As 2017 draws to a close, NBA teams begin to look towards the second half of the season. The transition to the New Year often coincides with the appearance of the rookie wall as well, but not with many in the 2017 rookie class. In fact, many rookies appear to be hitting their stride as the race for the Rookie of The Year Award begins to really ramp up.
Without further ado, let’s jump into this week’s award watch.
6. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers
As December comes to a close, Lonzo Ball has started to figure it out on the offensive end for the Los Angeles Lakers. While he still sits with a paltry 34.9 percent field goal percentage and 29.7 percent three-point percentage, he has improved drastically in December. On the month, Ball has shot 42.2 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from three while averaging 12.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6.8 assists in 10 games. While he hasn’t gone the route most rookies would hope to go thus far, Ball has certainly made progress since the beginning of the season.
Ball is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury, but if he can return and maintain his newfound shooting form, Lonzo could become a problem for opposing teams; a good defender — Ball is averaging 1.4 steals and one block per game — maintaining and improving on his newfound shooting consistency could go a long way for both the Lakers and Ball’s future.
5. John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
After returning from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss six games, John Collins has continued to play efficient basketball. In December, Collins has shot 73.2 percent from the field on nearly seven shots per game, good for an average of 12.2 points per contest. He’s also averaging 1.5 assists and 1.2 blocks on the month, both most of any month this season for the rookie.
On the year, Collins is averaging 11.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and one assist per game. As Collins’ role increases as he works his way back, his numbers should continue to see a boost as well.
4. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers
While his teammate, Ball, had struggled early on in the season, Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma has impressed throughout the year. And December has been his best month yet. Kuzma, averaging 18.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game on the year, has posted a line of 20.7 points, eight rebounds and two assists on 49.1 percent shooting from the field and 46.3 percent from three across 11 December contests.
While someone Kuzma’s size, 6-foot-9, would be expected to block more shots — Kuzma has averaged just 0.3 blocks on the season — there isn’t much that Kuzma hasn’t done well for the Lakers. With every passing game, Kuzma asserts himself as a franchise cornerstone alongside Ball and Ingram and, if he can manage to find his way into the starting lineup more consistently, should only improve on his current numbers.
T-2. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
Mitchell has been the most explosive player in the 2017 draft class. After shoving his way into the Rookie of the Year conversation early on in the season, Mitchell has been making a play for the top spot with his incredible month of December. His averages are up to 17.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists on the season on 43.8 percent shooting and 36.3 percent from three. Mitchell is leading the Utah Jazz in scoring and nearly leading them in minutes played, averaging 30.4 minutes per game — second only to Joe Ingles’ 30.5 minutes per.
December has been Mitchell’s best month yet. While the Jazz have struggled to a 3-9 record, Mitchell has been on fire. He’s averaging 23.1 points, three rebounds and 3.6 assists on 51.3 percent shooting from the field and 37.7 percent from three, all his highest marks of any month this season. If Mitchell continues his upward trajectory, there could be a major rookie shake-up come January.
T-2. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Jayson Tatum continues to shine for the Boston Celtics and it is evident to see that his confidence as a scorer has grown. Tatum has averaged 14 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists on the season, but has improved greatly in the month of December. While his counting stats remain mostly the same — Tatum has averaged 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists on the month — his shooting percentages have somehow managed to improve. Tatum has shot 55.1 percent from the field and 52.4 percent from three while posting an offensive rating of 112.5 and a net rating of 9.1, all his highest marks of any month this season.
As the season moves along, the Celtics’ offense will lean on Tatum’s efficiency more and more. While the two primary options remain Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, Tatum should see an uptick in usage when one or both of them are off the floor which, in turn, should lead to some increased scoring numbers.
1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers have struggled mightily late in December, but it is a testament to how well Simmons has played up to this point that he still sits at the top of the rookie pile. On the season, Simmons is averaging 16.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.6 assists. However, in December, Simmons is averaging just 13.9 points on just 12 shots per game to go along with 7.9 rebounds, all registering as his lowest marks for any month this season.
With Joel Embiid missing time, the 76ers are going to need their other prolific talent (that is Simmons, in case you were wondering) to step up even more so than he already has this season. Until Simmons does, the 76ers will continue to struggle. And, if Simmons’ numbers continue to dip, the Rookie of the Year race could end up closer than most thought it would be this season.
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