The season has been an interesting one so far, to say the least. However, the aspect that has gathered the most chatter is the play of the rookie class. The amount of attention and evaluation are given to these young players is at an all-time high.
The assessment of the rookies this year is sure to continue. But now that the first quarter of the season is done, a more detailed look at these young men is necessary. Here’s my take on how the top rookies have fared, starting in Los Angeles.
Drafted second this year to start at point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, Lonzo Ball had all eyes on him. His potential, work ethic, competitive drive, and that weird jump shot have all come under scrutiny or praise so far.
Outside of the media attention and discussion about his family, his on the court play is good. Through 21 games he is nearly averaging a triple-double with 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game. The issue with Lonzo is not his current play, it’s the idea that he should be progressing faster than he is.
This idea pushed by fans is just not possible in most cases. Any young player needs the time to better himself and advance his basketball intelligence. Additionally, the team that any rookie plays for must be capable of housing that players specific skill set.
Once this Lakers team finds its real groove, Lonzo will provide the team with the high ceiling skill set that is demanded since his drafting.
Keeping with the Lakers, the draft night trade that landed Kyle Kuzma is working out well for the Lakers thus far. Kuzma wowed fans and analysts this off-season in the NBA Summer League, and that carried over into the regular season.
His play has already shown a great amount of athletic ability and overall knowledge of the game. Through the first quarter of the season, he is averaging 16.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
These aren’t statistically impressive by any means, but as a rookie and playing on an 8-13 Lakers team is impressive. He deservedly is on the short-list for Rookie of the Year and can only improve this throughout the year.
Widely regarded as the steal of this year’s draft, Mitchell is performing at an elite level, currently averaging 16.4 points per game. The Utah Jazz traded for Mitchell on draft night from the Denver Nuggets and are benefitting heavily. A few comparisons made in his early stages include superstars Dwyane Wade and Damian Lillard.
Those are lofty statuses to be compared to and Mitchell continues to back that up. Although the Jazz lost Gordon Hayward and George Hill this offseason, they are able to compete with Mitchell inserting himself into a leadership role.
The first shock of the NBA Draft was the Boston Celtics trade sending the first pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for the 3rd pick. This move took Markelle Fultz to the 76ers and Jayson Tatum to the Celtics. The rookie sensation came into his own early. After only 11 games began seeing comparisons of himself to Paul Pierce, a huge honor for any player, but especially a Boston Celtic.
This season Tatum is averaging 13.8 points, 5.3 rebounds per game while shooting 49.3% from beyond the arc. As unfortunate as the Hayward injury was, this opened up the lineup to allow Tatum to show off his skills and benefit the team. Alongside superstar Kyrie Irving and an incredible coach like Brad Stevens, the ceiling for Tatum is high, very high.
First things first, is this guy really a rookie? Ben Simmons injured his right foot during training camp and didn’t play last season. A technicality sure, but he has the benefit of an extra year of practice and game planning with NBA players and coaches.
This may be a concern when Rookie of the Year rankings start pouring in just based on having a level playing field. Regardless, Simmons is playing at the veteran level, not a one or two-year player would. His per game averages are nearly at triple-double range, 17.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 7.1 assists. The issue criticized the most heavily is his shooting ability, which just barely makes 50%.
For a starting point guard regarded as the potential rookie of the year, this is a problem. His playmaking and defense make up for this issue as well as his lack of mistakes. Ben Simmons may not be a technical rookie, but in his first season playing on the court he has done nothing but succeed on a 76ers team that may just shock the world late in the season.
These five rookies are just the tip of what is an outstanding rookie class. There are plenty of talented players who could enter this discussion and possibly steal Rookie of the Year.
Players like Malik Monk, Markelle Fultz, Bam Adebayo, De ’Aaron Fox, Lauri Markkanen, and many others. The storylines are set, and the players must overcome the long NBA season to be considered for Rookie of the Year. Yet, some of these rookies will be playing for much more when the postseason comes around.
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