Evaluating the NBA Rookie Class of 2017

The 2017 rookie class is nothing short of superb, and will go down as one of the best in recent memory. In addition to the “new” rookies, we also get our first look at 2016 1st overall pick, Ben Simmons. What is most exciting about this rookie class is the depth that will be added to the deepest position in the NBA, the Point Guard position. Beyond that there is some great depth on the wings, and some potential long-time starters in the front-court. Let’s take a look at some of the standouts, and who projects to be a member of the All-Rookie teams by years end.

ROY Favorites

Ben Simmons/Markelle Fultz – Philadelphia 76’ers

The 76’ers have finally been rewarded for Trusting The Process, as Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz will both make their NBA debuts this season.

Simmons, who missed all of his inaugural season with a foot injury, will make an impact from game one and should put up good numbers for the Sixers this year. While he will share touches with Fultz, Simmons’ playmaking ability will make an impact for a team that has had lackluster back-courts for years. The two biggest question marks for Simmons are going to be his conditioning post-injury and his jumper.

Fultz will also be handed a lot of playmaking responsibilities from day one, and should be able to thrive with the ball in his hands. Fultz should rank highly amongst the rookie leaders in both points and assists per game. It would not be shocking to see both Fultz and Simmons average close to 15/5/4 as rookies with the amount of touches both will get. Both should also factor in the ROY race from the beginning to the end of the season.

Lonzo Ball – Los Angeles Lakers

Lonzo Ball is by far the most talked about rookie off the court. His play on the court will do little to slow down the chatter about him. Ball will be handed the keys to the Lake Show from day one, and will have one of the highest usage rate out of all of the rookies. Ball will lead all rookies in assists and should help the Lakers improve their record, and show he is the face of the franchise for the next 10-15 years. The Ball family is the most polarizing sports family, maybe ever, Lonzo’s on-court ability will keep the Ball name a household one for years to come.

Dennis Smith Jr. – Dallas Mavericks

Smith has already thrown down Top-10 play level dunks in the preseason, and he will find himself in the Top 10 more than once as a rookie. He may be the most exciting rookie when you combine his skill level and athleticism. Back in the summer, Rick Carlisle told him he would have full responsibility as the primary ball. He will put up solid numbers, but I don’t know if Dallas will be as improved as LA or Philly, which is why I see Ball/Fultz/Simmons all ahead of him. As long as he stays healthy, Smith will be an ROY finalist at seasons end.

Sleepers

Jayson Tatum – Boston Celtics

Tatum is going to be a very good pro, for a long time. Leaving him off the favorites list was in no way meant as disrespect, I simply do not see Tatum getting enough touches, or numbers to leap over the top 4. Tatum is on by far the best team among rookies, and may very well be playing deep into June. But it will be interesting to see how Brad Stevens uses him during his rookie campaign. Long term, Tatum could potentially end up being the best pro in the class, I just do not think his ROY odds are very good at this stage.

D’Aaron Fox- Sacramento Kings

Fox will be another rookie point guard that will be handed control from the start for Sacramento. The Kings will probably still rank among the leagues worst teams and I think that will play a bit of a factor in Fox being a 2nd tier Rookie of the Year candidate this season. Fox is going to be a huge part of the foundation to improve the Kings moving forward, and his number will be good, but I think he will find himself outside of the top 5 in ROY voting.

Malik Monk – Charlotte Hornets

Monk will provide a great scoring complement/counterpart to point guard Kemba Walker. Playing off of the ball will allow him to thrive right away. Monk is so athletic that he may possibly find himself a part of the dunk contest. He will help Charlotte attempt to get over the hump, and make a playoff push. Monk will score a lot, and provide a lot of highlights as a rookie. Also, like Fox and Tatum, he will be a great long term pieces for his franchise. Monk probably won’t win Rookie of the Year, but he could play himself into being a factor by seasons end.

Josh Jackson – Phoenix Suns

Some draft experts considered Jackson to be the best player in the 2017 draft class. It is scary to think about the long term potential of a wing tandem consisting of Josh Jackson and Devin Booker. Jackson is the most NBA ready defensive player in the class and will likely provide complementary scoring for Phoenix. Jackson should find himself on the all-rookie first team, but he will be sharing touches with Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker.

