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NBA Rookie Rankings (Nov. 2017): Big Ben Towers Above the Pack

Ben Simmons has picked up right where he left off at LSU. (Photo Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire)

We shared our first NBA Rookie Rankings back on October 16th. The new season was still one day away, and our views were heavily swayed by Summer League performances, preseason highlights, and the considerable bombast of LaVar Ball.

We’ve since had a chance to watch this year’s rookies play meaningful minutes, and we’ve been astounded by the results. Ben Simmons has looked like the second coming of Oscar Robertson, Jayson Tatum has shown the poise of a ten-year vet, and John Collins has been responsible for a series of earthquakes on the east coast with his massive dunks. Everywhere you look, rookies are putting up big numbers, which is a welcome change from last year, when it felt like the Rookie of the Year award was a mucous-covered subway pole that no one wanted to touch.

We’ve taken everyone’s eye-popping performances into consideration and have recalibrated our initial rankings. We’ll update our list every month with new odds, props, and statistical analysis as the 2017-18 season unfolds.

Rookie of the Year Odds (as of Nov. 7)

  • Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers): 5/2
  • Lauri Markkanen (Chicago Bulls): 5/1
  • Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics): 7/1
  • Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers): 9/1
  • Lonzo Ball (Los Angeles Lakers): 12/1
  • Dennis Smith Jr. (Dallas Mavericks): 15/1
  • John Collins (Atlanta Hawks): 20/1
  • Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz): 25/1
  • De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings): 33/1
  • Mike James (Phoenix Suns): 50/1
  • FIELD: 20/1


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

1. Ben Simmons (76ers)

Previous Ranking: 2

So much for Ben Simmons being rusty. The 6’10” Sixers phenom has established himself as one of the NBA’s most electrifying players despite missing all of the 2016-17 season and sitting out Summer League. Simmons leads all first-year players in minutes (35.2), scoring (18.0), rebounds (9.8), and assists (8.2), and he recently became the first rookie since Oscar Robertson to record two triple-doubles in his first nine games. At this point, it’s less a matter of whether he’ll win the Rookie of the Year award and more a question of whether he’ll garner MVP consideration.

Over/under on the number of triple-doubles for Ben Simmons: 11.5

2. Lauri Markkanen (Bulls)

Previous Ranking: 10

Nobody has benefitted more from Chicago’s internal discord than Lauri Markkanen, who has greedily gobbled up the minutes vacated by amateur pugilists Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic. The 20-year-old Fin currently ranks second among all rookies in scoring and rebounding at 16.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, and has proven himself to be a decent marksman from behind the arc. Markkanen’s usage rate will likely drop once Portis returns from his suspension (which is imminent) and Mirotic comes back from his broken face (which is not), but for now he’s managed to pull off a minor miracle by making Bulls games bearable.

Over/under on the number of three-pointers Lauri Markkanen will make: 151.5

3. Jayson Tatum (Celtics)

Previous Ranking: 8

Plenty of rookies are posting splashy numbers this season, but few are contributing more to victories than Jayson Tatum, who’s helped the Celtics to a 9-2 record and top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Duke product has started every game of the season and is fourth among all rookies in scoring and rebounding with 14.3 points and 6.5 boards per game. While Tatum’s numbers are solid, what’s even more impressive is the way he’s getting the job done. The 19-year-old is shooting 50-percent from the field, 53-percent from behind the arc, and has the fourth highest PER on the team behind perennial All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, and emerging star Jalen Brown.

Over/under on Jayson Tatum’s PER: 15.5

4. Kyle Kuzma (Lakers)

Previous Ranking: 3

Remember hearing all about the Lakers’ logjam at power forward during the preseason? It isn’t such a logjam anymore. An injury to Larry Nance Jr. has opened the door for Kyle Kuzma, and the Utah alum made the most of his opportunity by posting back-to-back double-doubles in his first two starts of the season. Kuz is presently third among all rookies in scoring at 15.4 points per game and is unlikely to relinquish his starting spot anytime soon.

