Last year’s Rookie of the Year race was one of the more underwhelming in years. The crop of rookies who were actually drafted last year was pretty disappointing. No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons missed the whole season with a broken foot, which made it worse.
Joel Embiid—who was drafted in 2014—was the clear ROY after putting up historic production when he was on the court. However, he was only able to play 31 games, which was why the award eventually went to second-rounder Malcolm Brogdon.
This upcoming season’s Rookie of the Year race figures to be much better, though. If summer league was any indication, this year’s highly-touted draft class has a good chance of living up to the hype. Add Simmons into the mix as he belatedly enters his rookie season and the ROY award figures to be a very hotly-contested one.
Let’s take a quick look at how all the contenders stack up against one another when taking summer league performances and possible in-season circumstances into account.
Lonzo Ball, PG, Los Angeles Lakers
After a disastrous summer league debut, Ball eventually displayed the unique all-around game that made him one of the consensus top two prospects in the draft. He finished with a couple of triple-doubles in Las Vegas summer league, and eventually snagged the MVP award. Ball also brought back memories of Magic and the Showtime Lakers with all of his instinctual plays and passes.
He’s now installed as the favorite for Rookie of the Year thanks to his summer league exploits, and with his ability to not only be a stat-sheet stuffer but also a highly entertaining performer, it’s not hard to see him being a very popular vote next year.
Ben Simmons, F, Philadelphia 76ers
Despite missing all of last year with a broken foot, all that time to practice and settle into the NBA will give Simmons the slight edge over this year’s true rookies. Even with Markelle Fultz’s arrival, expect Simmons to have a lot of the ball. Look for him to put up big rebounding and assist totals as a point forward for Philly. And if Embiid goes down for a significant amount of time once again, Simmons will have even more opportunities to rack up numbers and be the focal point of that promising Sixers team.
Dennis Smith Jr., PG, Dallas Mavericks
Arguably the breakout star of the summer, Smith firmly inserted himself into the ROY discussion along with Ball and Simmons with some electric performances. The NC State product displayed the freakish speed and athleticism that was reminiscent of a former Rookie of the Year and MVP —Derrick Rose.
Smith is the future star the Mavs franchise needs, but he’ll have every opportunity to be one of their stars of the present as well. The biggest threat to that will be if he gets into the doghouse of coach Rick Carlisle, who is notoriously hard on his point guards.
Markelle Fultz, PG, Philadelphia 76ers
Fultz’s summer was cut short by an ankle sprain, but he had already shown flashes of the ability which made him the consensus top pick before getting hurt. Fultz looked as smooth and multifaceted as advertised on the offensive end. And he was at least trying on defense, using his length to record a good amount of blocks.
It remains to be seen just how Fultz fits into the Sixers team, though. With Simmons around, he likely won’t be able to dominate the ball and put up the kinds of numbers as his other draft mates, which will obviously hurt his ROY chances.
De’Aaron Fox, PG, Sacramento Kings
Similar to Fultz, George Hill’s arrival puts a bit of doubt as to the amount of Fox’s playing time during his rookie year. However, Hill can play some off-ball and is also liable to miss a handful of games, so Fox should still get a lot of burn.
Fox shot a decent 44 percent in summer league, although his three-point and free-throw shooting remain issues as expected. Nevertheless, he’ll put up big numbers; whether they’ll be good enough to top the other big favorites is the big question.
Josh Jackson, F, Phoenix Suns
The Suns will play at a lightning quick pace, and Jackson—an exceptional athlete with a ridiculous motor—has will have his chances to pile up some good numbers. His shooting remains suspect, but he can fill up the stat sheet with his rebounding, passing, and defense.
There’s a bit of a road block with TJ Warren likely to command significant minutes off the bench, but head coach Earl Watson should be able to find enough playing time for his talented rookie.
Jayson Tatum, F, Boston Celtics
Tatum showed during summer league that he was every bit the scoring machine he was projected to be coming out of college. However, he’ll have the biggest impediment in terms of playing time among the top rookies due to the Celtics’ depth at the wings.
It’s hard to see him matching the other top rookies for sheer numbers due to his limited playing time, but if he can somehow be a major contributor to a title contender as the Celtics expect to be next year, that could be enough to sway some voters.
Malik Monk, G, Charlotte Hornets
Arguably the top rookie to not participate in summer league due to injury, Monk’s playing time could be similarly inhibited with Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum already playing big minutes in Charlotte’s backcourt. He’ll also be limited in terms of his inability to put up big rebound or assist numbers.
But being an instant-offense combo guard coming off the bench is a decent role for Monk at the moment, and if he can maximize that role and possibly average close to 20 points while helping the Hornets back to the playoffs, he may have an outside shot at winning the award.
The Dark Horse
John Collins, F/C, Atlanta Hawks
Collins might be the most intriguing potential ROY dark horse in this class. The Hawks rookie soared during summer league, displaying the type play which made him a ridiculously productive and efficient player in college last season.
With Paul Millsap gone and Atlanta in full rebuild mode, Collins will get his chance to play big minutes and put up big numbers. It’ll take some impressive numbers for him to overtake the favorites, but if he manages to average close to 20 and 10 for the season, that should be enough to put him on a handful of ballots.
The Lonzo hype train is off and running and it'll be full steam ahead once the regular season comes around. Ball obviously still has his deficiencies as a scorer, but he can contribute so much on the floor even when he's not scoring. His passing is infectious and when he's on he can be so fun to watch.
You just know he's going to get the credit if the Lakers have some drastic improvement next year, which will only add to his case. So if he averages around 14 points, six rebounds and seven assists, plays his trademark style of entertaining ball and leads the Lakers to around six more wins, it's hard to see anyone else getting the award.
Who wins 2018 Rookie of the Year? Comment below!