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Rookie of The Year Race Looks to Excite All Season

This season’s rookie of the year race looks poised to blow last season’s out of the water, write Dennis Chambers.

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Declaring a winner of any season-long award after one week of the new year is a smooth combination of lunacy, ignorance and relative naivety.

But what can be done after one week is an assumption that, comparatively, a product has improved. Through the first week of the 2017-18 NBA season, it has become clear as day that the league and its fans are in for a wild ride in regards to the rookie of the year race, especially in comparison to last season’s snooze fest.

Not to discredit the work that Malcolm Brogdon put in last season in his quest for the honor of the NBA’s best newcomer, but the overall race for the award was one to forget. So much so that a man who played 31 games (Joel Embiid) made a serious push for the title.

What lacked in last year’s rookie race was the punch from lottery pick talents. Ultimately, this led to Brogdon becoming the first ever second-round pick to achieve the status as top rookie. That’s honorable and impressive, but it lacked excitement. Lottery pick talents are usually billed as the next coming of NBA stars. Fans and front office personnel alike want to see their players get off to the best possible start. Last year, for many lottery pick players, that just wasn’t the case.

This year, however, is a totally different story.

Before going any further, it’s imperative to mention that one of the front runners for the race, Ben Simmons, is actually an intruder of the 2017 class. Last season, Simmons was taken first overall yet failed to register a minute on the court due to a foot injury. That being said, his level of talent and excitement on the court is only adding to the competitiveness of this year’s race.

Opposite of last year, the first week of this NBA season posted memorable debuts from some of the highly touted rookies around the league.

Dennis Smith Jr., selected ninth overall, registered a 16-point, 10-assist game for the Dallas Mavericks. Lauri Markkanen, the seventh overall pick, is averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds after his first week in professional basketball. The Celtics have seen their third overall pick, Jayson Tatum, get off to a hot start after losing Gordon Hayward to injury. Tatum recorded a double-double in his first NBA appearance on opening night against the reigning Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

Then, of course, there’s Lonzo Ball.

Heading into this season, Ball was projected by many Las Vegas betting sites as the odds-on favorite to walk home with this award. His father LaVar was a little more certain in his prediction.

“Rookie of the Year? It’s already a done deal,” Ball said during Summer League. “I got the trophy already. Hey, Rookie of the Year — how could he not be?”

Behind the bravado of his father’s predictions, Ball delivered a first week to remember. Following a tough debut matched up against Los Angeles Clippers’ defensive stalwart, Patrick Beverley, that saw Ball score just three points, the rookie turned in a 29-point, 11-rebound, nine assist performance against the Phoenix Suns. Ball then followed that up with a near triple-double in his third contest, pushing his week one averages to 13.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game.

Some introduction to the league, isn’t it?

Partially due to his father’s verbose nature and partially due to his clear talent, Ball has been at the center of the NBA media’s attention the minute he was drafted second overall in last June’s draft. In the glamorous market of Los Angeles, Ball alone can top the excitement of last year’s rookie of the year race by just putting on a solo dominant wire-to-wire performance. He’s that polarizing.

Lucky for NBA fans, yet unlucky for LaVar Ball, the early returns from this season don’t suggest Lonzo will be a runaway winner of the award.

Simmons, after sitting out for a season, has hit the ground running for the Philadelphia 76ers. After posting an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double in his debut, Simmons followed that performance up with two more double-doubles. Ultimately, in Detroit on Monday night, Simmons recorded his first career triple-double with a 21-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist performance.

By reaching the triple-double plateau in just his fourth career game, Simmons became the first player to achieve that particular feat within their first four games since 1967. The last player to do so? Hambone Williams. If you’re wondering who that is, you’re not alone. Nevertheless, an amazing name for an amazing accomplishment.

Simmons’ early-season averages, much like Ball’s, are nothing short of impressive. Through four games, the 6-foot-10 point forward is averaging 17 points, 10.8 rebounds and seven assists per game.

While Simmons sets fire to the NBA during his first week on the job, many of his peers displayed a bout of amnesia when it came to the Australian’s talent heading into the season. That could be in part due to Ball’s dominance of the headlines and the summer league courts, and also because Simmons sat out for a season.

In the NBA.com rookie survey, the class of 2017 picked Simmons to finish fourth (tied with Kyle Kuzma and Donovan Mitchell). Ball finished first on that list.

At Sixers media day, when asked about his ranking on the list, Simmons was short and sweet in his delivery about what his peers thought of his impact heading into this season.

“They’ll remember,” Simmons said.

Between Ball and Simmons, the race for rookie of the year may turn into a race for who ends the season with more triple-doubles. Regardless, these two dynamic NBA freshman, along with the talented crop of lottery picks, will surely produce an exciting year-long race for rookie of the year that the league so desperately lacked last season.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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