The class of 2017 doesn’t exactly bolt out of the gates.
We saw the number one pick for all of four games before a mysterious shoulder injury, that apparently isn’t a shoulder injury but rather a scapular muscle imbalance, which according to his coach was caused by his trainer’s decision to tweak the shot, which according to his trainer is not true. As if it wasn’t mysterious enough, Fultz’s agent claimed that he had “fluid drained out of the back of his shoulder” and then weeks later changed his story completely and said, “fluid was put into his shoulder – not taken out.”
The result of this backstory worthy of an ESPN 30 for 30 is alarming to say the least.
Insert the painful reminder that The Process has now drafted Michael Carter Williams (#11 overall), Evan Turner (#2 overall), Nerlens Noel (#6 overall after trade with Pelicans), Jahlil Okafor (#3 overall) and now Markelle Fultz.
As for when we will see Fultz on the court again, 76ers coach Brett Brown didn’t sound overly optimistic.
The number two pick entered the NBA with more fanfare than even Lakers fans are accustomed too. And unlike Fultz he didn’t need a scapular muscle imbalance to ruin his shot, Lonzo managed that all by himself.
With the top two picks in a heated battle for ‘who can terrify their coaching staff and fan base more’, we are left with the rest of the rookie class to fall back on.
And at the midway point of the season, it’s fair to say that there passing with flying colours.
18.9 points per game, 3.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 44% FG, 35% from 3
Donovan Mitchell is the dux of the class of 2017.
He leads all rookies in scoring, leads the Jazz in scoring and has showcased footwork, nous and a repertoire of moves that are simply uncanny for a 21-year old rookie. Mitchell has taken it upon himself to fill the void left by Gordon Hayward and is commanding possession of the ball and the Jazz offense. Mitchell has the 20th highest usage rate in the entire league, and is hoisting up 16 shots a game, which is uncharted territory for a rookie.
But stats and numbers can become boring and monotonous in today’s game, so here are five reasons why Donovan Mitchell is the steal of the draft at pick 13.
Exhibit A – Donovan Mitchell likes embarrassing people.
Exhibit B – Donovan Mitchell has handles.
Exhibit C – Donovan Mitchell has already scored forty points in a single game.
It took Westbrook and Harden three seasons to post their first 40-point performance.
Exhibit D – Donovan Mitchell can fly.
Exhibit E – Don’t box out Donovan Mitchell at your own peril.
13.9 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, 1 steal, 50% FG, 46% from 3
Jayson Tatum is an enigma when it comes to conventional stand out rookie seasons. He has put together a superb Rookie of the Year resume, all while playing on the Eastern Conference’s top seeded team. Usually rookies on contending teams, such as the Celtics, are devoid of opportunity and are generally unearthed in the leaner years to come.
Not Tatum though. He has exploded onto the scene, cementing himself as an integral piece to the Celtics championship push. Tatum is an incredible defender for his age, with his size and wingspan allowing him to compete with the NBA’s elite wing players. Add to that his shooting percentages, which are simply off the charts, and you have one of the most complete rookies to enter the league in a long time.
Los Angeles Lakers
16.8 points per game, 6.4 rebounds, 46% FG, 37% from 3
Kyle Kuzma, wrongly or rightly, entered the NBA as an afterthought to many within the league. Taken with the 27th pick by Brooklyn, he found himself in LA as part of the D’Angelo Russell fiasco, the deal sweetener thrown into the trade to make the bookkeeper happy.
At the halfway point of his rookie campaign, Kuzma is no longer an afterthought, in fact he has taken centre stage in the Lakers rebuild. While the Ball family may still hold a monopoly on the LA spotlight, Kuzma is letting his game do the talking. With his 6-foot-9 frame and athleticism to match, he can score from anywhere on the court, nearly anytime he wants.
While he is carrying the Lakers scoring load (leading scorer on LA’s roster), Kuzma needs to develop his defensive game if he wants to fulfill his All-Star potential. He ranks in the bottom 30 players in the league for defensive real plus/minus stats, which in plain English means he is not a very good defender. He has the length and physical ability to have an impact on the other side of the court, so this is simply an area of his game he will need to develop.
15.5 points per game, 7.6 rebounds, 43% FG, 37% from 3
Lauri Markkanen is part of the new wave of NBA seven-foot unicorns. No longer does the big man sit in the paint and attack the rim all game, now they display handles the envy of many a guard and knock down threes from Steph Curry range.
Markkanen is averaging 2.5 made threes per contest. No rookie in the history of the NBA has made that many threes per game, regardless of their position or size. Markkanen just cracked the 100 mark for his career three-point tally in just 41 games. Again, nobody in the history of the league has even come close to that mark.
Let’s compare two players and their rookie seasons to put Markkanen into perspective.
Player A – 14.3 PPG, 7.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.1 made 3’s per game, 42% FG, 33% from 3
Player B – 15.5 PPG, 7.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 2.5 made 3’s per game, 43% FG, 37% from 3
Player B is Markkanen and Player A is Kristaps Porzingis. Enough said.
Enes Kanter also learnt the hard way that Markkanen can do more than just shoot.
Dennis Smith Jr.
14.3 points per game, 4.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 39% FG, 33% from 3
Dennis Smith Jr has played in 36 games so far this season, and has been a starter in all 36 of them. While this says a lot about the Mavericks current struggles, it also highlights the level of talent within Smith. While the shooting numbers leave room for improvement, Smith has been handed the keys of an NBA offense as a rookie and should be expected to struggle with efficiency early on.
What Smith hasn’t struggled with is dunking. The one-man highlight reel is constantly looking to add to his already impressive poster collection.
Smart move Durant, very smart move.
10.7 points per game, 6.9 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 58% FG
Hidden away on the barren wasteland that in the Atlanta Hawks 2017-18 season, Collins often isn’t featured in the Rookie of the Year conversation. While he may not possess the scoring capabilities of other rookies, Collins has developed into a rim-rolling nightmare who can shoot the mid-range and lock down on the defensive end. Through his first 37 games he has also shown a knack for offensive rebounding, pulling down 2.8 offensive boards per contest (11th best in NBA).
Did I mention that he likes to dunk?
Los Angeles Lakers
10.2 points per game, 7.1 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 35% FG, 30% from 3, 48% FT
Lonzo Ball has more All-Star votes than Damian Lillard, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and Bradley Beal. If you need more convincing the All-Star voting is just a popularity contest, look no further. Also, don’t look at Lonzo’s shooting percentages. Just don’t.
In all seriousness, Lonzo came into the league with completely unrealistic expectations. Through no fault of his own he was put on a pedestal that he simply isn’t ready for yet, which is why there has been such heated debate about his performances.
In defense of Lonzo, he is actually piecing together a decent season. He is top 10 in rebounds, steals, assists and blocks amongst point guards in the NBA. The Lakers are 0-7 when he doesn’t play and the ugly shooting percentages are slowly creeping back up to respectable.
Lonzo is not the immediate savior the Lakers thought they were getting, but he still has the potential to be an elite player in years to come.
Jordan Bell – 5.2 PPG, 4 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 66% FG
De’Aaron Fox – 10.3 PPG, 4.3 assists, 1 steal, 40% FG, 30% from 3
Josh Jackson – 9.7 PPG, 1.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 39% FG
OG Anunoby – 6.4 PPG, 2.3 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 46% FG, 37% from 3
I have not included Simmons in the class of 2017 as although he is a rookie this year, he is still technically part of the class of 2016.