The NBA’s 2017 rookie class is one of the deepest and most talented groups to come out of the draft in recent memory.
There was a ton of hype surrounding rookies coming into this season not only because of the robust field of players from the draft, but because the previous season’s No. 1 overall pick, Ben Simmons, was waiting in the wings to make his debut.
As with any year, there have been busts, disappointments, surprises, and exceptional performances from the NBA’s freshmen. So overall how is the rookie class performing? Let’s take a look.
Leading the race
The Sixers, with the 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, and redshirt rookie Simmons, have their place on both ends of the spectrum. Fultz has yet to make his mark on the league, having played in only four games, but Simmons quickly showed he was deserving of the previous year’s top pick.
Simmons seemed like an early runaway for rookie of the year, but Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, 2017’s No. 13 pick, has done his best to make sure it won’t be an easy decision.
“Has Donovan closed the gap to Simmons as rookie of the year? Personally, I would have to say yes,” Hall of Famer Reggie Miller recently said.
Mitchell is averaging 19.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. He has scored 40-plus points twice and 30-plus points four other times. In 55 games, he has scored in single digits only nine times — one of which came in Philadelphia when he went 3 of 21 from the floor for just eight points on Nov. 7.
Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game, having racked up 21 double-doubles and six triple-doubles.
“You have a guy like Donovan Mitchell or a guy like Ben, and these guys are making impacts on winning teams,” veteran JJ Redick said Wednesday.
The Sixers, in large part thanks to the play of Simmons, is currently sitting at seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings. The Jazz, with Mitchell’s offensive explosiveness, are currently on an NBA-best 11-game winning streak and making a push for the eighth spot in the West.
While Mitchell’s scoring clip is higher than Simmons’, the Sixers’ rookie is scoring at a more efficient rate (shooting 52.7 percent to Mitchell’s 43.9 percent) and has a better defensive rating.
Simmons is still leading the rookie of the year race, but Mitchell has burst onto the scene as the most capable competition for the end-of-year honor.
Top lottery picks
Simmons and Mitchell aren’t the only rookies who are turning heads this season.
“It’s a very deep rookie class and there are a lot of guys that have made a high-level impact,” Redick said. “There’s a lot of good players that will be eventual all-stars and all-NBA guys in this year’s class, including the guy we’re playing against [Thursday].”
That guy is Lauri Markkanen of the Chicago Bulls. Picked seventh overall in 2017, Markkanen has been a consistently positive presence on a Bulls team that has slowly dropped off in the standings. He is posting averages of 15.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
|9||Dennis Smith Jr.||Mavericks||14.8||3.9||4.9|
|10||Zach Collins||Trail Blazers||4.0||3.3||0.8|
This table excludes top draft selections that have played fewer than 20 games. All stats are averages per game.
Then there’s Jayson Tatum, the Celtics’ pick at No. 3 in 2017. Before dislocating the pinkie on his shooting hand on Dec. 20, he was shooting an NBA-high 51.5 percent from three-point range. He’s still holding impressive shooting percentages, having played every game this season and averaging 13.5 points.
Other high picks like Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. have also had great seasons, but because they are not on winning teams or spent time coming off the bench, it’s harder to see their full impact. But to Redick’s point, these are all young players who are clearly going to make their mark on the NBA.
Busts and projects
No. We’re aren’t going to put Fultz on the bust list. He has to play first.
But we will put Jonathan Isaac here. The No. 6 pick in the draft by the Orlando Magic, Isaac has been dealing with a nagging ankle injury that has forced him to miss 41 games. But even in the 15 appearances he’s made, he has been largely ineffective. Now it’s expected that he will play in the G League before returning to play with the Magic.
No. 10 pick Zach Collins was never expected to be a big-time scorer or get huge playing time right out of the gate for the Trail Blazers, which is good because he isn’t that guy. Collins is a bench player just as he was for Gonzaga and it will likely stay that way for many years to come.
Now, Malik Monk, the No. 11 pick. This one is more difficult because many believe Monk would be a more valuable player if he was given more playing time. But it was streaky offense and bad defense that led to him falling out of the Charlotte Hornets’ rotation. Highly regarded coming out of Kentucky, Monk now receives mostly garbage-time minutes, and picks up a DNP (coach’s decision) just about every other game.