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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 Daily: Lessons From The 2018 NBA Draft

After a wild 2018 NBA Draft, here are four lessons and storylines worth watching over the next few years.

Ben Nadeau

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Now that the dust has settled on an unpredictable NBA Draft — what exactly have we learned? In amongst the unrelenting rumors, refused workouts and surprise reaches, there are a few key takeaways from Brooklyn. Of course, some of these are one-off instances, but others are definitely part of modern-day draft patterns. While draft night may sometimes seem like complete chaos or chance, each scenario on this rundown has been boiling over for weeks. Between passing on a talented prospect to letting an injured one slide, here are four important lessons from the 2018 NBA Draft.

Luka Dončić… Not The No. 1?

For months and months, it appeared as if Luka Dončić was poised to become the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Even today, it’s hard to believe that somebody with Dončić’s age and resume wasn’t the top selection. In 2017-18 alone, the Slovenian took home EuroLeague MVP and Finals MVP plus ACB MVP, with championships in both leagues to boot — but here we are. Dončić averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals over just 25 minutes per game, quickly transforming into the most well-rounded overseas prospect of all-time. But as impressive as Dončić was throughout the spring, the potential ceilings of both DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III eventually won out.

At 7-foot-1, Ayton’s 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game were undeniably worthy of a top selection too, pairing well alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson for the foreseeable future. While the jury is still out on Bagley III — his defense needs some major fine-tuning — he won’t take key touches away from De’Aaron Fox either. More or less, nobody wants to be the organization to miss on such a franchise-altering pick. The Suns, Kings and even the Hawks may eventually regret passing on Dončić, but when general managers’ entire careers can depend on making the right choice at the right time, it’s not difficult to understand why the top of the draft unfolded as it did.

Playing Hard To Get Doesn’t Always Work Out…

As draft boards began to take shape, there was one particularly interesting situation sitting at No. 4 overall. Jaren Jackson Jr., solidly leading the second tier of prospects, was looking like a lock at the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick — but with one major caveat: Jackson Jr. reportedly didn’t work out or give his medical information to the franchise. After he was drafted, Jackson Jr. called those rumors “a tad out of context” — but, obviously, those are some massive red flags. Either way, Memphis went with their gut and selected the talented forward anyway.

But beyond all that, Memphis absolutely made the right move by sticking to their guns. Putting a modern three-point shooting, defensive-minded athlete next to Marc Gasol should prove to be an absolute nightmare for years to come. Naturally, Jackson Jr. will get plenty of easy looks from the stellar Mike Conley Jr. too — so if the draftee was once apprehensive, surely that will pass soon. Still, it reflects on a larger NBA pattern, wherein which prospective athletes sensibly look to mold their own path out of college. With players trying to control their draft narratives more than ever, it’s reassuring to see that some franchises will take their target first and then figure out the rest.

We may never know Jackson Jr.’s full thought process behind not working out for the Grizzlies, but there’s a great chance that the former Spartan was made for Memphis’ tough brand of basketball — and we should all be glad we’ll get to see it.

…But Injuries Will Lead To A Slide

Michael Porter Jr. — what a year for him, huh?

After missing out on much of his only collegiate season due to back surgery, Porter Jr. promised that he was feeling better than ever. But over the last month, scouts and front offices were treated to canceled workouts and hazy uncertainty. And, at the end of the day, it probably scared a handful of franchises away from the talented scorer. Just this week, the Kings heavily considered Porter Jr. at No. 2 overall — but even with that sudden unlikelihood passing by, few thought he’d drop out of the top ten altogether. Outside of the guaranteed money that Porter Jr. will miss out on, redshirting his rookie year may also be on the table as well.

The inherent upside with Porter Jr. is obvious, but — similarly to the Dončić issue — it’s tough to ask franchise officials to stake their livelihood on the prospect’s health. If Porter Jr.’s lingering issues stay with him and he never reaches his mountain of potential, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The 19-year-old would fall all the way down to No. 14, where the Denver Nuggets gladly scooped him up. During the combine in May, Porter Jr. called himself the best player in the draft — but it’s now up to him to prove them all wrong.

The Mysterious Men Nearly Miss Out

Let’s rewind to early April. Villanova had been just crowned NCAA champions for the second time in three years, the NBA playoffs were soundly on the horizon and mock drafts had begun to consistently pour out. Early on, there were two athletic big men that looked like shoo-ins as first-rounders: Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson. Despite their undercooked skill-sets, both players pulled out of the combine and then waited for the hype to build — except, well, it didn’t. Williams, who was typically projected in the early teens, slipped out of the lottery entirely, only to be rescued by the Boston Celtics at No. 27. Williams is a booming, powerful prospect, but he could’ve really benefited from competing against the other top prospects in May.

Although he’s now landed in an ideal situation with Brad Stevens, Al Horford and a process-driven Celtics squad, Williams likely cost himself a whole load of money over the last 30-plus days as well.

