Fantasy Basketball Rookie Watch: Ben Simmons lives up to the hype, while Lauri Markkanen exceeds it early on
This could be one of the best rookie classes in years. We catch up with the talented youngsters after their first two weeks in the league.
With Tuesday night's games in the books, we're officially a full two weeks into the NBA season.
Let's make one thing clear: It's still far too early to pass judgement on most early trends. Aaron Gordon probably won't emerge as the best three-point shooter in the NBA; The Cavs probably won't lose 50 games and miss the playoffs; And the Grizzlies might not, in fact, be the best team in the West.
All that said, it's never too early to pick apart players who've spent less than 250 minutes on an NBA floor. The 2017 rookie class carried as much hype as any in recent memory, and for good reason. Now that we've had a couple of weeks to see for ourselves, let's take a look at which rookies have turned heads early on, and which have left fantasy owners cursing the name of Bryan Colangelo.
Why not start at the top? During the preseason, the reigning No. 1 pick debuted a new, clunky-at-best, shooting motion. No one thought much of it at the time, but soon after his regular season debut, it was clear Fultz wasn't right. While he still occasionally flashed the slashing ability that made him close to a consensus No. 1 prospect in a loaded class, Fultz looked a step slow on offense and avoided the three-point line altogether -- a concerning development for a player whose ability to play off-ball was a key selling point next to Ben Simmons.
After slogging through four games off the bench, Fultz is sidelined indefinitely with a "muscle imbalance" in his shoulder -- or so we're told. The situation has developed into its own mini-circus, but what we do know is Fultz probably won't be back on the court until sometime mid-to-late November.
The shoulder issue seems like it'll iron itself out in the coming months, and Fultz's long-term outlook is still in great shape. But considering he was coming off the board as early as Round 5 for Fantasy, to say it's been a frustrating start to his career would be an understatement. His talent makes him worth stashing, but it may be a while before he makes an impact.
Ben Simmons, 76ers
The No. 1 pick in 2016, Simmons certainly appears to have benefited from a year of seasoning, even if that didn't include playing in an NBA game. Simmons has been so good through seven games -- 18.4 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 7.7 APG, 1.4 SPG, 53% FG -- that the Fultz fiasco suddenly seems relatively trivial. To put his start into perspective, consider that Simmons is the first player -- not rookie -- since Scottie Pippen in 1992 to average at least 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists through the first seven games of a season.
Perhaps even more impressive is Simmons is doing it without any semblance of an outside shot. Defenses have noticed that he's yet to hit a three-pointer (0-4 3PT), but that hasn't abated Simmons' ability to get to his spots on the floor and finish in the lane or draw contact. Simmons has attempted 10 more free throws than any other rookie (Jayson Tatum) and has a 16-attempt lead over No. 3, John Collins.
Jayson Tatum, Celtics
The moment Gordon Hayward's ankle did something ankles are not supposed to do, Tatum went from high-upside prospect to immediate fantasy contributor. Through seven games, Tatum ranks third among rookies in scoring (14.0 PPG), first in blocks (1.1 BPG) and fifth in rebounding (7.0 RPG), all while shooting better than 48 percent from the field and an even 50 percent (10-20 3PT) from three. The shooting efficiency will regress, but it's nonetheless been an impressive start for a 19-year-old who still has considerable work to do on his body.
If you had sky-high expectations for Ball to step in as the second coming of Jason Kidd, you're probably a bit disappointed right now. But despite a few rough nights and some horrific jump shooting numbers, Ball has been mostly the player he was at UCLA. He's averaging only 10.4 points per game, but he trails only Simmons for the rookie-lead in assists (7.0 APG), and his strong rebounding at the college level appears to have translated (7.3 RPG, third among rookies). The shooting numbers are ghastly and need to be addressed -- 33.3% FG, 28.6% (10-35) 3PT -- but Ball was a very good spot-up shooter with deep range at UCLA, so the three-point shot will hopefully come around. What's perhaps more concerning are his struggles in the lane, where he's converted less than 40 percent of his attempts.
