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NBA Rookie Rankings 1.0: Ball Stars

Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire

The NBA Rookie of the Year award is shaping up to be a tale of two cities. Over in Philadelphia, the 76ers have a pair of potent playmakers in Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. Blessed with speed and length, both players are match-up nightmares who perfectly embody today’s position-less game.

Meanwhile, across the country in Los Angeles, the Lakers have a dynamic duo of their own in Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma. The pair looked sensational in Summer League and play the kind of fast-paced, run-and-gun style that L.A. fans haven’t seen since the team’s vaunted Showtime days.

Will L.A. and Philly produce the next Rookie of the Year, or will these talented teammates cut into each other’s votes? We’re glad you asked! We have the answer to that question (and more) in the first instalment of our NBA Rookie Rankings. We’ll update our list every month with new odds, props, and statistical analysis as the 2017-18 season unfolds. Buckle up – it’s going to be a rookie ride.

Rookie of the Year Odds

  • Lonzo Ball (Los Angeles Lakers): 7/2
  • Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers): 5/1
  • Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers): 7/1
  • Dennis Smith Jr. (Dallas Mavericks): 10/1
  • Markelle Fultz (Philadelphia 76ers): 12/1
  • Malik Monk (Charlotte Hornets): 14/1
  • Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz): 15/1
  • Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics): 20/1
  • Josh Jackson (Phoenix Suns): 22/1
  • Lauri Markkanen (Chicago Bulls): 30/1
  • FIELD: 15/1


NB: all props below are for the 2017-18 regular season unless otherwise indicated. 

1. Lonzo Ball (Lakers)

We’ll be the first to admit that Lonzo Ball’s preseason was underwhelming. The 6’6” point guard put up pedestrian numbers in his first two games and was held out for the remainder of the schedule after suffering a minor ankle injury. However, his worth can’t be measured by his numbers alone. Ball’s ability to dictate pace and find open teammates makes everyone run a little faster, cut a little harder, and hustle a little more. We saw in Vegas just how infectious his selflessness can be, and it’s already evident that the Lakers are a vastly better team when he’s directing the attack. He likely won’t average more than 15 points per game or shoot better than 45-percent from the floor, but his ability to push the tempo will make the Lakers one of the most entertaining – and hard-working – teams in the NBA.

Over/under on the triple-doubles for Lonzo Ball: 10.5

Ben Simmons goes to the hole against the Missouri Tigers. Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire

2. Ben Simmons (76ers)

The underlying question with Ben Simmons has always been “can he shoot?” The answer, based on the early returns, is “hell no.” The long-limbed Aussie shot 41-percent from the free-throw line and zero-percent from the arc during the preseason after sitting out 2016-17 with a fractured foot and a case of Sixers Tankeritis. Fortunately, Simmons contributes in myriad other ways. He sees the court better than anyone not named Lonzo Ball and has a remarkable knack for directing traffic and finding the open man. He’s a match-up nightmare against smaller guards and slower forwards, and does just enough on defense to stay on the floor at the end of games. He isn’t a perfect player – not yet, at least – but he does possess the perfect size and athleticism to become a star in today’s NBA.

Odds Ben Simmons shoots over 30-percent from three: 2/1

3. Dennis Smith Jr. (Mavericks)

You already know who we think will win the Rookie of the Year, but who are the rookies, themselves, picking? According to NBA.com, 25.7-percent of this year’s incoming freshman believe the award will go to Dennis Smith Jr. The Mavs point guard had some breathtaking displays of athleticism during the preseason and should get plenty of burn in Dallas following the recent injury to incumbent starter Seth Curry. We certainly like Smith’s game, but Ball and Simmons will have bigger impacts on their respective teams.

Odds Dennis Smith Jr. will participate in the Slam Dunk contest: 3/2

4. Kyle Kuzma (Lakers)

Put your hand up if you thought Kyle Kuzma would be a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate when he was drafted in July. Don’t worry, no one here is raising their hand either. The Utah product dropped to the Nets at 27th and was something of an afterthought in the trade that sent Brook Lopez to the Lakers. He’s since become the talk of basketball after winning the Summer League Championship Game MVP and finishing 14th in the NBA in preseason scoring at 17.3 points per game. Players like Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard have been singing his praises on Twitter and Magic Johnson has called him the “steal of the draft.” The only question now is where he fits into the rotation. “Kuz” likely won’t start much this season, but he could see extended time with Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. as the Lakers try to run the opposition off the floor.