Honorable, Honorable Mention: Bam Adebayo-Miami, Jonathan Isaac-Orlando and Donovan Mitchell-Utah Jazz

Preseason Rookie Power Rankings

Picking TWO all-rookie teams for this crop of rookies will prove to be extra difficult. The backcourts are going to be loaded and make it hard A) narrow down the guards and B) slot two traditional lineups of PG/SG/SF/PF/C. This will be the first of a weekly installment of a top 10 power rankings system. So without further ado, here is the preseason edition:

1. Lonzo Ball
2. Ben Simmons
3. Markelle Fultz
4. Dennis Smith Jr.
5. Jayson Tatum
6. Josh Jackson
7. D’Aaron Fox
8. Malik Monk
9. Jonathan Isaac
10. Bam Adebayo

Predicting the NBA MVP Race for 2017-2018

Last NBA season featured one of the most exciting MVP races in NBA history, with Mr. Triple Double himself Russell Westbrook ultimately taking home the honors. Trailing close behind James Harden, a scary weapon in a Mike D’Antoni coached system, Kawhi Leonard, who was the best two-way player in the league last season (not named LeBron of course), and James, who has been a fixture in the MVP race every year for going on a decade. With all the moves made during the off-season, the front-runners are a less clear, and that lack of clarity should make for yet another thrilling MVP race during the 2017-2018 season. With training camp and preseason underway, it is time to look at the front-runners and potential dark horses in this year’s MVP race.

• Front-runners

NBA MVP

o LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers

Another season, and another year where LeBron is the undisputed best player in the NBA. LeBron will have to shoulder a heavier load early on in the season with Kyrie Irving gone, and Isaiah Thomas out until at least the all-star break. LeBron is bound to slow down eventually (maybe), but Cleveland will need him to play like prime LeBron to stay even with the Celtics out East until his support is fully healthy. The only thing that scares me about Bron’s odds is the potential for Lue to limit his minutes (as he should) when he gets the chance to.

o Kawhi Leonard – San Antonio Spurs

Leonard was nothing short of incredible during his first season in the AD (After Duncan era). He is a stalwart defensively and has turned into one of the most dominant offensive wing players in recent memory. San Antonio is getting older, but they are still going to win a lot of games and Kawhi will be most responsible for those W’s. Kawhi is one of the most reserved players in the league. If he continues to improve like he has from season to season since entering the league, we may have one of the drier acceptance speeches ever. His play on the court is plenty exciting enough to make up for that.

NBA MVP

o Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks

The Greek Freak made one of the bigger leaps in the NBA last season, going from a player with massive potential to one of the best players in the league. However, the scariest part is that Giannis is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential. He will once again be manning the point guard position for the Bucks and will lead a team that has an opportunity to play itself into home court advantage in the Eastern Conference. If Milwaukee can grab the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference race it will largely be on the shoulders of Giannis and that should propel him into the thick of this season’s MVP race.

o Anthony Davis – New Orleans Pelicans

Davis is the best “young” player in the NBA and is still 2-3 years away from his prime. While the Pelicans are far from a contender (unless were discussing must watch teams on League Pass), Davis should put up some absolute monster numbers this season. Brow would need to average close to 28-14-5-2 and get the Pelicans in the playoffs to have a chance here, but would we really be all that shocked if he were able to accomplish this? I’m just keeping my fingers crossed Davis (and the rest of the league for that matter) stay healthy throughout the entirety of the season.

o Kevin Durant – Golden State Warriors

The Golden State Warriors repeating as NBA champs this season seems like the most likely outcome and Durant will once again be their best player. While the Warriors have too many weapons for Durant to be the favorite, the best player on the best team will always be a contender for the MVP award. While it is hard to envision Durant winning, leaving the 2nd best player in the league off of the MVP front-runner list does not seem right.