In Robinson’s case, many believed his floor was the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 — rumors swirling that the 7-foot-1 center even received a promise from the illustrious franchise. Instead, Robinson dropped to the New York Knicks at No. 36 overall. Robinson had originally committed to Western Kentucky in July of 2017 before dropping out to prepare for the draft. After skipping the combine last month, Robinson indeed exhibited the potential to be both a steady shot-blocker and three-point maker during his individual evaluations. But with little to go off of but high school highlight reels and small session workout tapes, he understandably fell.

Sometimes the hype is impossible to ignore, but not participating in the combine and staying as mysterious as possible hurt these ultra-talented prospects.

While the 2018 NBA Draft wasn’t quite the trade-heavy, drama-laden extravaganza much of the world expected, there are plenty of narratives to reflect upon. At the end of the day, the ink is barely dry on this year’s festivities and it’ll be some time before there’s any indication of these successes or failures. Still, there are lessons to be learned from every draft, workout or injury process and these are four conversations worth considering as the NBA quickly rolls into the summer league season.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Losers of the NBA Draft

Shane Rhodes breaks down the losers of the 2018 NBA Draft.

Shane Rhodes

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The 2018 NBA Draft season has come to a close. And, while the actual draft wasn’t the fireworks show that it could have been, there was still plenty of surprises, both good and bad.

While Basketball Insiders’ Simon Hannig discussed the winners of the draft, not everyone was so fortunate. And, while the draft can come down to chance, some teams were worse off than others.

Let’s take a look at some of the bigger losers from draft night

Mikal Bridges

Talk about heartbreak.

Mikal Bridges was going home. The Philadelphia 76ers selected the Villanova standout with the No. 10 pick. Bridges did an entire press conference, talking about what it was like to be staying in Philadelphia. His mother, Tyneeha Rivers, is even the Global VP of Human Resources for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the team. It was perfect.

And then it wasn’t.

It’s hard to not feel bad for Bridges, who was dropped into a dream scenario and then had it all ripped away. Going to the Phoenix Suns, an organization heading in a new direction, to play alongside plenty of young, high upside talent, including No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton as well as former lottery picks Josh Jackson and Devin Booker, isn’t the worst thing in the world for the rookie forward. Bridges could even flourish in Phoenix.

But it certainly won’t compare to playing under the bright lights in Philadelphia alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid come next April and for years to come.

Michael Porter Jr.

One year ago, Michael Porter Jr. was a top three draft prospect projected to go as high as No. 1 overall. However, with rumors of questionable medicals swirling throughout the draft process, he dropped all the way to the Denver Nuggets at No. 14 overall.

While Porter will certainly welcome the chip on his shoulder, the lost earnings will definitely hurt him and his pocket. Porter is missing out on millions on his first NBA contract. Plus, the sheer amount of teams that balked at his medicals doesn’t bode well for his long-term future in the NBA.

It isn’t all bad for Porter; Denver has a young, talented roster and was one win away from a postseason birth last year. They can afford to be patient with Porter’s back, should he need to miss some time, as well. Standing 6-foot-11, 211 pounds and with a smooth jumper, Porter still has a great chance to be a star in this league.

Still, it was an inauspicious beginning to what, hopefully, is a long NBA career.

Sacramento Kings

This could apply to the Sacramento Kings roster as well as their fanbase.

The Kings got “their guy” in No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III. And, while Bagley is still an amazing talent, the pick just seems like more of the same for the Kings, who have a glut of bigs — Willie-Cauley Stein, Harry Giles III, Skal Labissiere, Kostas Koufos — on the roster and a distinct lack of high-quality guard or wing depth.

In steps Luka Dončić, the 19-year-old Slovenian phenom. With the Suns taking Ayton with the top pick, the Kings had their chance to shore up their backcourt for the foreseeable future alongside De’Aaron Fox and move another step closer to relevancy.

And they whiffed.

Dončić could very well end up as the best player in the class. While he isn’t the most athletic, Dončić is exactly where the NBA is going; he is a multipositional defender and playmaker that can shoot the three. Meanwhile, Bagley, who is a questionable fit in the modern game, will be hardpressed to find playing time early on in his Kings tenure. Even worse, with their hearts set on Bagley, the Kings likely could have traded down a la the Atlanta Hawks and picked up another asset for their troubles.

While it’s much too early to call it either way, this is a pick that could come back to haunt Sacramento down the line.

Cleveland Cavaliers

It was not a great night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers missed out on one point-guard prospect, Trae Young, and another, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, flat out said he didn’t want to play for the franchise. And, even though they got a guard they liked in Alabama’s Collin Sexton, the Cavaliers are still in the unenviable position of dealing with LeBron James’ third iteration of The Decision.

Sexton’s selection doesn’t exactly help them retain James’ services either.

Since acquiring the pick from the Boston Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade last summer, it had been speculated as to whether Cleveland would use the pick or trade it to get James help. With the team opting for the former, it’s difficult to imagine the Cavaliers getting any significant help for James, in free agency or otherwise, which could push him closer to leaving than he already may be. Meanwhile, Sexton, who dominated the ball during his time at Alabama, isn’t exactly the best fit alongside James in the event that he stays.

