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The Lead’s Rookie Power Rankings #4

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The more this season unfolds itself, the more difficult ranking these rookies becomes. Kyle Kuzma’s 38 point takeover two weeks ago keeps him clawing for the top spot. Meanwhile, Mike James stint in the top 10 has come to an end after being cut by the Suns just weeks after earning a contract. With high lottery picks like Josh Jackson and De’Aaron Fox looking steadily underwhelming, sleepers like Jordan Bell have seized their opportunity and jumped their over-hyped peers. As we close in on the All-Star Break, what had once looked a runaway has turned to a neck-and-neck race as a number of rookies are barreling in to upend Simmons from the throne.

Here are The Lead’s Rookie Rankings: Edition 4

 

1.  Ben Simmons- 76ers (No change)

Stats: 35.5 mpg, 16.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 7.5 apg, 51% fg

USA Today

Ben Simmons is human after all.

After playing near-flawless basketball for the first 2 months of the season, he has slowed down a bit in the last few weeks. With Joel Embiid battling injuries, Simmons has been tasked with taking over the main scoring role on the Sixers, a role he is just uncomfortable with at this point in his career. Without being a real threat beyond the paint, defenses are figuring out how to defend Simmons, which leads him straight into a roadblock. To put the play of an Embiid-less Simmons into perspective, with Joel on the court Simmons true shooting percentage sits at 60.5%. But when Embiid takes a seat on the pine, Simmons true shooting percentage craters to 46.6%.

Simmons still sits at the top, but if he continues to endure these mini-slumps, there are three studs underneath him all ready to dethrone the super-rookie.

2. Jayson Tatum (+1)

Stats: 31.1 mpg, 13.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, 49.8% fg

SB Nation

Danny Ainge must know something that the rest of the league doesn’t.

Tatum is playing over 30 minutes a game. For the best defense in the league. At 19 years old. Let that sink in for a moment.

But don’t let his phenomenal defense distract you from what he is doing on the other side of the ball, where Tatum is leading all rookies with a 63.6% true shooting percentage, including 47% from three, putting him at third in the entire NBA. Although he could be little more aggressive attacking the rim and finishing, there isn’t much to complain about considering he is playing this excellent off ball and he’s still a teenager.

While his lack of garish stats might ultimately keep him from taking home the ROY, being an integral piece on a Boston team on their way to another top seed in the East might top any individual award.

3. Donovan Mitchell (-1)

Stats: 31.2 mpg, 18.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.4 apg, 43.9% fg

The J-Notes

Gordon Who?

While it’s way too early to be making these kind of remarks, Mitchell’s gravity defying slams are at least easing the pain of Salt Lake City’s failed “Stayward” campaign. Donovan Mitchell has immediately stepped in to fill the scoring void that Gordon Hayward left behind, as Mitchell’s 18.5 PPG leads his team, and the rookie class, in scoring.

Mitchell has shifted up a few gears after a pretty rough start to the season, blending a rare combination of quick slashing, iso-scoring, and lethal spot-up shooting. His game eerily resembles that of–do I dare say it–a young Dwayne Wade. Whether its catching a lob with his head at rim level or pick pocketing on defense and pulling up on the break, Mitchell has shown so much more potential than what was previously thought in his time at Louisville.

If Rudy Gobert comes back strong and the Jazz are able to sneak into the 8 seed, don’t be surprised if the Simmons-Mitchell debate becomes one of the hottest topics come May.

 

4. Kyle Kuzma- Lakers (No change)

Stats: 31.6 mpg, 16.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.8 apg, 46.4% fg

The Undefeated

Kyle Kuzma is a scoring machine.

Perhaps no one fell into a better situation this summer than the 27th pick out of Utah did when he landed on the run and gun Lakers. He scores from the three. He dunks it. He’s bringing the running hook back. There isn’t much that Kuzma doesn’t have in his bag of tricks. Whether or not the Lakers bring him off the bench as the season continues is yet to be seen, but you can be sure that Kuz will be getting buckets no matter who is surrounding him.

The only thing keeping Kuzma from climbing the rookie ladder (other than the ridiculous depth of this class) is Kyle’s porous defense. Kuzma ranks 454 out of 468 qualified players in defensive real plus minus (ESPN), and only adds to an already pervious defensive unit when he comes off the bench. While his lack of lateral quickness does put some limitations on his defensive ability, if he applies his offensive work ethic to the less glamorous side of the game, there is nothing stopping Kuzma from becoming a future All-Star.

 

5. Lonzo Ball- Lakers (+2)

Stats: 33.6 mpg, 10.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 7.1 apg, 34.9% fg

USA Today

Lonzo comes in at the fifth spot, but is a substantial drop-off from the first 4 on this list.

While the top of this class makes everyone forget about the inconsistency that normally plagues the rookie class, Zo is here to remind you of the roller-coaster season that rookies withstand. Some nights he looks like the franchise-building, perennial superstar that Magic and the Lakers were captivated with in the months leading up to the draft. Other nights, he is a far cry from the Big-Baller that his father hyped him up to be.

Maybe his brothers departing for Lithuania was a blessing in disguise for Lonzo, who doesn’t have to deal with the attention of his father who is busy selling overpriced kicks to European fanboys. Since Lamelo and LiAngelo went overseas, Lonzo has seen both his field goal and three point percentages elevate nearly 5 percent. He looks more comfortable in every facet of the game, and he now leads the class in Assist/Turnover ratio with his head-turning dimes.

