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Rookie Of The Year Watch – 11/1/17

Shane Rhodes looks at the top early candidates for Rookie of the Year.

Shane Rhodes

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The 2017-18 NBA season is just over two weeks young, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start looking at the end-of-season awards. Today, Basketball Insiders looks at the Rookie of the Year Award and, while this list will likely change over the course of the season, the race looks like an exciting one. With one of the more hyped up rookie classes in recent memory all vying for the trophy, who has the upper hand at the start of the season?

6. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls

As the seventh overall pick in last June’s draft, Lauri Markkanen was met with a hefty amount of skepticism while the Chicago Bulls were bombarded with plenty of criticisms. Markkanen, however, has been quite the surprise for a Bulls team that is in desperate need of talent. Although the Bulls sit at 1-4 through their first five games, Markkanen has flashed the high-upside offensive ability that he so often displayed during his time at the University of Arizona, averaging 15.6 points and 9.6 rebounds with a field-goal percentage of 43.1 percent. Markkanen has looked more than comfortable from behind the arc as well, canning threes at 41.7 percent clip on over seven attempts per game.

With guard Zach LaVine likely on the mend until December, Markkanen, who currently holds a usage rate of 20.4 percent, should see a healthy number of touches as the most talented offensive option on the roster. However, there are plenty of areas Markkanen can improve his game, namely as a playmaker and defender. Through five games, Markkanen has totaled just two assists along with one steal and three blocks for ugly per game averages of 0.4, 0.2 and 0.6, respectively. These deficiencies have existed in his game since before his time with the Wildcats, but if Markkanen can manage to step up in even one of those areas he could very well see a rise in these rankings.

5. John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

Similar to Markkanen, John Collins has been a revelation for the Atlanta Hawks since his selection at 19th overall last June. Through seven games, Collins has averaged just 11.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while playing just a shade over 20 minutes per contest. Collins, however, has a dominating stat line of 20.4 points, 13 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per-36-minutes and, as the Hawks inevitably feed him more minutes, his per game numbers should see a nice boost. If he manages to play at least 60 games and sustain that per-36 stat line, Collins would join a list made up of just seven other players, including Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal and Elgin Baylor, to do so in their rookie season. While it may be a stretch to expect that type of production from Collins across an entire season, it is encouraging nonetheless.

Something Collins needs to improve is his range; he has yet to take a shot from beyond the arc across 141 minutes this season. Collins has never been one for three-point shooting, attempting just one across two seasons at Wake Forrest, and typically finds himself within three feet of the basket with over 50 percent of his shots coming in this area. Developing any sort of outside game would be a major boon for the Hawks, while adding another wrinkle to Collins’ game would make it much harder for opposing defenses to gameplan for him down the line. Until that development, however, Collins likely won’t be able to make a major play for Rookie of the Year.

4. De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings

While the Sacramento Kings may sit at 1-6, De’Aaron Fox’s play has been as good as advertised. Sitting behind George Hill, Fox has put up averages of 12.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and five assists across 26.7 minutes per game. Per-36-minutes, Fox has produced an encouraging line of 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 6.8 assists. His speed has been explosive and exciting to watch while his shooting stroke looks to be improved from his Kentucky days (small sample size alert). The extremely athletic Fox can be seen consistently hustling up and down the floor and, while his steal numbers are low now — Fox has just four steals on the season — they are certain to rise as he becomes more comfortable in his role after nabbing 53 steals across 36 games in his lone season at Kentucky. Fox has even been praised by another Kentucky alum, John Wall, who he was often compared to during the leadup to the draft. After years of searching, the Kings have seemingly found a keeper at the point guard position.

In order to push the others for Rookie of the Year, Fox will need to continue his progressions as a shooter. While his early free throw and three-point numbers have looked promising, he needs to sustain those numbers in order to remain a force on the offensive end. An improvement on his current -10.4 net rating and an eventual insertion into the Kings starting lineup would certainly help his case for the award as well.

3. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers

As much as people may despise his father, it is hard to hate on the Los Angeles Lakers’ Lonzo Ball. Ball plays the game with a certain intensity and his team-first mentality is constantly on display via his passing. Through seven games, he is averaging 10 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He boasts an assist percentage of 29.2 percent and is constantly trying to initiate offense as soon as he touches the ball, whether that be near the basket or on the opposite end of the floor. Ball’s defense hasn’t been bad either, posting a defensive rating of 102 points per 100 possessions.

