The NBA is a players’ league, no doubt.
With the NBA Draft done for another year, now is the perfect time to make some way-too-early predictions for this class and their rookie performance.
Looking at a combination of ability, team fit and opportunity, here are some early predictions for the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
Markelle Fultz, 6’4”, Guard, Philadelphia 76ers
2016/17 per-game stats: 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.2 blocks
Fultz in Philadelphia makes way too much sense for him to not thrive immediately.
The two things the 76ers needed most were outside shooting and a secondary playmaker to help Ben Simmons.
Check and check. Fultz shot 41.3 per cent from three in his lone season at Washington, and averaged a healthy 5.9 assists on a team where he was by far the best player.
The main knock on Fultz is the same one that Simmons copped a year ago. He put up big numbers but didn’t actually help his team win, as Washington finished the season with a 9-22 record.
However one look at a Washington game would be enough to tell you that his teammates didn’t exactly pull their weight, and that the attention on Fultz from opposition teams was immense.
In Philly, Fultz won’t need to be ‘the guy’ assuming that Joel Embiid can stay healthy, and he should thrive in a lesser role on an up-and-coming team.
Projected 2017/18 stats: 16.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.5 steals
Lonzo Ball, 6’6”, Guard, Los Angeles Lakers
2016/17 per-game stats: 14.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.8 steals
With D’Angelo Russell gone, the keys to the Lakers belong to Lonzo Ball.
In a league where more and more teams are using multiple playmakers at once, a combination of Ball and Russell in the backcourt would have been intriguing.
But Russell’s trade to the Nets means Ball can stick with what he knows.
At UCLA he was the best passer in the country, completely transforming their offense into one of the best seen in the college game.
He averaged 7.6 assists per game against only 2.5 turnovers, dictating the pace of games and finding seams in defences that no-one else could.
His funky jump shot was good for 41.2 per cent shooting from three, and although there are concerns about his mid-range and pull-up shooting, he has the range to hit NBA threes consistently.
While the Lakers may not have the shooting firepower of UCLA, their youngsters should benefit from more easy looks off of Ball’s passes.
And in Brook Lopez, Ball has a potent pick-and-pop partner similar to Thomas Welsh at UCLA.
It can be hard to see past his father Lavar, but if you do so you’ll see a potentially transformative talent who should immediately lift the Lakers offense.
Projected 2017/18 stats: 14.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.6 steals
De’Aaron Fox, 6’3”, Guard, Sacramento Kings
2016/17 per-game stats: 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.5 steals
There was talk of the Kings trading up to draft De’Aaron Fox, so they’ll be glad he got to them at pick five.
Incumbent point guards Darren Collison and Ty Lawson are both out of contract, but even if they both return Fox should start ahead of both from the get go.
He’s blindingly quick in transition and off the dribble, and he’ll get most of his points at the rim.
The Kings have some capable pick-and-roll weapons, with Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere both showing good signs last season.
Fox is also a capable passer, and he’ll be able to create for his teammates by drawing defensive attention in the paint and kicking it out.
His speed will translate to solid defense at the next level, as he should be able to stay in front of most guards.
His outside shooting is shaky at best, terrible at worst (24.6% from three), but his athleticism and playmaking should help offset it early on in his career.
Projected 2017/18 stats: 13.1 points, 1.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.1 steals
Dennis Smith Jr, 6’3”, Guard, Dallas Mavericks
2016/17 per-game stats: 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.9 steals
Dennis Smith Jr is a rare prospect who can do everything at a reasonable level.
He’s an athletic finisher around the rim and a capable mid-range shooter (50.9% on two-pointers), and he can hit the three at a decent clip (35.9%).
He was also a good playmaker at NC State, averaging a healthy 6.2 assists per game.
Dallas relied on undrafted rookie Yogi Ferrell and veteran JJ Barea at the point guard last year, and Smith is an upgrade on both in the starting spot.
Smith is another prospect who played on a subpar team, as NC State finished 15-17 and saw their coach fired.
However the Mavericks won’t be looking to compete any time soon, and having solid shooters such as Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes and Seth Curry should help ease the transition.
Expect Dallas to give him a healthy dose of pick-and-roll plays as he enters the league.
Projected 2017/18 stats: 11.2 points, 1.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.1 steals
Justin Jackson, 6’8”, Guard/Forward, Sacramento Kings
2016/17 per-game stats: 18.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.5 steals
The lone non-freshman on this list, Justin Jackson’s extra two years of college experience should serve him well.
Jackson tested the waters in last year’s pre-draft process, but after low interest from teams he returned to North Carolina and worked tirelessly on his flaws.
The result is a guard with forward size and endless mismatch potential on offense.
He drastically increased his three point shooting volume last season (from 3.0 attempts per game to 7.1) while also improving his accuracy (37% last season).
Listed on draft day as a shooting guard, he’s big enough to give most NBA guards problems both going to the basket and shooting over defenders.
He’s not a top-level athlete, but his size should offset some of the issues that that brings.
In Sacramento he’ll be able to play spot minutes at both shooting guard and small forward, and a lineup featuring Jackson at the three and Buddy Hield at the two could be a good complement to fellow rookie De’Aaron Fox.
With Demarcus Cousins gone, the Kings are in full rebuild mode, and Jackson should have plenty of opportunities to shine.
Projected 2017/18 stats: 10.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.3 steals
Honourable mentions: Malik Monk (Charlotte Hornets), Josh Jackson (Phoenix Suns), Lauri Markkanen (Chicago Bulls)