers at George Washington (16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks per game), Watanabe was always a long-shot to get drafted. But given the inroads to the NBA via the G-League or a two-way contract, Watanabe is far from finished in chasing his professional dreams.

“I was so excited — right after the draft, my agent called me and he told me: ‘You’re playing with the Nets.’” Watanabe told Basketball Insiders. “I was so excited, also he told me that there was going to be a lot of international players. As an international player, I was like so hyped.”

And it’s true, the Nets — led by general manager Sean Marks, a native New Zealander — have made a concerted effort to search out and acquire talent however possible. Watanabe was joined on the roster by the aforementioned Musa and Kurucs, of Bosnia and Latvia, respectively, Shawn Dawson of Israel, Ding Yanyuhang of China and Juan Pablo Vaulet, an Argentinian stash that’s one of the final holdovers from the last front office regime.

But while Watanabe may not hold a guaranteed contract, his noteworthy run with the Nets in Vegas could put him in pole position to earn one of those elusive two-way deals. Last season, the Nets ended the year with James Webb III and Milton Doyle, the latter of which the franchise tendered a qualifying offer to late last month, as their two-way assets. Still, things can change awfully fast in the NBA and Watanabe definitively fills two needs that Brooklyn has long sought-after since Marks took over in February of 2016: Multi-positional defense and reliable three-point shooting.

During his final season at George Washington, Watanabe hit on 36.4 percent of his long-range attempts and averaged 1.6 blocks per game as well — fully transforming into the flexible prospect he is today. In fact, the Nets have struggled to find consistent three-point shooting in the frontcourt since Brook Lopez was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, so Watanabe could be useful at that tricky stretch four position.

Although it’d be a new adventure for the defensive-minded grinder, Watanabe is up for it all the same.

“I mean, that’s one of my strengths, versatility is one of my strengths. If they want me to play four, I’m fine with that,” Watanabe said. “If I can hit shots — I’m 6-foot-9, long, athletic, so I have no problem playing the four.”

Of the nine Nets players to make one or more three-pointers per game last season, just two of them — Quincy Acy and Dante Cunningham — regularly slotted in at power forward. And beyond that, only Joe Harris, Nik Stauskas, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll and Cunningham finished their 2017-18 campaigns with a higher three-point percentage than Watanabe. As a team, the Nets tossed up 35.7 three-pointers per game — second-most in the NBA — and converted on just 35.6 percent of them, a rate that left them in the league basement.

Meanwhile, out in the Atlantic 10 conference, George Washington made just 5.5 shots from downtown per game, with Watanabe accounting for 1.7 of them on his own. Certainly, nobody expects Watanabe to immediately continue that success at the NBA level — but there’s a precedence and fit here within a franchise that’s been laser-focused on player development as of late.

On top of all that, Watanabe is the reigning winner of the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year Award and he proved it out in Vegas. Following his final game against the Indiana Pacers on Friday, the former Colonial finished with a total of blocked eight shots and defended both guards and forwards throughout the tournament — a facet of his game that Watanabe takes pride in.

“Defense is also [one of] my strengths in college too,” Watanabe said. “I can’t remember how many blocks I got today, but I was able to show that I can play defense — even at the four.”

The recent acquisitions of Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur will make Watanabe’s path to a big-league opportunity that much harder — but the Nets have also benefitted from a strong G-League affiliate in recent seasons as well. So even if Watanabe doesn’t receive a two-way contract, he may have landed with a franchise well-suited to bring the very best out of him.

Should Watanabe ever reach the NBA, he’d be just the second-ever from Japan to do so — following in the footsteps of Yuta Tabuse, a 5-foot-9 point guard that played in four games for the Phoenix Suns back in 2004-05. But for now, Watanabe is all about helping out his new franchise in whatever way he can — whether that’s from behind the arc or below the rim.

“Make some open shots, play defense and just play as hard as possible — so I think that’s my job right now.”

Nobody knows what the future holds for Watanabe quite yet — but as of now, he’s doing exactly that.

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