Where Ball really struggles is his offensive game, outside his passing ability of course. Ball has been absolutely abysmal shooting the ball to start his career, registering a field goal percentage of 33.3, a three-point percentage of 28.3 and a free throw percentage of 55.6. While part of that is adjusting to NBA defenders, part of it lies in Ball’s wonky shooting motion. Until he adjusts, Ball will be forever flustered as a shooter and a scorer. Another problem Ball faces is the fact that he hasn’t really made the team better overall. While the “Lonzo Effect” was supposed to be a net positive for the Lakers, it has, in fact, been a net negative. When Ball has been on the court this season, the Lakers have a net rating of -11.7 but, when he is on the bench, that number jumps to a +14.7. While Ball is clearly a gifted passer, he has plenty of other kinks to work out of his game as the season goes along.

2. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Jayson Tatum was not supposed to be here, not yet. Coming into the NBA as a 19-year-old after the Boston Celtics drafted him third overall in June, Tatum was expected to mostly ride the pine early in the season, chipping in minutes here and there a la teammate Jaylen Brown a year ago. However, injuries have forced Tatum into the spotlight and he has performed more than admirably in the place of All-Star Gordon Hayward. On the year, Tatum boasts a stat line of 14 points, seven rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.1 blocks per game on 33.1 minutes per game with an offensive rating of 117. Tatum has played a crucial role in the Celtics turnaround after their early slump following Hayward’s injury and his presence on the glass is one that Boston desperately needed last season. His defense has been better than expected as well, going up against the likes of LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo yet still managing a defensive rating of 98.

Tatum still has his flaws, however. As the focal point of the offense at Duke a season ago, Tatum often found himself in ISO situations, going one-on-one against a defender. That ISO mentality can still be seen in Tatum’s offensive game and, when playing on a team with Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and, eventually, Hayward, that won’t fly. At other times, Tatum just does not take the open shot, making an extra unneeded pass or passing up an open three to move into two-point range. Tatum has shot well from three so far, hitting 10 of 20 attempts from downtown, but he’ll need to correct these mistakes as the season goes along as the Celtics make their inevitable Eastern Conference postseason run. That being said, Tatum would likely be the front-runner for Rookie of the Year if not for one point-forward.

1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

Is this really a surprise? Ben Simmons has absolutely dominated for the Philadelphia 76ers and is the clear cut best rookie thus far. Averaging 35 minutes per contest, Simmons holds a ridiculous stat line of 18.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Simmons would be the first rookie to hold those averages since Oscar Robinson did so in 1960. His court vision is impeccable and, playing a majority of his minutes at the point guard position, his size and the physicality of his game can create a mismatch on almost any given play.

Simmons has his problems for sure. He is still not a great shooter; Simmons has taken just four three-pointers on the season and converted none of them. His overall field goal percentage looks nice — Simmons is shooting at a 53 percent clip — but that number is inflated by all of the shots he takes from the inside. While he still needs to become more comfortable shooting the ball outside of the paint, Simmons has a firm grip on the Rookie of the Year award and will continue to for the foreseeable future.

The 2017-18 rookie class looks like a special one, one that should make for a more than exciting race for Rookie of the Year. The season is still young, so expect all of these rookies, as well as others not on this list, to make a play for the top spot as the season goes along and they adjust, learn and improve their overall game.

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NBA PM: Losing Beverley Is A Devastating Blow For Clippers

The loss of Patrick Beverley is a major setback for the Clippers, which could be the catalyst for major changes to the team moving forward.

Jesse Blancarte

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If you ask any average NBA fan to name the ten best point guards in the league, Patrick Beverley’s name probably won’t make the cut. However, based on the injury issues plaguing the Los Angeles Clippers and the early season impact Beverley had on his team, losing him for the season is the functional equivalent of losing a top-ten point guard for the season.

In the 11 games Beverley played in this season, he averaged 12.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.7 steals, while shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc and 40.3 percent from the field. Beverley’s control of the Clippers’ offense and his three-point shooting efficiency were nice surprises for the Clippers early on, but his fearless attitude and aggression on defense were the most important attributes he brought to the team. The Clippers have missed other players recently, including Danilo Gallinari, but the loss of Beverley has been a setback that Los Angeles has been unable to overcome.

“It’s a tough blow for the team, but it’s worse for Patrick,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers told reporters in Atlanta. “We thought it would probably be just meniscus, but it turns out to be a lot more.”

What seemed to be nagging knee soreness turned out to be a serious cartilage injury that required a microfracture procedure. Beverley will miss the rest of the season and his recovery will take roughly nine months. The Clippers had already lost 30-year-old rookie passing sensation Milos Teodosic in the second regular game of the season, whom is still out indefinitely. Los Angeles lost its starting backcourt 11 games into the season and it seems highly unlikely that they can effectively make up for those losses. Austin Rivers and Lou Williams are the veteran guards still available in the backcourt, with rookies Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans offering their support.

