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Rookie Of The Year Watch – 11/15/17

Shane Rhodes checks in on the Rookie of the Year race midway through November.

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Two weeks removed from Basketball Insiders’ original check-in on the Rookie of the Year race, the 2017 rookie class has had their fair share of ups, downs and surprises. Some have posted big numbers while others have struggled to perform or remain consistent. While struggles are to be expected of most rookies, that consistency — or lack thereof — will keep players either on or off this list for the majority of the season.

All that said, here’s the second look at the Rookie of the Year Watch list.

6. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

While Mitchell had a slow start to the season, he has really come on in November for the Utah Jazz.

Mitchell is currently averaging 14.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game. With Rudy Gobert missing time, Mitchell has stepped up to help fill the void offensively while playing superb defense. Mitchell ranks third among rookies in Defensive Rating at 99.7 points per 100 possessions. He is second among rookies in usage rate at 29.5 percent as well.

Mitchell struggles with his efficiency — he currently is shooting just 38.1 percent from the floor on more than 14 shot attempts per game — and he will continue to do so as he feels out the NBA. Between the departure of Gordon Hayward, Gobert’s recent injury and the overall poor play from offseason acquisition Ricky Rubio, the offense has lacked a real punch this season and, because of that, Mitchell will continue to see opportunities come his way despite his inconsistencies.

5. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks

Dennis Smith Jr.’s athleticism is truly a sight to behold. It is also something that will make the eight teams that passed him on draft night regret it.

Smith is averaging 15.8 points (second among rookies), 4.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game while shooting 40.6 percent from the floor and 32.4 percent from three. He became the youngest player to record at least 10 assists in his debut and, more recently, became the youngest in Dallas Mavericks franchise history to record 25 points and five rebounds per game, passing Dirk Nowitzki. He has the highest usage rate among all rookies and is fifth among them in assist percentage, coming in at 29.9 and 28.4 percent, respectively.

Smith still has some problems to work out of his game. He can still look disinterested at times, a problem that has trailed him since his time at NC State. His defense could use a lot of work as well, as he currently ranks last among rookies in Defensive Rating at 113.7. That being said, the future of the point guard position is looking bright for the Mavericks with Smith in the fold.

4. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls

Lauri Markkanen continues to impress for the Chicago Bulls as the first month of the season passes, averaging 14.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists.

Leading all rookies in three-point attempts and three-pointers made per game with 6.7 and 2.4, respectively, Markkanen is shooting 35.1 percent from beyond the arc, fourth among all rookies. He is shooting 43.3 percent from the floor and looks to be an offensive centerpiece for the Bulls going forward.

While he will likely never be an elite defender, Markannen is quick on his feet and can make it difficult for other players in space. As he grows and puts on more muscle, his defense should improve. Markkanen has held his own on the boards as well, averaging 9.2 rebounds per 36 minutes. Again, as he puts on more weight, Markkanen should improve in this area, too.

3. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers

Kyle Kuzma may be the most impressive rookie on this list relative to their draft position. Taken 27th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers, the rookie forward is looking like an absolute steal while outperforming all expectations.

Kuzma is currently averaging 14.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 31.1 minutes per game while shooting 50.2 percent from the field and 32.1 percent from three. Kuzma has posted four double-doubles, averaging 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in those four games. His versatility has been put on display as well since taking over in the starting lineup for Larry Nance Jr.

One month in, Kuzma has quietly — or not so quietly, depending on who you ask — outperformed highly-touted fellow rookie and teammate Lonzo Ball. While Ball will likely come around, Kuzma is certainly a pleasant surprise for both the Lakers and basketball fans alike.

2. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Jayson Tatum was and remains an essential piece to the Boston Celtics’ puzzle.

Averaging 13.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game, the forward out of Duke continues to play well above initial expectations. Among players with 20 minutes played, Tatum leads all rookies and is fifth in the NBA in Defensive Rating, and currently leads all rookies with a Net Rating of 7.8. The forward is shooting 50 percent from the field and 48.9 percent from three on over nine and three attempts per game, respectively, while playing with the poise of a veteran late in games, shooting 66.7 percent from the field and hitting on 50 percent of his attempts from three in clutch time.

Tatum is playing unlike most 19-year-olds at the NBA level; he has a poise and confidence about him and is constantly making smart, winning plays. The Celtics will need him to continue to be effective if they hope to maintain their spot at the top of the Association.

1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

Ben Simmons still stands head and shoulders above the field in the Rookie of the Year race.

Heading into play on November 15th, Simmons is averaging 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 1.7 steals per game while playing 34.3 minutes per contest. He leads all rookies in points, rebounds and assists per game, field goals made, and minutes. He’s posted two triple-doubles and six double-doubles on the season as well.

While he continues to run the floor for and contribute on the defensive end for the Philadelphia 76ers, it’s hard to imagine anyone gaining much ground on Simmons for the foreseeable future.

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