• Darkhorse Candidates

NBA MVP

o Russell Westbrook- Oklahoma City Thunder

Leaving the reigning MVP off of the front-runner list seems wrong, but Westbrook should see the wins rise as his averages fall, even if just slightly. Following up only the 2nd triple double season in NBA history is going to be a hard act to follow, especially with the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Russ is still the most exciting player in the league, and will remain among the league’s elite, but it is hard to see him repeating as the MVP in 2017-2018.

o James Harden – Houston Rockets

Harden, the runner-up last season, is another name that was tough to relegate to the dark horse section, but it will be hard to top what he did last season. With the addition of Chris Paul, Harden will be playing off the ball more than he did last season, and his usage will surely go down with someone who needs the ball as much as CP3. Harden will still be an all-star and his numbers will be eye-opening, but it would take a monumental effort, and some down years for some of the front-runners to see Harden winning the award this season.

NBA MVP

o John Wall – Washington Wizards

Wall was one of the best players in the league over the last half of the ’16-’17 campaign and was the East’s 2nd best player by seasons end. Wall is going to put up monster numbers and average a double-double while helping to position the Wizards amongst the top half of the Eastern Conference this season. Whoever finishes higher in the East between the Wizards and the Bucks could determine who plays a role at the end of the MVP race between Wall and Giannis.

o Steph Curry – Golden State Warriors

Curry will face the same strengths (best team in the league) and weaknesses (lot of touches to go around) as his teammate Durant, but one of the two could pose an MVP case by seasons end. I would be surprised to see Curry win this award, but a top 5 player on the league’s best team is always a potential threat to take home the league’s highest individual honor. Curry will likely be okay with back-to-back championships come June of 2018.

o Jimmy Butler – Minnesota Timberwolves

Butler ‘s story is nothing short of incredible, and reuniting with Thibs and the exciting young nucleus in Minneapolis will serve as a reminder as to how good he could is. Butler will need to provide veteran leadership and help get KAT, Wiggins and company to the Western Conference playoffs. If Minnesota can make the postseason, Butler figures to be at worst a minor factor in the MVP race. While Karl Anthony Towns is likely to find his name on this list for at least a decade and change to come, this year it is Butlers time to shine.

 

It will be interesting to see the MVP race unfold this season, and see who steps up to claim the award in 2017-2018. The NBA may lack parity in elite teams, but it is not lacking on talent, and that should ensure incredibly tight MVP races for years to come. The NBA is in great hands from the top down, and it will be awesome to watch which players insert themselves in the MVP conversation over the next few years and beyond.

@DGunnerHG

A Look at ESPN’s #NBARank

In a league of less than 300 players (not counting the G League) ranking the top 100 players can be a monumental task. ESPN took it head on leading into the 2017-2018 campaign by attempting to rank the top 100 in their #NBARank list. With a list that big there is a wide margin for disagreement about where certain players belong, and whether they are under or over valued. Let’s look into some of the rankings that pit players as either overrated, or underrated depending upon their position.

Overvalued:

#82 Greg Monroe

While I wasn’t surprised to see Monroe break in at the back-end of the top 100, some of the names he was ranked ahead of were perplexing to say the least. One name that stuck out to me was Derrick Favors at #94. Favors had a down, injury riddled season last year, but is expected to be healthy for the new campaign, and is definitely a better player than Monroe, especially defensively. Monroe can provide some scoring and is a solid passer, but he is not a great rebounder and is a minus defensively. I don’t hate Monroe being in the top 100, but think he is a little overvalued at 82.

#63 Lonzo Ball

Ball is an easy target for this list and has been scrutinized heavily over the last couple of days (through no fault of his own) for coming in at 63. It is lofty praise for a rookie, especially with some of the names that are slotted behind him on the list (we will get into that later). While I am high on Ball and his potential as an NBA player, placing him this high and having never played an NBA game is not something I agree with. He is still a rookie, he is still going to have to adjust to the NBA game, and he is still going to go through growing pains. He was terrific in the Summer League, and will be a cornerstone piece for the Lakers’ rebuild. It is just a little too early to place him this high.

#16 Nikola Jokic

Jokic is one of the best young big men in the league and his advanced metrics last season were off the charts. But 16 is a bit too high this early for the Center from Serbia. Jokic is an incredible young offensive talent. He can score at a high clip, he shoots it well and he is a tremendous passer. He definitely deserves to be mentioned with Towns, Porzingis and Embiid as up-and-coming big men. However, Jokic still needs to improve defensively. He is young and has the tools to become an effective defensive player, but he needs to take that next step. While he is a bit too high for the 2017-2018 campaign, Jokic is a budding superstar that will be a factor in the top 25 portion of these rankings for years to come.