Right now, it is far too early to pass any judgments on what Zo could be in the league. He will have breathtaking games, and he will have games that have the entire Staples Center face-palming. But as the age old cliche goes, only time will tell how good Lonzo Ball can be.

 

6. Dennis Smith Jr. -Mavericks (No Change)

Stats: 27.9 mpg, 14.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.5 apg, 39.3% fg

NBA.com

It seems like every night brings about a new clip of Smith Jr. levitating to the basket and vigorously tomahawking the ball with Westbrook-esque force.

The dunks are great, but Dennis Smith leaves much to be desired at this point, mostly due to the mountainous potential he shows. While his decision making is slowly improving, he still makes far too many ill-advised passes and questionable shots to help his team put some more in the win column. With a sky-high usage rate and a number of uninspired teammates, these growing pains are of course expected.

As we near the midway point, the glass is more than half-full for Mavs fans, because Smith Jr. is only going to get better and better. He has the potential to be a franchise point guard, and will likely be handed the keys to the offense as soon as next year. With as much physical talent as we have ever seen enter the league, it is the mental part of the game that is going to determine how good Dennis Smith Jr. can become.

 

7. Lauri Markkanen- Bulls (+1)

Stats: 30.2 mpg, 15.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.3 apg, 42.8% fg

ClutchPoints

Just when it looked like Markkanen was on the fringe of slipping out of the rankings, he has responded with a few huge weeks.

Lauri has now gone 9 straight games hitting at least 2 three pointers, including 8 triples in a 33-point performance to lead the Bulls to victory in a double OT thriller at The Garden.

The Finnish sharpshooter is leading rookies in 3 pt attempts per game, and rightfully so, as he has connected on 45% of them in the last 2 weeks. His improvement from behind the arc could be partly attributed to Kris Dunn and Nikola Mirotic’s stellar play as of late, which opens up the floor for Markkanen and allows him to get easier looks.

As Bulls fans are trying to forget the Jimmy Butler glory days, Markkanen at least provides some kind of a consolation. Although he’s a long shot for Rookie of the Year, Lauri is already exceeding the expectations of the numerous critics that coined him a bust before he took a step on an NBA court.

 

8. OG Anunoby- Raptors (+2)

Stats: 21.4 mpg, 6.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.8 apg, 46.4% fg

The Athletic

Anunoby might be the third most important player on a Toronto Raptors team that is playing excellent basketball at the moment. He is the only player on the roster than can seamlessly slide between 5 positions defensively, while at the same time shooting the three at the highest mark on the team.

The Raptors are outscoring opponents by a net rate of 15.9 points per 100 possessions when Anunoby is on the floor. This rating is second to only Steph Curry among players with at least 400 minutes this season. It is quite a delicacy to have a rookie serve as a catalyst so early in his career, especially considering he tore his ACL less than 12 months ago.

Putting up a career-high 20 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the 3-point line against the Charlotte Hornets a few weeks ago, Anunoby is showing a deep ball threat that was not present in his time at Indiana. Expect OG to continue his 3 and D prowess as he regains more and more of his bounce that made him a spark plug for the Hoosiers.

9. John Collins- Hawks (-4)

Stats: 22.2 mpg, 10.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.1 apg, 58.6% fg

ClutchPoints

Coming back from a shoulder injury, Collins continues to play the ultra-efficient offensive ball that he has played all year for Atlanta. But offense has never been Collins’ problem.

His shortcomings lie on the defensive end of the ball, specifically in one-on-one situations. In iso scenarios, Collins is giving up 1.087 points per possession, a mark well below league average. While this was an acknowledged flaw of the Wake Forest product coming into the league, it is much more noticeable at the professional level when he can’t use his elite size and athleticism to make up for his inadequacies.

Having that said, there is no reason for Collins not to be seeing the court for 30 minutes a night. For starters, the Hawks defense is going to be disastrous regardless of Collins play on that end. On top of this, Atlanta is in no position to even dream of landing a playoff spot, and so keeping Collins off the court is only slowing his development and hurting a team in dire need of Collins’ spark plug energy. Even if he doesn’t see more court time with Dewayne Dedmon coming back, it’s going to be awesome to watch the high-flying Collins obliterate rims for the rest of the season.

 

10. Jordan Bell- Warriors (PREVIOUSLY UNRANKED)

Stats: 14.8 mpg, 5.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.9 apg, 66.4% fg

Chicago Tribune

The Bulls management has made a plethora of questionable moves in the last few years, and trading Jordan Bell to the defending world champs for cash was just adding insult to injury.

Prepare yourself for the Draymond Green comparisons to start rolling in, as Bell’s 36-minute averages of 12.9 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 2.8 blocks eerily resemble Draymond’s stats in the last few years. But the comparison extends far beyond stats, as Bell’s ever-developing playmaking and passing skills make you do a double take to make sure it wasn’t Green. No one is asking Bell to be a dynamic offensive player, and as a result he can help out the team by playing 15 really solid minutes of catching lobs and swatting layups.

It’s difficult to tell whether Jordan Bell is so effective because he plays for the Warriors, or because he possesses such a rare skillset. Probably a little bit of both. But whatever it is that has allowed the second-rounder out of Oregon to play so efficiently, it looks as if his ability is only going to ascend. The Warriors have seemingly struck gold again, and the rest of the NBA can only look and awe and hope one day they can put together a front office like Golden State.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Bogdan Bogdanovic- Kings

Frank Mason III- Kings

Bam Adebayo- Heat

Josh Jackson- Suns

 

Dropped Out:

Mike James- Suns/Free Agent

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About Logan Collien

From Madison, WI Twitter: @lcollien

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