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Depth Of Rookie Class Is Mesmerizing

This crop of rookies is one of the best ones we’ve seen in years. Spencer Davies dives in.

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There was a question posed on Twitter over the weekend: “Top five rookies: who do you got?”

A clear-cut number one answer has to be Ben Simmons, no?

After missing out on an entire year with a broken foot, he already looks like a seasoned veteran. Over nine games, the 21-year-old Aussie sensation is averaging 18 points, 9.8 rebounds, 8.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game.

Looking at the numbers, it’s not surprising that Simmons has had two triple-doubles. With the way he’s running the Philadelphia 76ers offense, he could be averaging one with a few bounces his way. He’s hitting 51.6 percent of his shots, the brunt of which has been inside the paint. Observing the steadiness, the smoothness in his game—there hasn’t been a rookie like this in quite some time.

Okay, on to number two.

This isn’t quite as straightforward, but Jayson Tatum should be the next up here. Why? For starters, he’s been thrust into a demanding role. The Boston Celtics are one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA and he’s a huge part of the reason why.

Tatum has been cognizant of the shots he’s been taking and it’s led to success for him as a scorer. He’s been an inside-out worker, averaging 13.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest. Getting good shots at the basket has opened up the deep game. Among first-year players, he ranks first in catch-shoot three-point field goal percentage and second in three-point field goal percentage. He’s also knocked down six of eight from the corner perimeter.

Alright, now it’s getting a little tricky for who’s next. Kyle Kuzma? Lauri Markkannen? Donovan Mitchell?

All three have a good case.

Being in the bright lights of Hollywood with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kuzma has taken the league by storm. Due to the unfortunate injury to Larry Nance Jr., he’ll get even more run on the court now. Anything but bashful, the former Utah Ute has taken over 11 shots per game and has knocked down 56.3 percent of them. That’s first among rookies, but he’s in elite company. Only LeBron James, Hassan Whiteside, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Otto Porter Jr. can say they’ve accomplished the same.

Markannen is one of 10 players in the entire league that’s averaging 16 points and nine rebounds per game while shooting at least 43 percent. Among that group, he and DeMarcus Cousins have attempted over seven threes per game, and the Finnish seven-footer has converted on a higher percentage of those. Let’s just say the Chicago Bulls are usually happy when he pulls up from the elbow beyond the arc.

The Utah Jazz are a defense first team through-and-through, but they have a serious need to put the ball in the basket. Donovan Mitchell hasn’t been afraid to try and do that for them. The 21-year-old rookie guard has taken 13 shots per game and is launching threes over five times per game so far. He’s averaging 13.5 points per game and is 19-for-21 from the free throw line. On the court, the Jazz are scoring 106.8 points per 100 possessions. When he’s sitting, that number dips to a team-worst 94.5. His impact for Quin Snyder has been nothing short of brilliant already.

Who do we rank after that?

It’s getting difficult, isn’t it?

The Atlanta Hawks just beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in their own house, and a big reason behind that was John Collins. He’s stuck behind Ersan Ilyasova in the pecking order right now, but there’s no way he won’t be starting some point soon this year. He’s ferocious as a finisher and rim protector, but his relentlessness on the glass is scary. In basically one less quarter of playing time per game, Collins ranks third in rebounds per game (8.3) among rookies. Per 36 minutes, that average skyrockets to 14.4 boards, which leads all rookies by far.

For some reason, Dillon Brooks is going kind of unnoticed. Maybe it’s because the traditional numbers aren’t exactly the flashiest, but his leadership on both ends of the floor has been paramount to David Fizdale and company’s success. Offensively he’s stayed within himself and for the most part, hasn’t tried to do too much. On the other end of the floor, he has locked the opposition up. In fact, he’s so important to the Memphis Grizzlies defense that when he’s on the bench, they give up 17.2 more points per 100 possessions and their defensive rating blows up to 110.

Surely you’ve heard of Dennis Smith Jr., the dynamo out of N.C. State who’s looking to be the future of the Dallas Mavericks. You know, the guy whose own class picked him to win Rookie of the Year? He’s been great despite worries of a past knee injury hindering his athleticism, averaging the second-most drive attempts (12.1) and points per game on drives (5.1) among rookies.

So who’s left?

We’ve sort of left out the number one pick, the poster child, and two other top five picks.

We don’t quite know what Markelle Fultz is because of the shoulder issues. Lonzo Ball has brought an all-around game aside from early scoring hardships. Josh Jackson and De’Aaron Fox are pretty much playing as expected for being so young.

You’ve probably noticed that there’s been no mention of Jonathan Isaac and Frank Ntilikina’s defensive prowess, or Malik Monk’s aggressiveness.

These guys are the top prospects in the league and are just getting started.

What about Jordan Bell and Semi Ojeyele’s energy and confidence already? The list keeps on going.

The whole point of this isn’t to just rank rookies amongst each other to see who’s better than who and have a debate, per se.

It’s to show how truly deep and talented this crop of first-year players is. It’s been a treat to see the future of this league come in and make an impact so early and often. What we’re witnessing is special, and it’s only going to get better from here.

Spencer Davies is a Deputy Editor and a Senior NBA Writer based in Cleveland in his third year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past five seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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