Written by: Flight
Rookie of the Year (ROY) is one of the most coveted trophies in the NBA. No other accolade, outside of being an All-Star selection, gives a young player the feeling of arrival and accomplishment simultaneously. The 2017 NBA draft was completed only a few days ago, and with summer league around the corner, I thought it would be great to give a preview on the potential ROY front runners, along with a sleeper prospect or two with an outside sneaky chance to potentially have a shot at winning. The upcoming season could have one of the more competitive races for this trophy in recent memory, as there will be a lot of high quality prospects given freedom and a high usage rate to put up points – and let’s be clear, ROY is typically an award rewarded for scoring rookies.
The Potential Franchise Guys
1. Markelle Fultz – could be the best guard prospect we’ve seen since Kyrie Irving was looking like a potential scoring savant at Duke – and Fultz has better physical tools than the young Irving, standing at 6’4 and armed with a 6’10 wingspan. The popular opinion is that Fultz’s teammate Ben Simmons and his rival Lonzo Ball are the favorites for ROY. But as talented as they are as passers, and in Ball’s case even as a potential elite shooter, neither of the two possess the ability to score as easily in the off-ball screens and in the mid-range as Fultz. That’s also disregarding outside shots, as he posted a 10 percent average on shooting threes, an especially difficult feat as he was the main focus of defending opponents. Add that on top of him shooting at 41 percent from three. A common discounted point made about Fultz is the underselling of his ability to find people. He’s a potentially elite passer as well as he’s as creative a passer you’ll see in pick and roll situations. Not to mention, Fultz can play off the ball as well. The 76ers are adamant that Ben Simmons will be their point guard and primary handler this season, and to be fair, to maximize his value he’ll need to have the ball in his hands as often as possible. But that shouldn’t deter Fultz opportunity at ROY as the 76ers will need someone else to score outside of Embiid and Saric.
2. Dennis Smith Jr – went 9th in the draft but it’s very possible in two to three years, a common talking point that will be made about the 2017 draft is how didn’t Smith go higher. He’s a 6’3 point guard, with dynamic athleticism of the kind that we have not seen since John Wall and Derrick Rose set the internet ablaze from videos displaying their high school exploits on the court. Smith is walking into a situation where the Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has already said that he anticipates Smith starting throughout his rookie year. Before Fultz busted onto the scene, and Ball thrilled the whole nation at UCLA, Dennis was thought of as the crown jewel point guard of this class, and talent wise he’s still up there with those two to me. He’s going into a situation where he’ll be surrounded by veterans who will help smooth out his transition into the pros. He’ll be alongside young wing talent like Harrison Barnes, shooters like Seth Curry, and a potential lob target off pick and rolls in Nerlens Noel. If the Mavs run a ball screen dominant system, Dennis could put up the best numbers out of any rookie. He has a lot of work to do to get to that point, but he could potentially be a three-level scorer in the NBA.
3. Ben Simmons – may have the most anticipated debut out of all rookies. He was originally picked in the 2016 draft, but a foot injury in suffered in September sidelined him for the year. Simmons’s hype comes from the fact that he very likely may be a generational passer, especially in transition, that we haven’t seen in a big, 6’10 player – maybe ever. Simmons will likely be the fastest 6’10 player in the open court the moment he steps foot onto a NBA floor. He will be given the ball immediately in Philadelphia and get the opportunity to show why he received so much praise. Due to ROY typically being an award determined by PPG, that’s why he’s around third favourite for the award and not first. Ben’s best chance for scoring will be him grabbing the rebound on opponents missed shots and pushing in transition. He can be a nightmare to stop in transition with his height combined with an advanced handle for his size, and he can finish even when fouled, as evidenced by his 25 and ones in transition opportunities at LSU. But when it comes to scoring in the half court, he’s going to need a lot of work. He’ll be given the Rondo treatment immediately in the league, with opponents going underneath screens and giving him plenty of space to shoot jumpers, which is definitely the weak point of his game.
4. Lonzo Ball – He’ll be given the ball and all the opportunity in Luke Walton’s system to flourish and put up numbers. Lonzo’s greatest gift outside of his feel and vision may be his smart shot selection. He was criticized all throughout the draft process for his lack of a mid-range jumper and being heavily dependent on step-back threes and layups and dunks. But to be honest that’s smart. While it’s great that certain guys like Jayson Tatum and Fultz have an advanced feel for the mid-range, it’s really not the most efficient shot in the game. So I can’t criticize Ball for taking the more statistically efficient shots. The reason he’s ranked around here is he’s likely going to be setting the table up for Lakers and possibly Paul George majority of the season. But if he takes on a bit of the scoring load, he could wind up taking this home.
5. De’Aaron Fox – is going to be given the keys immediately his rookie year in Sacramento. They’re likely going to be terrible, and their most sensible season strategy would be allowing their young guys like Fox to grow throughout the season. Fox is such an intriguing prospect due to his incredible speed in the open court and transition. He’s also a very good finisher in the paint for a point guard. His Achilles heel is that he’ll likely get the Rondo treatment as well all throughout the season, as he simply can’t shoot right now. But I think he’s smart enough to know that shooting is the weak point of his game, so tactically he should adjust by focusing on driving into the paint, trying floaters and to create contact to win free throws. He’s a prospect to keep an eye on in the ROY race.
Jayson Tatum – He would have been a likely contender on merit alone if he were on any other team. I would have him as a top 3-4 guy in the race, but he’s on a team that’s competitive right now. So, he likely won’t get as many shot attempts and minutes as other guys. But there is no better isolation scorer in the class.
Malik Monk – He’s a scorer plain and simple, and Charlotte has needed a bench scorer for their second unit since Lin left. I believe Monk can fill that void for them. Monk had a down stretch during the late run of the season, but when he’s on, he can be a nightmare for defenses to contend against.
TJ Leaf – His scenario relies on a lot of hypotheticals, such as the Pacers being so terrible that they trade Thad Young. But Leaf is a scorer, and while he’s a terrible defender especially in pick & roll situations, Myles Turner could cover for some of his weak spots defensively.
Edited by: Vijay Vaidyanathan