We are officially two months into the NBA season and there is no denying that the NBA Rookie Class of 2017 is no joke. Described as having the potential to be one of the best draft classes in the history of the NBA over the summer, these rookies are proving why that statement wasn’t just an opinion. In such a short time, rookies like Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, and Kyle Kuzma are showing why the class of 2017 may go down as one of the best rookie classes of all time.
Some of the rookies this year have proved that they can already contribute to a winning team, while others are performing like the franchise players their organizations hoped they’d turn out to be. Let’s talk about the five best rookies so far in this year’s draft class and where they rank on the Rookie of the Year ladder.
1. Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons had missed his first year due to injury but came back this year showcasing the talents that everybody knew he had. Although this would technically be his second year in the league, this is his first season playing in the NBA and he has not disappointed one bit.
Simmons is 6’10 but plays the point guard position for the 76ers. He can pass, rebound, and find ways to score the ball without shooting it. The most prominent flaw in his game thus far would be his shooting. He’s averaging 17.1 points, 9 rebounds, and about 8 assists per game while shooting 50% from the field, but zero percent from three. Yes, you read that right. Ben Simmons is shooting ZERO PERCENT from three. A big, fat zero. Although that’s not a statistic one should be proud of, it’s impressive how he’s still averaging 17 points per game without being able to shoot from behind the arc.
Simmons and Joel Embiid are giving 76ers’ fans something to look forward to now, and for many years to come. I hope that himself and Embiid stay healthy in the long run because those two are so much fun to watch on the court together. Simmons has proved to be the best rookie this season and the cornerstone of the 76ers franchise alongside Embiid.
On September 15, 2016, I had written an article asking if Ben Simmons can ever become the next LeBron James. Averaging a near triple-double this season, Simmons sure has shown some flashes of LeBron James in his game. It’ll be exciting to see how much his game improves going forward. Hopefully he starts working on that jump shot.
2. Donovan Mitchell
Donovan Mitchell is becoming what Devin Booker was for his rookie class. Selected 13th overall, Donovan Mitchell is starting to become a household name. Not many people expected to see Donovan Mitchell show up on any “Rookie of the Year” articles this season, including myself, but he has proved that he is one of the best rookies to come out of this class. He’s gifted offensively, averaging 17.7 points per game, and has given the Utah Jazz hope moving forward after the loss of Gordon Hayward in free agency this past offseason. He’s taken advantage of every opportunity that has come his way and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.
Mitchell has gained the respect from players and coaches across the league. He’s come up big for the Jazz in tightly contested games and has made Gordon Hayward an afterthought in Utah. After the stinging loss of Hayward, Donovan Mitchell has given the Utah Jazz organization and it’s fans hope for the future. Mitchell is keeping the Jazz relevant now and will continue to make the Jazz a playoff contender in the many years to come. Utah, it’s time to start building your team around this man.
3. Jayson Tatum
Bias aside, Jayson Tatum has proved to be one of the more gifted rookies in this class. I say this because he’s still only 19 years old and is doing things typical 19-year-olds shouldn’t be doing. Let’s think about this for a second. Jayson Tatum is only two months older than me, but yet here I am praising Tatum over how good he is. Weird.
So far this season, Jayson is averaging 13.8 points per game while shooting around 51% from the field and 51% from three, which leads the league. Tatum may not be putting up the numbers like the rest of his fellow rookies are, but he’s holding his own while starting and contributing to the one seeded team in the Eastern Conference. It’s easy to argue that Tatum wouldn’t have had the chance to showcase his talents if Gordon Hayward was healthy. Like Donovan Mitchell, Tatum is thriving in the absence of Hayward. Offensively, he’s the most gifted rookie in his class and is showing his potential to be an outstanding all-around player. His body length mixed with great coaching will allow him to develop into a great defender. Once he adds more weight and muscle to his body, he can become a deadly stretch forward.
It’s crazy to think that Danny Ainge traded down to get Tatum, while also getting another draft pick in return. Tatum, along with Jaylen Brown, has already proved to the Celtics organization that they can be the building blocks for the next 10-15 years. Plus at 19 years old, he’s only going to get better, and that should scare a lot of people.
4. Kyle Kuzma
If you want to talk about sleepers, look no further. Selected 27th overall, Kuzma was traded by the Nets in exchange for D’Angelo Russell. People tend to forget that, but looking back, that trade helped both teams drastically. Kyle Kuzma shocked the NBA world when he absolutely balled out in the summer league. The question “Who is this guy?” filled the minds of NBA fans. Well, ladies and gentleman, his name is Kyle Kuzma and is currently the best rookie on the Lakers.
It’s a crime that Kuzma doesn’t start every game for the Lakers. He’s averaging the most points for the Lakers (17.4) as well as nearly seven rebounds per game (6.6). At 6’9, Kuzma can play multiple positions as well as stretch the floor. Sure he may be playing for a pretty lousy team, but there is no denying the talent Kuzma possesses. Every team that passed on him in the draft is kicking themselves now because the Lakers found a diamond in the rough. As they improve, Lonzo and Kuzma will be an entertaining duo moving forward for the Lakers.
5. Lauri Markkenan
There was no way that I was leaving Mini-Dirk off this list. Lauri Markkenan was traded to the Chicago Bulls due to the Jimmy Butler trade. Losing Jimmy Butler was a heartbreaker for Bulls’ fans, but gaining a Rookie of the Year candidate in Lauri Markkenan definitely helps ease the pain. At seven feet tall, Lauri can score, rebound, and shoot efficiently. Early in the season, he was setting three-point records for rookies. Although he’s cooled down a bit since his red-hot start to the season, he’s still finding ways to contribute to the worst team in the league.
Lauri is currently averaging 14.3 points and eight rebounds per game while shooting 40% from the field and 33.5% from three. Like I said, he’s cooled off a bit since the start of the season but is still showing potential as the next best shooting big man in the NBA. I’m hoping the Lauri can somehow get a workout or two or a hundred in with Dirk Nowitzki in the future. Lauri’s game resembles Nowitzki’s, but has the potential to take it to another level.
I know I left rookies like Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith Jr., De’Aaron Fox, and John Collins off of this list, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make a jump into the top-5 list later in the season. Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kuzma, and Lauri Markkenan have been the most impressive rookies thus far this season. The season is still young so anything can happen, but two months into the NBA season, I don’t think anybody will dethrone Ben Simmons as eventual Rookie of the Year.