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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.

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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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