Losing Teodosic was a difficult loss, but Beverley had managed well enough without him. With Beverley in the lineup, the Clippers outscored opponents by 4.5 points per 100 possessions this season. Without him, the Clippers have been outscored by 4.3 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com/stats.

Now the Clippers face some difficult decisions. Without Beverley and Teodosic, and with Gallinari missing extended time, the Clippers have fallen to 6-11 and are ranked 13th in the Western Conference. Making the postseason was going to be a challenge even without major injuries and now it seems like a daunting task that will require better health and an extended winning streak or two. However, without Beverley, the Clippers need to consider the possibility of moving significant trade assets now to prepare for the future.

Center DeAndre Jordan is now 29 years old and is set to be an unrestricted free agent next season. Teams are reportedly calling the Clippers to gauge whether Jordan would be available via trade. But earlier this season Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank stated that he is working to ensure that Jordan remains a Clipper through his entire career. However, with the Clippers facing such daunting injury issues and having already slipped to the back of the Western Conference, the Clippers may be more willing to listen to offers on players like Jordan and Lou Williams. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who are dealing with their own issues, could benefit substantially from brining on a player like Jordan. While there are no concrete discussions regarding a deal for Jordan or any other Clipper, this is now a team to watch as we get closer and closer to the trade deadline.

Derrick Rose Reportedly Away From Cavaliers, Contemplating Future

Derrick Rose has struggled with injuries since tearing his ACL in the 2012 playoffs. Now it seems as though the multi-year struggle to get and stay healthy is catching up to Rose, who is reportedly away from the Cleveland Cavaliers and is contemplating his future in basketball.

Adrian Wojnarowksi and Dave McMenamin of ESPN reported this story earlier today and stated that “Rose has been non-communicative to multiple people close to him inside and outside of the Cavaliers in recent days, league sources said.”

Rose, who won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award in 2011, has also struggled to adapt his game to the league’s evolving style of play. Rose has failed to shoot better than 30 percent from the three-point line in the last four seasons and his ability to make plays for others consistently has dwindled as well. Rose has primarily been a scorer this season and has at times displayed his unique ability to attack the basket off the dribble effectively. However, his inability to stay healthy, knock down open three-pointers and be an effective playmaker for others have limited his impact in today’s NBA.

There is still a place in the NBA for Rose should he ever find a way to overcome his injury issues. But after years of fighting that battle, it seems as though Rose is unsure how much longer he wants to keep on fighting.

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Dunn Thriving With New Opportunity In Chicago

After a disappointing rookie campaign in Minnesota, Kris Dunn is thriving with the Bulls, Spencer Davies writes.

Spencer Davies

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Having met head-to-head in Tuesday night’s game for the first time in their careers, Kris Dunn and Lonzo Ball have some things in common.

Drafted fifth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves, the former college star at Providence struggled to adjust to the professional level. He was finding difficulty putting the ball in the basket. He wasn’t nearly aggressive enough.

Part of this was due to an inconsistent role and a battle with Tyus Jones for the backup spot at point guard behind Ricky Rubio, but aside from that, there were significant shortcomings with his game that made people have their doubts about Dunn’s future in the NBA.

But fortunately for him, it was only one year, and — contrary to how most players are gauged these days — one year does not define who or what a player is or isn’t. Sometimes, it takes time or a change of scenery, and so far this season with the Chicago Bulls, the 23-year-old Dunn is showing flashes.

Despite missing the first four games with a dislocated finger, he hasn’t missed a beat. The discrepancies between now and his rookie season are already very apparent.

For one, Dunn scored in double digits a total of seven times in 78 games with Minnesota. Through just 12 games playing for the Bulls, he’s already registered nine of those performances, including recently eclipsing the 20-point mark for the first time with a career-high 22 against the Charlotte Hornets.

So what can you credit for the improvements? Assertiveness, probably. You score more when you shoot more. Dunn is averaging over triple the number of attempts per game this year with Chicago than with the Timberwolves. To no surprise, the numbers are prettier because of it.

It’s a decently small sample size, but Dunn’s effective field goal percentage (46.5) is more than five points higher than in 2016-17. He’s averaging 15.8 points per 36 minutes, pulling down at least five rebounds per game and averaging close to four assists per game as well.

His development on offense has been something, but the sophomore guard’s impact on the defensive end is something to keep an eye on. Though the Bulls rank in the bottom 10 defensively, there is a bright spot when Dunn is on the floor. As a team with him playing, Chicago allows 103.1 points per 100 possessions. When he’s on the bench, that number balloons to 110, which is the third-highest difference among his teammates.

