NBA Draft Class ’17: Who’s Most Likely to Win Rookie of the Year?


In June, when the Philadelphia 76ers picked Washington PG Markelle Fultz, Sixers fans were salivating. Philly had assembled a core of young players that could lead the Eastern Conference for years to come. Center Joel Embiid and G Ben Simmons were finally healthy. The team signed sharpshooter J.J. Redick for a veteran presence. Fultz was expected to be the final piece of the puzzle. But then, injuries happened. The talented rookie was suffering from a mysterious shoulder injury that severely affected his shooting motion. He needed rest and rehab. With the number one pick in the draft down indefinitely, which NBA rookie has the best chance of winning the R.O.Y. award? Let’s break down the contenders.

Donovan Mitchell
G/Utah Jazz
Stats: 20.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.6 APG
W-L: 42-32; Currently 7th seed in Western Conference

For most of the season, NBA talent evaluators and reporters already awarded this year’s Rookie of the Year award to Ben Simmons, the 6’10” point Sixers forward. This season, Simmons is 100% healthy and leading the team’s resurgence to playoff contention. But unless you’re an NBA junkie and catch the West Coast games on NBA League Pass, you’re missing out on Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell was expected to be a contributor off the bench backing up Gordon Hayward and veteran George Hill. With Hayward now in Boston and Hill traded to the Cavaliers, head coach Quin Snyder asked his talented rookie to step up.

Mitchell has. In his 23rd NBA game, he scored 41 points, a career-high. Plus, as Yahoo! Sports reported on March 27, “He’s [become] the Jazz’s leading scorer (20.3 points per game) and his production has [picked] up since the All-Star break. Mitchell has won three consecutive Rookie of the Month awards since December 2017. He’s guided the Jazz to 10 games over .500. It’s one thing to score big on a losing team, but when your scoring leads to wins, you’re doing something right.

Ben Simmons
G/Philadephia 76ers
Stats: 16.9 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 8 APG
W-L: 43-30; Currently 4th seed in the Eastern Conference

When Ben Simmons was medically cleared to return to the court, Sixers fans were excited to see the highly touted rookie from Australia in uniform. The reviews are in. Simmons is a superstar in the making. At 6’10”, Simmons reminds NBA observers of Magic Johnson. He’s big enough to play down low, but what’s unique–he initiates the team’s offense. Simmons makes sure lead scorer Joel Embiid and J.J. Redick get their offensive touches. He averages nearly eight assists per game, scores 16 points a game, and shooting above 50% from the field. His exceptional ball-handling and agility get him to the rack.

Simmons shares the distinction of being named Rookie of the Month three times with Donovan Mitchell. If anything gives Simmons an edge over Mitchell in the ROY award, it’s team success. The Sixers are 13 games over .500 and firmly positioned for home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Kyle Kuzma
F/Los Angeles Lakers
Stats: 15.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.8 APG
W-L: 32-41; Eliminated from Playoff Contention

Defense wins championships. The Los Angeles Lakers draft a highly-acclaimed college player who will return the team to its past glory. Earvin “Magic” Johnson was drafted by the Lakers in 1979 and won league MVPs and five NBA titles. Magic is now President of Basketball Operations for the Lakers and drafted a talented college player to lead the team back to greatness. There’s only one problem, the player Johnson drafted second overall is not even the best rookie on the Lakers.

The best rookie on the Lakers is 6’9″ forward Kyle Kuzma. The 27th pick overall was traded to the Lakers by the Nets. He wasn’t highly recruited out of high school and not considered a top ten player coming into the NBA. But since the summer league, Kuzma has impressed opponents with his scoring touch, energy, and tenacity. He’s the second-leading scorer on the team, gives you six rebounds per game and two assists. Plus, “The Kooze” doesn’t even start. He was named Rookie of the Month in November 2017 in the Western Conference and even Sir Charles Barkley believes Kyle is the best rookie on the Lakers.

Lonzo Ball
G/Los Angeles Lakers
Stats: 10.2 PPG, 7 RPG, 7.3 APG
W-L: 32-41; Eliminated from Playoff Contention

The success of Kyle Kuzma puts a huge bullseye on Lonzo Ball. The rookie from UCLA created as much pre-draft hype as the King LeBron James. Magic Johnson and Lakers GM Rob Pelinka moved up in the draft to select the 6’6″ guard. At the close of Ball’s rookie campaign, as Public Enemy rapped, “don’t believe the hype.” Ball is a solid all-around player, an above average on the ball defender (+3 rating), passing savant, and initiator of the offense. But Lonzo Ball’s game is severely limited. Longer NBA defenders have exposed a major weakness. Lonzo Ball can’t shoot. But if you have an awkward motion and shoot 35% from the field, 30% from the three-point line, you’re a target. It’s nearly impossible to be an NBA star if you can’t shoot and you miss more than 20 games in one season due to injury.

Dennis Smith Jr.
G/Dallas Mavericks
Stats: 15.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 4.9 APG
W-L: 22-51; Eliminated from Playoff Contention

Winning matters. In a dreadful season for the Dallas Mavericks, the bright spot is the play of PG Dennis Smith Jr. Smith is averaging 15.1 points and 4.9 assists per game, both numbers are in the top five amongst NBA rookies. He’s been able to pick up the NBA game so well, he’s started 63 out of the Mavs’ 73 games. His durability has been a pleasant surprise considering he tore the ACL in his knee in 2015. When you watch Smith Jr. play, what stands out is his athleticism. At only 6’3″ Smith Jr. can elevate and get off the floor like few guards in the NBA. His shot is erratic, but he’s buckets. He was a top scorer at N.C. State and he hasn’t lost his touch during his rookie season.

Unfortunately what’s holding Smith Jr. back is his team. The Mavericks are in limbo, with their Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki contemplating retirement, a lack of talent, and a front office battling allegations of sexual harassment and fostering a hostile work environment.

Jayson Tatum
F/Boston Celtics
Stats: 13.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.5 APG
W-L: 51-23; Currently 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference

The rich get richer. The Boston Celtics had one of the best offseason’s in NBA history in 2017. They signed the highly coveted free agent swingman Gordon Hayward and then traded for “Uncle Drew” Kyrie Irving. If those acquisitions weren’t enough, Boston had the third pick in the NBA Draft 2017 and selected Jayson Tatum, the 6’8″ forward from Duke. Tatum was one of the most polished rookies of the ’17 rookie class. He’s long, athletic, and versatile. He played PG in high school, so he can get his teammates involved and can score in a variety of ways.

Tatum is just the ninth rookie in Celtics history to score 1,000 or more points in his rookie season. He’s shooting under 50% percent on the season, but that low number has more to do with his shot selection. Once Tatum matures, he’ll better distinguish a good shot from a bad one. Our assessment–Tatum makes all the right moves, but something is lacking. Perhaps it’s playing for a solid playoff contending team with established veterans. Tatum doesn’t dominate a game with his play. He’s not an amazing one-on-one player with unstoppable moves, he’s not a can’t miss shooter. He makes solid contributions, but as the third pick overall, the Celtics need more.

The NBA Rookie of the Year Will Be…

We predict Donovan Mitchell will be the 2017-18 NBA Rookie of the Year.