Undervalued:

#64 Carmelo Anthony

It is easy to be blinded by all the negative hype Melo received this off-season, but being ranked 64th is a pretty startling injustice as far as NBA rankings are concerned. Melo is no longer the superstar he once was (if Silver lets him play in a Hoodie however we do need to revisit this), but he is still a very productive offensive player and is better than a number of names ranked ahead of him on this list. He averaged 22 points and 6 rebounds a clip last year for a tumultuous Knicks organization. Melo’s prime is nearing the end, but he is still well above the 64th best player in the league.

#25 Kyrie Irving

While being a top 25 player in the NBA is nothing to scoff at, Kyrie is underrated at the 25th spot on the list. While Irving is certainly far from a good defensive player, he is the best ball handler in the league and an elite offensive player overall. I would rank him ahead of at least Conley, Lowry and fellow Celtic addition Gordon Hayward, while a case could be made for him to be ranked even higher up the list. There are legitimate criticisms of Irving’s game and his ranking among the elite players in the league. However, there are not 24 better players than Kyrie Irving.

#60 Devin Booker

Booker is one of the most lethal scorers in the NBA in just his 3rd season. His 70 point outburst last season was one of the most prolific scoring games in recent memory. I would take Booker over numerous people ranked ahead of him, including almost everyone ranked 59-51. His Suns teams have been poor, but Booker’s leap from his rookie to sophomore campaign was nothing short of incredible. With a healthy Eric Bledsoe and the addition of Josh Jackson, the Suns should win some more games this season, and are trending upward. Booker is still improving, especially defensively, but having him outside the top 50 was an oversight on this list.

Those are some of the things that stuck out to me while looking over the top 90 names on the list, as the top 10 is slated to be released today. As I previously stated making a list of the top 100 NBA players is an inexact science and there are bound to be disagreements all over the place. I think that ESPN did a really good job all things considered, and believe that their NBA coverage is generally top-notch. If nothing else, it gives some room for NBA discussion only a couple of weeks out from the start of training camp.

P.S. Feel free to comment with some of the oversights that you found while reading the list, I am sure there are some ones that I missed.

Breaking: Kyrie Irving traded to Celtics in Blockbuster Trade

Tuesday nights in late August are generally reserved for three things when it comes to the sports news cycle; Major League Baseball, Pre-Season NFL Football and the Little League World Series. However, in 2017, the NBA refused to be outdone as superstar point guard Kyrie Irving was granted his wish to be traded out of Cleveland. The lucky suitor? None other than Cleveland’s toughest competition in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics. In a rare trade between inter-conference rivals, the Cavs sent Hoop Group alum Kyrie Irving to the Celtics in exchange for Isiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets 2018 1st round pick (which figures to be a top 3-5 pick next summer). Let’s take a look at how each addition will add to their respective rosters, how this effects the Eastern Conference race and how the two teams now stack up against each other.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics added Kyrie Irving in Tuesday’s blockbuster trade. While he brings a lot of similar skills to the table as Isaiah Thomas, Irving is bigger, a better scorer and is someone Boston can solidify as the face of the franchise for the next decade. Irving will be a slight upgrade on defense from IT, mainly due to his size, and Marcus Smart will be a perfect compliment as a backup for Irving to help mask those defensive deficiencies that still plague Irving. With the acquisition of Irving the Celtics lineup will probably be the following:

Kyrie Irving
Gordon Hayward
Jaylen Brown
Marcus Morris
Al Horford

Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier figure to play key roles off the bench. This lineup will be better offensively than the ’16-’17 outfit and slightly worse defensively across the board. The Celtics still did not address the glaring rebounding issues from last season. However, on sheer talent, this will be the toughest team LeBron has had to deal with in the East in a long time. It will be interesting to see how they mesh together under Brad Stevens. The Celtics also parted with a lot of assets to get Irving. Irving is a slight upgrade over Thomas, but Crowder will fit in perfectly with the Cavs and the Nets pick figures to be top 5 in what is shaping up to be a LOADED 2018 NBA draft. Irving will fit in seamlessly in Boston, but is it enough to dethrone the King? Only time will tell. Regardless, if they fall short in ’17-’18, Danny Ainge has set the Celtics up to be one of the premier teams in the East for the foreseeable future, and the conference favorites if LeBron bolts West next summer.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland picked up two impact roster pieces, a likely top 5 pick in June of 2018 and depth in the front court for parting with Irving. Isaiah Thomas will be able to pickup the scoring slack left behind by Irving and give LeBron a great 2nd option offensively. Thomas also allows Cleveland to limit the minutes of Derrick Rose in the hopes that he can stay healthy and effective, especially come playoff time. Thomas is a net negative defensively, and imaging Thomas/Rose chasing around the Warriors in the finals (if they make it) is a nightmare that will haunt Cavs fans come June 2018 (again if they beat the Celtics). Crowder is a perfect compliment to the Cavs offense, an upgrade over the current wing players on the roster and will toughen up the Cavs perimeter defense. Zizic was a 2016 1st round selection for the Celtics and has potential to become a solid piece for the Cavs well beyond the ’17-’18 campaign, as will the pick coming from the Nets for the 2018 draft. The Cavs lineup figures to be the following:

Isaiah Thomas
Jae Crowder
Lebron James
Kevin Love
Tristan Thompson

Rose, Smith, Shumpert, Green and Korver will all see minutes off of the bench for Cleveland, although it will be interesting to see if they make any deals towards the deadline and how they will tighten their rotations over the course of the season. Overall, I think this trade does not hurt the Cavs and does nothing to unseat them as the favorites in the East next year. They still have the best player on the planet, 2 other all-stars and a good crew of role players. LeBron is a year older and the Celtics are supremely talented, but I refuse to pick against the King in the Eastern Conference until someone dethrones him. However, this move does not make them a more dangerous threat to Golden State or whoever happens to come out of the West.

A month ago Kyrie bet on himself, requesting a trade to leave from under LeBron’s wing and join a team where he is the man. In Boston he will get the opportunity to do just that and dethrone the King along the way. While the NBA offseason is one of the best dramas going today, I, for one, cannot wait for this NBA season to tip-off as the Cavs and Celtics open up against each other in October. 2017-2018 is shaping up to be one of the best NBA seasons in a long time.

Jahvon Quinerly Heading to Arizona

The University of Arizona has long been regarded as Point Guard U by Arizona fans and college basketball fans alike. The list of Wildcat Floor Generals is long and illustrious. Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, Miles Simon, Jason Gardner, Damon and Salim Stoudamires,  and most recently, TJ McConnell. On Tuesday shortly before the tip of the Stephen Curry Select 30 game, coach Sean Miller, a good PG in his own right at Pittsburgh, picked up a commitment from one of the best PG’s in the ’18 class in Jahvon Quinerly. Quinerly is the second point guard commitment in the ’18 class, joining Brandon Williams who committed earlier this summer. Arizona pitched the idea of the two being able to coexist in the back court, with Williams playing off of the ball and Quinerly handling many of the point guard responsibilities. Quinerly could be the most talented prospect Miller has signed yet. He is certainly capable of helping get the Wildcats over the Final Four hump that has eluded them since Miller’s arrival in Tucson.

While Quinerly, a long time Hoop Group Alum, has been regarded as one of the best lead guards in the ’18 class, his play during the spring/summer Under Armour circuit for SportsU/Team IZOD  helped continue to boost his stock. Jahvon is a quick and athletic guard that can get to the rim at will. He also is able to keep defenses honest with his jumper, as evidence by shooting nearly 45% from 3 during the AAU season. Quinerly is seemingly in control at all times, which will be huge for an Arizona program that could be looking at a large roster turnover after the ’17-’18 college season. There was a lot of talk in the Spring and Summer of Quinerly teaming up in college with AAU teammate Nazi Reid. Attention will be turned to Reid now to see if he will commit to Miller and the Wildcats as well.

With his college decision out of the way before the start of his senior year, Quinerly can focus on trying to bring home a Tournament of Champions title to Hudson Catholic with top 100 teammates Louis King and Luther Muhammad. Quinerly will be a fan favorite from Day One in Tucson, and will keep the Wildcats atop the conference standings as the Jelly Fam movement extends its foot print to the “Conference of Champions.”