NBA Rookies: All Rookie First Team so far
Having reached the midway point of the NBA season, which rookies have exceeded expectations and who has disappointed?
First impressions are paramount and a player’s first season in the NBA can say a lot about what type of player they will be. A new city and a new team could mean a breakout initial season or a disappointing slog. Here, we predict what could be the All-Rookie First Team by breaking down the top performers at each position.
Point Guard – Ben Simmons
I’ve never felt comfortable having a player who has already been in the league for a full season being called a rookie. But with no games played last season, Ben Simmons kept his rookie eligibility and is playing out of his skin. He earns a spot on this team and may become Rookie of the Year come June.
At the start of the year, all the hype was around Lonzo Ball. His stock plummeted as the season began and it is very difficult to see his father Lavar’s prophecy of Lonzo leading the Lakers to the playoffs coming true. Lonzo’s number are still decent, ranking in the top 10 in multiple categories amongst all players, but Ben Simmons has dominated the point guard position in the rookie class.
Simmons is lethal with the ball, dishing out assists and shooting above 50% from the field so far. However, in his sophomore season, he needs to work on his three-point shooting and his free throw percentage. Simmons is yet to make a three-point shot this season and his free throw percentage is only 0.4% higher than his field goal percentage.
Other notable point guards include slam dunk contestant Dennis Smith Jr of the Dallas Mavericks and De’Aaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings, who are both having good seasons, but the biggest disappointment comes in the number one overall pick, Markelle Fultz. Fultz has gone through a multitude of problems, ranging from injuries to issues regarding the jump shot that saw him light up college basketball. Hopefully, when he returns from his shoulder injury, he can play to a level to which is demanded of a number overall pick.
Shooting Guard – Donovan Mitchell
Traded on draft night to a Utah Jazz team that lost their starting point guard George Hill and star Gordon Hayward over the summer, the opportunity for Mitchell to make an immediate impact was clear. He has made regular appearances on the highlight reels and he is leading all rookies in scoring, with his remarkable start capped by his tribute to Vince Carter in this year’s All-Star Slam Dunk contest, which Mitchell won.
The Jazz are outside of the playoffs, as was expected at the start of the season, but Mitchell has given them cause for hope. He has a season high of 41 points and puts the ball in the bucket in style. Considering he was the 13th pick, he’s exceeded all expectations and looks like one to watch going forward.
Charlotte’s Malik Monk and Detroit’s Luke Kennard are the other big shooting guards names although the aforementioned Fultz would likely have played major minutes at the position alongside Simmons if he was healthy. Both players are having average seasons, with Kennard shooting a better percentage than Monk but neither have had nearly the impact Mitchell has with his Rookie of the Year growing with each game he plays.
Small Forward – Jayson Tatum
Tatum put up some nice numbers in Utah Summer League last offseason and his strong play has trickled into the regular season and helped the Boston Celtics secure the number one spot in the Eastern Conference coming into the New Year.
Tatum is shooting over 49% from the field and 46% from three. His length and basketball IQ has allowed him to be utilised by Brad Stevens in several roles, all of which he has succeeded in. However, he seems to have hit the Rookie wall as his numbers have dropped in the past month. The question to ask as the season reaches its peak is whether Tatum’s shooting was a flash in the pan or if his hot shooting is here to stay.
The other small forward drafted in the top 10 was Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic. Isaac has struggled with both injury and his three-point shot, only playing about 50% of games this season, and unless he produces an unbelievable second half, it’s safe to say he won’t be making the All-Rookie First Team.
Power Forward – Kyle Kuzma
As far as the Lakers are concerned, Lonzo Ball may have caught the most media attention going into the draft but Kyle Kuzma has exceeded expectation that no-one saw coming. Kuzma, the 27th pick in the draft, is second in points per game and joint second in player efficiency.
Picked up in draft night trade with the Brooklyn Nets, Kuzma broke onto the scene in the Summer League where he averaged 22 points per game, earning him a place on the All-Summer League Second Team. Since then, he’s become a lock in the starting lineup and leads the Lakers in scoring and three-point percentage.
I can’t imagine the 26 teams that had the opportunity before the Lakers drafted him at 27 thought he would have this much of an impact this early in his career but it goes to show either the stroke of luck needed when picking in the draft or the supreme level of scouting from the Lakers, I’ll let you decide.
Center – Lauri Markkanen
Though Markkanen is really a Power Forward, there is no eligible Center that could be considered in this team, so the ‘Finnisher’ gets a spot. Markkanen, pictured above appearing for his native Finland in Eurobasket 2017, is your stereotypical European big man. He’s seven feet tall with a smooth outside jump shot and is technically gifted, as he showed in the Skills Challenge at All-Star Weekend.
Markkanen was a part of the Jimmy Butler trade and as a result, he finds himself on the rebuilding Chicago Bulls. This has given him the opportunity to play big minutes and show the league what he can do, a chance he has not allowed to slip away, becoming the fastest rookie to hit 100 three-pointers in NBA history. He may need time to adapt to the nuances of the NBA game but, from what he has shown so far, he seems to be a strong building block for the Bulls alongside Zach LaVine.
Which Rookies have surprised or disappointed you? Comment below!