Either way, there appears to be a bumpy road ahead for the Cavaliers.

Washington Wizards

Troy Brown Jr. is a great pickup for the Washington Wizards. That still doesn’t mean he wasn’t a reach.

Brown is a twitchy wing that can defend multiple positions. But there were multiple wings that Washington could have taken ahead of Brown (e.g., Lonnie Walker II) that would have made this a better pick. Brown struggled as a shooter during his lone season at Oregon — he shot just 29.1 percent from three and has some iffy mechanics — and is a strange fit on the Wizards roster that already has a surplus of wing depth in John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre.

With the team looking to move Marcin Gortat, a big would have been a better fit for Washington at 15. Or, if management was deadset on Brown, dropping back a few spots would have made more sense.

Brown certainly has the talent to make an impact, but it’s hard to like a pick that may not crack the rotation in year one, according to the Wizards own General Manager.

Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors took a big step earlier this offseason, moving on from Dwane Casey and placing Nick Nurse at the helm in early June.

But, with zero picks in a loaded draft, the Raptors have to be considered losers.

There were plenty of difference makers available up-and-down the draft board, but the Raptors didn’t end up with any of them. While management could improve the team via trade or free agency come July, they still feature the same roster that got manhandled in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by James and the Cavaliers and that isn’t good.

Not everyone can come out a winner in a crapshoot like the NBA Draft. Still, some teams found themselves worse off than others when all was said and done. Luckily, those teams still have a chance to improve themselves with free agency right around the corner.

 

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Winners Of The NBA Draft

Simon Hannig breaks down the winners from Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft.

Simon Hannig

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The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone, and although many teams have improved coming out of this loaded draft, five teams seemed to have walked away as the biggest winners.

The Phoenix Suns Got Their Guy

The Suns made a couple of splashes in the draft, selecting DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick.

The Suns then drafted Zhaire Smith, but later traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges.

In the second round of the draft, Phoenix selected Frenchman Elie Okobo and George King from Colorado, each of whom should be able to contribute right away. Ayton should be the starting center come opening night and Bridges could also start for the team immediately. If not, Bridges will be a valuable weapon coming off the bench for a team who is trying to win games and get back into the playoffs.

Does Mo Bamba Have The (Orlando) Magic?

The Orlando Magic got a stud in Mo Bamba, whom they surprisingly selected with the sixth overall pick in the draft. They later drafted Melvin Frazier in the second round. It was a bit surprising that the Tulane product lasted that long, but the Magic benefitted.

Orlando got a player who can contribute right away and could compete for a starting job. Frazier is a great rebounder and defender and could change the team’s defense all by himself. The club now has two young core pieces they can build around in Jonathan Isaac and Bamba and a young contributor in Frazier.

Although the team’s offense will likely be work in progress, they can be very scary on the defensive end.

Now, we’ll all wait to see if Bamba, the New York product, can carry the Magic back to respectability.

Atlanta Hawks Will Let It Fly

After drafting Luka Doncic with the third overall pick, the Hawks ended up sending him to Dallas in exchange for Trae Young and a future protected first round pick. The pick is top-five protected the next two years, top-three protected in 2021 and 2022 and unprotected in 2023, according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.

With their second first round pick, the Hawks took sharpshooter Kevin Huerter from Maryland and, with the 30th overall pick, selected Omari Spellman from Villanova.

Atlanta appears to building themselves in the way of the Warriors, getting sharpshooters in Young and Huerter. It is no surprise they are doing this as their current general manager, Travis Schlenk, worked with Golden State before taking the job with the Hawks.

The Rich Got Richer In Boston

The Celtics once again got a steal in the draft, as they were the beneficiaries as it relates to Robert Williams from Texas A&M. He is an athletic big man who plays great defense and rebounds the ball very well. Williams has lottery talent but ended up falling to the Celtics, who selected him with the 27th pick of the draft.

Williams averaged 2.5 blocks per game at Texas and should also be able to provide second chance opportunities for the team. Williams, as he averaged three offensive rebounds per game in college.

Luka Doncic Found A Good Home

The Dallas Mavericks walked away from the 2018 NBA Draft with two foundational pieces in tow, Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. Their other moves were also tremendous, as they drafted Jalen Brunson from Villanova, acquired Ray Spalding from Louisville in a trade with the Sixers and drafted Kostas Antetokounmpo (Giannis’ younger brother) with the last piece in the draft.

For Mark Cuban, it may take time to develop the pieces, but if things could go well, the Mavs might have some productive years ahead.

Doncic was thought to be one of, if not the best player available in the draft, so getting him at the expense of a protected future first round pick seems like a fair trade. Depending on how ready he is to contribute at the NBA level, the sky could be the limit.

Of course, every year, there are surprises. Some good, and some bad. However, walking away from the 2018 NBA Draft, these five teams all appear to have improved themselves immensely.

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