The NBA season tips off on Wednesday (AEST) with drama, as ever, guaranteed. In a two-part series here on The Roar, we analyse the contenders and favourites from the two conferences, starting in the west.
Only a few weeks into the 2017-18 NBA season it looked to be a one horse race when it came to the Rookie of the Year.
Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons was the number one pick in 2016 and missed his whole first season with a serious foot injury. But still being in the NBA system Simmons learnt a lot became bigger and stronger, learning the life of an NBA player and was better prepared for his first proper NBA season.
Simmons burst out of the gate winning the October/November Eastern Rookie of the Month averaging 18.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists in his first 20 games.
Coming into the NBA Simmons was already being to Cavs superstar LeBron James, but now is starting to get compared to Lakers legend Magic Johnson. The Melbourne-born Simmons is putting up similar if not better numbers than Magic early in his career.
Simmons’ dominance early on threw up the question should he even be eligible for the award due have been in the league a season even though he didn’t play (a red shirt season) and had an advantage over other rookies.
But now early in 2018 four different rookies have won Rookie of the Month awards and this season’s may not be as one sided as some think. It could be one of the closest Rookie of the Year awards in recent history.
As mentioned Simmons earlier won the Eastern Rookie of the month for October/November, the December winner was young Celtics forward Jayson Tatum.
In the West Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma won the October/November Rookie of the month, before Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell won in December.
Each of these four so far in 2017-18 has put forward a case to win Rookie of the Year which makes the rest of the year for these players even more interesting.
Jayson Tatum: (Boston Celtics) Pick 3 in 2017 NBA Draft small forward Jayson Tatum is a natural scorer and was in the Celtic’s plans was going to play and important scoring role off the bench for the second unit.
After a major injury to superstar signing Gordon Hayward in the first game of the season Tatum was thrust into the starting lineup and has made the most of his chance. Still at only 19 years of age Tatum does not look out place in a Celtics squad which has the best record in the NBA at the present moment at 33-10.
Playing alongside All Stars Kyrie Irving and Al Horford there is a lot less pressure on Tatum allowing him to play with a lot more freedom, shooting at an amazing 46.2 per cent from three and 49.8 per cent from the floor. As a rookie he is a solid contributor without lighting up the scoreboard which is all his coach and team asks of him.
Tatum Statistics: (43 games) Points: 13.9, Rebounds: 5.5, Assists: 1.3, Steals: 1.0, Field Goal percent: 49.8%
Kyle Kuzma: (LA Lakers) Power forward Kyle Kuzma who went at pick 27 is looking to be the steal of the draft.
Coming into the Lakers season all the attention was on the other Lakers rookie pick 2 Lonzo Ball and Kuzma was looking to ride the bench most of the season. But hasn’t he proved doubters wrong coming out this season with a bang and looks to be by far the Lakers best rookie this season and is often preferred over Julius Randle in the starting lineup.
He plays with such effort and energy being able to finish in the paint being able to knock down the three point shot at a respectable 37.8 per cent for a rookie. His season high came in win over a strong Rockets lineup with Brook Lopez out Kuzma took control of the frontcourt scoring 38 points knocking down 7 three pointers.
He’s shown in his early career he has a big future ahead and can be a solid contributor and starter for the Lakers in the years to come.
Kuzma Statistics: (38 games) Points: 17.1, Rebounds: 6.3, Assists: 1.7, Steals: 0.4, Field Goal percent: 46.4%
Donovan Mitchell: (Utah Jazz) Mitchell was selected at pick 13 in the 2017 NBA Draft and already in nearly half a season he has proven he can be a high scorer in this league.
He has already become the Jazz go to scorer after the loss of Gordon Hayward in the offseason.
He leads all rookies in points averaging 18.5 points a game. In December the month he won Western Rookie of the month Mitchell averaged 23.1 points a game far more than any other rookie.
On December 1 against the New Orleans Pelicans Mitchell became the first rookie since Blake Griffin in 2010-11 to score 40 points in a game, dropping 41 points with 6 three pointers. He has also become a highlight reel pulling off some of the most spectacular dunks and alley-oops this season which is amazing for his 6’3” stature.
Mitchell Statistics: (38 games) Points: 18.5, Rebounds: 3.3, Assists: 3.4, Steals: 1.5, Field Goal percent: 43.9%
Ben Simmons: (Philadelphia 76ers) Pick 1 in the 2016 NBA Draft, Simmons has taken the league by storm after his first season being out with a foot injury. The 6’10” Aussie point guard has already been compared with LeBron James and Magic Johnson.
He uses his size to get into the lane and finish with ease and his amazing court vision is able to set up teammates to knock down open shots.
After his Eastern Rookie of the month win, Simmons started to slow down a bit when it came to scoring but still helped his team rebounding and passing.
Simmons along with Joel Embiid are the two pillars that the 76ers are looking to build on and hopefully soon make some noise in the playoffs. Simmons will be a superstar in this league for the years to come there is no doubt about that.
Simmons Statistics: (37games) Points: 16.9, Rebounds: 8.4, Asssists: 7.5, Steals: 1.9, Field Goal percent: 51%
All of these players have put forward a valid case in the first half of the season to be in Rookie of the Year contention, but in my eyes this award is still Simmons’ to lose.
Simmons leads all rookies in rebounds, assists and steals and is still only third in scoring. He brings more to his team than the others and I believe even with a solid case from the others he will be the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year.
Mitchell taking over the scoring in Utah and becoming a human highlight reel I believe will get him second place with Kuzma also making the podium in third, with young Tatum fourth.
This isn’t even mentioning other rookies who are all putting in strong performances such as Lauri Markkanen, John Collins, Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr just to name a few.
This rookie class without a doubt looks to be one of the strongest in years, and it also brings up the discussion should players who have red shirt seasons be eligible for the award?
Blake Griffin is a prime example of a player who won the award after a red shirt season.