Thoughts on the NBA Rookie of the Year Race at the All Star Break
Roughly two-thirds of the way through the 2018 NBA Season, it has become very clear that the next generation of superstars is already here and making their presence felt. The young talent in the league has begun to blossom, and this years’ rising stars game will be one of the most exciting in recent memory. Many teams have found their franchise centerpieces, or potential future stars to add to their young core. This year, the Rookie of the Year award will be given to one of the brightest young stars of the NBA today, and there are several worthy candidates, so I thought that it would be fun to go ahead and run through the best rookies, and give my pick for the award.
At this point in the year, the Rookie of the Year award appears to be a three-player race between Boston’s Jayson Tatum, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell. While those three players have been incredible this year, there are still many other rookies who deserve a lot of credit for how well they are playing. Kyle Kuzma had emerged as a legitimate scoring threat for the Los Angeles Lakers, averaging 15.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, while shooting 45% from the field and 35.8% from three. Lauri Markkanen has emerged in Chicago as a really nice player, who has numbers that line up with a young Dirk Nowitzki, which is a great sign for the Bulls. Dennis Smith Jr. of the Dallas Mavericks is one of the most explosive players in the game, throwing down some of the most impressive dunks of the season. There have been a tremendous amount of success from today’s rookies, and they are one of the most exciting group of young players that the league has ever seen.
Three rookies have separated themselves though, and they appear to be at the top of the class and on track to be a part of the next generation of NBA superstars. Unfortunately for them though, only one player can win the Rookie of the Year award, so let’s look at all three of their cases to win the award.
In the offseason, the Boston Celtics traded away their number one overall pick to the Philadelphia 76ers to let them pick Markelle Fultz. In doing so, the Celtics managed to get another draft pick in the trade, and still drafted the player that they really wanted. With the number three overall pick, the Celtics selected Jayson Tatum. Almost immediately, he was thrust into the starting lineup for the team, as Gordon Hayward got injured in the first quarter of the season. When he was thrust into the lineup, he stepped up immediately, and became an incredible high-volume scorer. For the first three months of the season, he was shooting nearly 50% from the field, while also nearly shooting 50% from three. He was simply incredible. As of late, he has hit a bit of a wall, and in the last two months he has been shooting significantly worse. He has been shooting 41.9% from the field, and 32.7% from three. Regardless of the shooting drop off, his scoring has largely remained the same, averaging nearly 15 points in each month of the season. The most important part of the argument for Tatum though, is the fact that he has been a massive reason for the Celtics success in the “first half” of the season. He has been part of an incredible young core, and pairing him with Jaylen Brown and Kyrie Irving is incredible, and could set the Celtics up to run the Eastern Conference for years to come. Overall, his numbers are in the middle of the pack as far as the current rookie class goes, but his impact on the Celtics definitely thrusts him into the conversation for Rookie of the Year. He is sixth among rookies in ppg, but has one of the highest ceilings in his class.
Ben Simmons has also thrived in his first season with the Philadelphia 76ers. He is nearly averaging a triple-double, with 16.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg, and 7.3 apg, and has played a big part in the 76ers finding their way back into the playoffs. The 76ers currently sit at seventh in the East, and his ability to score and run the offense is perhaps the biggest reason for their success. He is shooting 52.7% from the field, and this is impressive due to the fact that he doesn’t have a jumpshot. He scores most of his points around the hoop, and has not made a single three all year. He stands in a class of his own, he is 6’10” and plays point guard, so he can do nearly anything he wants on a basketball court. He has the potential to lead the resurgence of the 76ers alongside Joel Embiid. He is one of the most dominating players in the NBA, and if he is able to develop his jump shot and start hitting threes, he has the potential to be a completely unstoppable force. My problem with him is that he sat out all of last season, even though it has been widely reported that he could have played towards the end. Of course, according to the NBA and the rules, he is a rookie, but in all actuality, he basically had a redshirt season last year, so his immediate impact is not as impressive as other rookies.
My pick for Rookie of the Year is Donovan Mitchell. He has exploded onto the scene for the Utah Jazz and has emerged as their primary scorer and has been a big reason for their quick turnaround. Heading into the season, the Jazz were expected to suffer a massive regression after losing Gordon Hayward to the Celtics, but Mitchell has stepped up to lead the team into the playoff picture. He has led the Jazz on an 11-game winning streak, and became the first rookie to lead his team in total point and ppg since Wilt Chamberlain and the ‘59-’60 Warriors. He currently leads all rookies in scoring with 19.6 ppg, while also averaging 3.5 rpb and 3.5 apg. He has seamlessly filled the void left by Gordon Hayward, and has stepped up in the biggest moments for the Jazz to help them win games. Before their current 11-game winning streak, the team sat at 19-28, and were floundering in the bottom of the West. Their current run has their record now at 30-28, and they are only 1.5 games back of the Pelicans for the eighth seed. He has been simply spectacular, and looks like he could be a legitimate superstar. He can score from the outside, as well as the inside. He has thrown down some of the best dunks of the season, as well as nailed some of the most clutch outside shots of the year. His impact on the team is very clear, and he has taken a team that was dead in the water, to the brink of playoff contention, and that is more important than any singular stat.
Now, there is still nearly a third of the season left, so there is plenty of room to change and for players to emerge. The race is a close one, so I could see Ben Simmons having a monster finish to the year, or Jayson Tatum breaking through the wall to get high percentages back up. Regardless of who wins the award, the future of the NBA is in good hands with its’ current rookie class.