Over/under PPG for Kyle Kuzma: 14.5

5. Markelle Fultz (76ers)

It isn’t often that the top pick in the draft falls to fifth in your preseason rankings. It’s even less common that he gets relegated to the bench, but that’s precisely the situation Markelle Fultz finds himself in after enduring shoulder and knee issues throughout training camp and the preseason. The ailments limited Fultz to just two games and have led him to tinker with his release. It’s understandable that Philly fans may feel a little fretful given the franchise’s long list of lost rookie seasons, but the Sixers aren’t overly concerned. Coach Brett Brown is reportedly just holding Fultz out until he’s gotten enough reps with the starting unit.

Over/under games started for Markelle Fultz: 62.5

6. Malik Monk (Hornets)

You can count Dwight Howard among Malik Monk’s biggest fans. The eight-time All-Star has been blown away by the guard’s progress since training camp and has compared him favorably to Steve Francis, another undersized combo guard with a penchant for filling up the bucket. That’s a lofty comparison, but it’s easy to understand given their small frames and explosive games. Monk led the Hornets during the preseason at 15.6 points per game and could be the scorer and playmaker the team desperately needs when Kemba Walker takes a breather.

Odds Malik Monk will be Charlotte’s leading scorer off the bench: 13/7

7. Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)

Donovan Mitchell will have big shoes to fill this season as he tries to take the place of departed All-Star Gordon Hayward. It’s a lot to ask of any player – let alone a 21-year-old rookie — but the early returns have been very promising. Mitchell averaged 20.4 points and 4.4 steals in Summer League stints in Salt Lake City and Vegas, and put up 17.0 points and 3.0 rebounds during the preseason. His shooting hasn’t always been a thing of beauty, but he makes up for his occasionally poor marksmanship by playing the kind of gritty, in-your-jersey defense that Utah fans have come to expect from their guards.

Over/under PPG for Donovan Mitchell: 10.5

8. Jayson Tatum (Celtics)

You’re not alone if you think there are a lot of similarities between Jayson Tatum and Paul Pierce’s games. Pierce feels the same way. “He looks like an older version of me, when I started doing the step-back and stuff,” the Celtics great recently told NBC Sports Boston. “When I’m watching him, he looks like a mature version of my game, like sixth, seventh, eighth year. He sees the defense. He knows what’s going to happen before it happens. He understands his position, footwork, his step-back [jumper] is there. The sky is the limit for that kid.”

Tatum still has a ways to go if he hopes to be The Truth 2.0, but he’s off to a good start. The 19-year-old started four games in the preseason and led the Celtics to an undefeated record. He’ll likely start again on opening night as Brad Stevens eases Marcus Morris into the rotation.

Over/under games started for Jayson Tatum: 25.5

9. Josh Jackson (Suns)

Phoenix fans got to see plenty of Josh Jackson in the preseason and the lanky forward didn’t disappoint. The Kansas product led the Suns in minutes played and was third in scoring at 14.0 points per game. His PPG numbers are a positive sign of things to come, but it’s Jackson’s overall game that has impressed observers most. JJ averaged 1.0 steal and 0.8 blocks per game, and possesses the athleticism and instincts to be a plus defender at the next level. His commitment to D is especially important since the Suns ranked 28th last season in defensive rating and can use all the help they can get on the other side of the ball.

Odds Josh Jackson leads the Suns in steals: 7/2

Lauri Markkanen drives to the bucket at EuroBasket 2017. Photo by Tuomas Vitkainen (Wikimedia Commons) CC License

10. Lauri Markkanen (Bulls)

Someone has to shoot the ball for the Bulls this season, and it might as well be Lauri Markkanen. The Finnish forward has already become Chicago’s most talented player by default after the team unloaded Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade in the offseason. Their departures should allow Markkanen to hoist up 10-12 shots per game, just as he did in the preseason when he averaged 11.7 points and five rebounds. The results won’t always be pretty, but at least Markkanen will have plenty of opportunities to play through his mistakes.

Odds Lauri Markkanen leads the Bulls in scoring: 4/1

Honorable Mentions

  • John Collins (Hawks)
  • T.J. Leaf (Pacers)
  • Milos Teodosic (Clippers)
  • Zach Collins (Trail Blazers)
  • De’Aaron Fox (Kings)


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Ryan Murphy began his love affair with sports journalism at the age of nine when he wrote his first article about his little league baseball team. He has since authored his own column for Fox Sports, and now serves as SBD’s resident NBA and MLB expert.