I had concerns about how Markkanen would fit at the NBA level, but through two weeks, the Arizona product has been as impressive as any rookie not named "Ben." Markkanen ranks behind only Simmons in scoring (15.6 PPG) and is hitting nearly 42 percent of his 7.2 three-point attempts per game. Given Markkanen's pedigree, that number seems relatively sustainable.
Shooting aside, Markkanen's rebounding is what's been most impressive. Whether he could hold his own on the glass was a major concern coming out of college, but Markkanen leads all rookies in boards with 9.6 per game,while holding onto a respectable 15.3% Total Rebound Percentage.
John Collins, Hawks
To the general basketball public who didn't see much of Collins at Wake Forest, he's been the early breakout from the 2017 class (non-Kuzma division). While Collins is still very much raw, he's in the best situation of any non-lottery rookie, averaging more than 20 minutes per game for a ravaged Hawks roster.
Collins has translated that opportunity to 11.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, while adding 0.9 blocks and shooting 51.7 percent from the floor. For as good as Collins has been thus far, his numbers could certainly improve if Atlanta eventually accepts the inevitable and goes into full-on tank mode, with Collins overtaking Ersan Ilyasova or Dewayne Dedmon in the rotation. If that happens, he could develop into a starting-caliber Fantasy option.
The Kings' rotation has been a mess, but Fox has been one of the few positives for Sacramento in the early going. The fifth overall pick is one of 11 rookies averaging double-figures in scoring (13.4 PPG), and he's adding 4.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists in minutes per game.
As expected, Fox has been somewhat inefficient as a scorer (41.7% FG), but he's looked reasonably comfortable from the perimeter, and rookie point guards shooting 40 percent from the floor is nothing out of the ordinary. View him as a low-end starting Fantasy option.
Mitchell looked like the steal of the draft back in July at summer league, and while he's struggled as a scorer thus far, given the opportunity, I think the Jazz would trade Trey Lyles -- Trey Lyles! -- and the rights to Tyler Lydon for him again. Mitchell is hitting only 32.9 percent of his field goals and 28.6 percent of his 4.0 three-point attempts per game, but he's holding down a consistent place in the rotation and already has 22-point and 19-point outings under his belt. He's still worth stashing.
Phoenix has apparently righted the ship after maybe the rockiest start in NBA history, winning three of its last four after dropping its first three games by a combined 92 points. The turnaround has coincided with Jackson shifting to the bench, but it hasn't had much of an effect on his workload. The No. 4 pick is struggling to finish in the early going, but he's hitting threes at a consistent clip and has the makings to be the best all-around defender in the class.
Dennis Smith, Jr., Mavericks
Smith is off to a fine start, but not the great start some may have expected after an explosive summer league showing. As is the case with most rookie point guards, Smith hasn't scored efficiently (39.7% FG), and he's not yet comfortable from NBA range (5-22 3PT). That second number, in particular, should rise, as should his unexpectedly poor free throw shooting (9-20 FT). Keep holding him.
Kyle Kuzma, Lakers
I can't remember the last time the 27th pick in the draft generated this much buzz, but such is life as a rookie in Los Angeles. After a bit of a rocky start, Kuzma's three-point stroke is starting to come around (35.7% 3PT) -- making all four of his attempts in Tuesday's win over Detroit helped -- but he's converted 64 percent of his looks from inside the arc and already looks to have a stranglehold (26.6 MPG) on a rotation spot. He's a solid Roto option already.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kings
After missing the Kings' first three games with an injury, Bogdanovic has played between 23 and 28 minutes in each of the last four contests. The 25-year-old, originally a first-round pick of the Suns in 2014, is as NBA-ready as advertised and will be apart of what's been an unstable rotation going forward. Right now, it looks as though efficient scoring with decent three-point production will be Bogdanovic's fantasy calling card, but he should provide modest rebounding/assists numbers and it's worth noting that he had four steals in Sunday's loss to Washington. He has more value in Roto formats right now.
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