Diving a little further into it, Dunn is seeing over nine attempts against him per game. Compared to other players that see between nine and 10 tries per game, he places sixth on the list, allowing just 41.1 percent of those to be successful. According to NBA.com, he is one of 35 players in the league who is allowing less than one point per possession on isolation plays. At the same time, this could be because he’s sending his opposition to the line a ton. Among guards, he averages the second-most fouls per game (3.3) behind only Dillon Brooks.

That’ll need to change eventually, but the potential is there. Dunn gambles on some reaches with his long arms and taller frame, which is why he’s getting two steals per game. He also ranks fifth among point guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus behind his teammate David Nwaba. Strictly as a hounding defender, we’re seeing what he can become down the line.

Since returning, Dunn has the second-best net rating on the team and Chicago is a net -18.5 points per 100 possessions without him. While that’s not particularly encouraging for the team itself, it proves his importance. Again, the small body of work should tell you to take this with a grain of salt, but at the same time, we didn’t ever really see this in year one.

Whether it’s due to a better opportunity and more touches or more self-confidence on his part, Dunn is playing more loose and free, and he’s thriving because of it.

Maybe, just maybe, one season wasn’t enough to judge.

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NBA AM: Nicolas Batum Is Helping The Hornets Get Organized

Dwight Howard has predictably struggled with scoring efficiency, but Nicolas Batum’s return is already helping.

Buddy Grizzard

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With the Charlotte Hornets below .500 and presently out of the playoff picture almost a quarter of the way into the season, it’s not too early to start looking at what has gone wrong. While Dwight Howard has, predictably, been an inefficient contributor on offense, the loss of Nicolas Batum for much of the early season was a major setback. With Batum averaging 13.5 points and 4.5 assists in his first four appearances since his return, can he be the catalyst to help Charlotte turn its season around?

Batum scored 16 with five rebounds and six assists in his first appearance of the season in a loss to the Cavaliers. Hornets coach Steve Clifford said it’s been a struggle to ease Batum back into the rotation due to his eagerness to be on the court.

“When he feels good, I just leave him out there,” said Clifford after Wednesday’s shootaround. “We just have to be careful because the first night, he gets going in the games and he wants to play more.”

Clifford added that Charlotte’s condensed schedule, featuring seven games in 11 days, has complicated efforts to bring Batum along slowly.

“He just needed to play some,” said Clifford. “I think once we get through this stretch he’ll be good. He eats up minutes anyway.”

Batum working his way back into the rotation could help the Hornets address one of the early issues, which has been the incorporation of Howard into the offense. Batum gives Charlotte another proficient pick and roll ball handler in addition to Kemba Walker, and he should help put Howard in better positions to score.

“It’s a lot different being out there with Nic,” said Walker. “He just takes so much pressure off a lot of us. It’s really good to have him back. He just makes the game easy for a lot of us.”

Three Hornets have executed over 20 pick and rolls as the roll man this season. Cody Zeller has scored 1.14 points per 100 possessions on 22 such possessions. Frank Kaminsky has scored 1.15 per 100 on 33 possessions as a roll man. This scoring efficiency for both players ranks just above the league average.

For Howard, in 24 possessions as a roll man, he’s scored .75 per 100, which ranks in the eighth percentile. In other words, Howard ranks in the bottom 10 percent of the league in pick and roll scoring efficiency. Just as Howard was unable to establish a consistent pick and roll partnership in Atlanta last season with point guard Dennis Schroder, Howard’s possessions as a roll man in Charlotte account for only nine percent of his total possessions.

By contrast, Howard has used 95 possessions this season in post isolation, which accounts for more than a third of his total possessions (35 percent). He’s scoring a ghastly .66 per 100 possessions, which ranks in the 15th percentile league-wide. Of the 17 players who have used at least 50 post-up possessions this season, Howard ranks dead last in scoring efficiency.

Despite these struggles, Clifford said Batum’s re-integration into the lineup has already resulted in more opportunities for Howard, both from direct and indirect assists.

“Since Nic came back now he’s getting the ball a lot more,” said Clifford. “That’s how Nic plays. It’s not only directly from Nic, but Nic will see how he’s playing and touch the ball to somebody else so they can get it to him.”

Clifford sounds relieved to have Batum back in the rotation, almost as if he’s an assistant coach on the floor.

“Certainly [it helps] our efficiency and organization on both ends of the floor,” said Clifford. “It’s the very nature of how he plays.”

With the Hornets just outside the playoff picture in the East, Batum’s return should help stabilize the team in its quest for the postseason. Batum wasn’t available to help ease Howard’s integration in the early part of the season. But now that he’s back, according to Clifford, he’s already been a huge asset to the team’s cohesion.

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