Odds Kyle Kuzma keeps his starting role when Larry Nance Jr. returns from injury: 9/11

Lonzo Ball has found the transition from college to the pros harder than expected. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

5. Lonzo Ball (Lakers)

Previous Ranking: 1

Don’t tell LaVar Ball, but we’re dropping Lonzo all the way down to fifth on our rookie rankings. The polarizing point guard has mixed brilliant outings, like his 29-11-9 gem against the Suns, with absolute duds, like his zero-point performance against the Blazers. There are times when Ball looks like the best player on the court, and others when his passivity and poor shooting doom L.A. Despite his many lows, Ball is still unquestionably the leader of the Lakers and the player who sets the pace for their surprisingly high-octane attack. He’ll eventually figure it all out, and when he does, the rest of the league had better watch out.

Over/under on the number of triple-doubles for Lonzo Ball: 6.5

6. Dennis Smith Jr. (Mavericks)

Previous Ranking: 4

We have good news and bad news for Mavs fans. The bad news is that Dallas is far worse than anyone could have imagined. The good news is Dennis Smith Jr. is even better than everyone hoped. The ultra-athletic point guard has started nine games for the Mavericks and is averaging 13.3 points and 4.6 assists in 27.9 minutes per game. He isn’t dominant enough to turn the team into a playoff contender just yet, but he’s shown enough flashes of brilliance to assure fans that brighter days are ahead.

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

7. John Collins (Hawks)

Previous Ranking: Honorable Mention

In order to find the Hawks, you have to look way, way down the Eastern Conference standings. In order to find John Collins, all you have to do is watch SportsCenter’s Plays of the Night. The 6’10” pogo stick has become a regular guest star in the segment thanks to his thunderous slam dunks. As fun as his jams may be, Collins can do more than just posterize NBA centers. He’s also a decent low-post scorer and an exceptional rebounder who is currently averaging 10.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. Those numbers (and his number of rim-rattling dunks) should rise as head coach Mike Budenholzer makes him a bigger part of Atlanta’s offense.

Over/under games started for John Collins: 25.5

8. Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)

Previous Ranking: 7

It takes some players longer than others to acclimatize to the speed of the NBA. For Donovan Mitchell, it took exactly six games. The 21-year-old had his coming out party on October 28th when he scored 22 points in a 15-point victory over the Lakers. He’s since dropped 28 points on the Blazers and 25 on the Raptors. The Jazz will need all of his scoring (and then some) this season as they attempt to make up for the absence of Gordon Hayward.

Over/under on the number of 30-point games Donovan Mitchell will record: 3

De’Aaron Fox has had plenty of reasons to smile during his rookie campaign. (Photo by Hector Amezcua/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

9. De’Aaron Fox (Kings)

Previous Ranking: Honorable Mention

De’Aaron Fox’s days of coming off the bench could soon be over. The Kentucky product is averaging 12.7 points and 5.0 assists per game and gives the Kings the kind of speed, swagger, and unpredictability that incumbent starter George Hill lacks. Given the fact that Sacramento is going nowhere, management would be well advised to hand the reins to Fox and allow him to give the team’s rebuild the kick in the ass it needs.

Odds De’Aaron Fox will be the Kings’ starting point guard by the All-Star Break: 1/1

10. Mike James (Suns)

Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

You may not know Mike James’ name, but you should definitely know his game. The undrafted point guard played internationally in Croatia, Israel, and Greece before finally finding a home stateside this season with the Suns. The franchise had tabbed the 27-year-old for their G League affiliate, but a season-ending injury to Brandon Knight and a dispute with Eric Bledsoe has suddenly thrust him into the starting lineup. In eight starts this season, James is averaging 11.7 points, 4.1 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. He may not be the team’s point guard of the future, but simply having a future in the NBA is enough for now for this basketball vagabond.

Odds Mike James leads the Suns in steals: 4/1

Honorable Mentions

  • Dwayne Bacon (Charlotte Hornets)
  • Jordan Bell (Golden State Warriors)
  • Jonathan Isaac (Orlando Magic)
  • Josh Jackson (Phoenix Suns)
  • Malik Monk (Charlotte Hornets)
Author Image

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.