Here we are, officially one month into the season, and there’s been much to see. From a devastating opening-night injury, to insane stat lines from various “unicorns” around the League, the ’17-’18 season hasn’t disappointed. The 2017 rookie class deserves some credit for this as well, boasting not only a talented group of guys but a deep class as well. Sure Lonzo’s struggling, as all rookies do, but he wasn’t the only person drafted in June…
1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers: While Joel Embiid garners most of the attention on the Sixers, it’s Simmons who has the opportunity to take home some hardware this Spring.
Entering the season, I wasn’t sure of what to expect from Simmons after a year of being sidelined by injury, in fact, I was worried that he might disappoint. “Big Ben” had other plans. Through 15 games, simply put, Ben’s balling. Playing about 35 minutes a night, Simmons is the focal point of this Philadelphia offense as their fearless floor general, and watching Simmons orchestrate for his teammates has been a pleasure. Watching a nearly seven foot guy bring up the ball is old hat at this point, thanks LeBron, but what Simmons brings to the point position is much more than just size. In his first 15 games as a pro, Simmons has had nine games with eight-plus assists and ranks fifth in the League in assists per game. What’s even scarier, I believe we are only seeing a glimpse of the type of playmaker Simmons can be.
With his exceptional vision and willingness to pass, Simmons has all the tools to be an effective playmaker in this league for a long time, an aspect of his game that shouldn’t be overlooked.
But “Big Ben” isn’t just a good playmaker, he’s a dog on the glass as well, snagging 9.2 boards a night, Simmons is a ferocious rebounder unafraid of getting physical for the rock. As a scorer, Simmons is above average at this point; while his shooting stroke is still somewhat suspect, 60% from the stripe and 0-7 from three on the year, the former Fighting Tiger has still found ways to be an effective offensive option. Combining his devastating athleticism with a deep bag of dribble moves, cuts, and solid post play, Simmons is putting up 18 points per game on 50% shooting. While these numbers don’t blow you away, they’re undoubtedly nice, especially when you consider Simmons is doing this without a consistent shot.
Right now, Ben Simmons is the clear option for ROY based on his superb play and the fact that he’s helping his team do something few rookies are, win games. The Sixers went 2-2 this past week and are now 8-7 on the year, chomping at the bit for a playoff berth and “Big Ben” might be the guy to lead them there.
2. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics: Entering this season, there were a few rookies I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about, guys I knew were somewhat ready for the NBA game. Jayson Tatum was one of these guys, and based on his first 11 games as a pro, I made a good call and so did the Celtics.
In ten games as a Celtic, Tatum is averaging quality numbers with 14 points a night, nearly six rebounds, an assist, a steal, a block, and a player efficiency rating of 17.2. No Tatum’s numbers aren’t going to blow anyone away, as he isn’t putting up gaudy scoring totals, but his consistent play and offensive efficiency might. The former Duke star has transformed in his short time with Boston, becoming a good defender reluctant to take plays off, while also improving on the other end of the court. This statement is reinforced by the fact that Tatum has contributed the NBA’s fifth best defensive win shares for the Celtics (1.0) in only 11 games.
Offensively, Tatum is vastly better than he was in College, transforming his deep mid-range buckets into reasonable yet effective threes. On the year, Tatum is shooting 49% from the field, a healthy number that will likely improve as he matures and adjusts to the NBA game. As for his three pointer, Tatum is already amongst the best deep shooters in the League, boasting an absurdly high 48% from downtown to this point, good enough for 11th best in the Association. No, Tatum isn’t putting up crazy numbers on a nightly basis or posterizing someone new every week, but he’s a key contributor to the best team in the NBA, and that means something.
Jayson Tatum is a smart young player with a clear desire to improve and help this Boston team in any way he can, and if the Celts keep winning and Tatum remains consistent, he’ll have a real shot at ROY come June.
3. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz: If there was a team that went through some drastic changes this summer without consistently being in the media, it was probably the Utah Jazz. After losing their franchise center-piece to Danny Ainge and the Celtics, things looked bleak for the Jazz…Then I remembered that on draft night last June, Utah made one of the best moves of the night, a move that’s paying off now, a move by the name of Donovan Mitchell.
When Mitchell was initially traded to the Jazz on draft night, I wasn’t sure how the Louisville guard would fit into the already crowded Utah backcourt. How would he see any time playing behind an improving Rodney Hood? Would he get minutes over Alec Burks or Dante Exum? But as Summer League unfolded, Mitchell’s role on the Jazz became more apparent; Quinn Snyder and the Jazz coaching staff are grooming Mitchell to not only play and be a factor right away in a year of flux, but to one day fill the void left by Hayward.
And though he struggled early on, finding trouble with his shooting stroke and staying efficient, Mitchell looks up to the task of late. After getting the start over Rodney Hood this Monday, Mitchell took the opportunity and ran with it, impressing with his improved play in nearly every aspect of his game. This week, D-Mitchell shined as a starter, putting up 20 points a night, three rebounds, two assists, two steals, and raising his shooting percentage from 38% to nearly 50%.
Granted, a couple of good games doesn’t make an NBA player, but the potential Mitchell is flashing is too intriguing to disregard, especially considering the situation he’s in. With a green light and a starting job for the foreseeable future, don’t be surprised if Mitchell makes a legitimate run at ROY.
Thanks for reading.
All Stats Via ESPN.com/BasketballReference.com
All Images Via Google