NBA Rookie Power Rankings / Recap

Josh Jackson

As the NBA quickly ascends towards its last month of the season, rookies all around the league are wrapping up their first seasons as professional basketball players. We have learned a lot about the 2017 draft class, but what has stuck out the most is that this draft class is deserving of all of the hype that it has received. There are future superstars, a bunch of point guards that only add to the depth of the leagues deepest position group and good depth of guys who are going to carve out 10+ year careers in the NBA. Let’s catch up on all of the happenings around this rookie class over the last few weeks since the all-star break.

The Rankings

For this weeks installment of the rookie rankings I have decided to switch up the format, and try to avoid hitting the dreaded rookie wall. Without further ado here is how the top 10 shakes up as of this week.

1. Donovan Mitchell – Jazz
2. Ben Simmons – Sixers
3. Jayson Tatum – Celtics
4. Lauri Markkanen – Bulls
5. Kyle Kuzma – Lakers
6. Dennis Smith Jr. – Mavs
7. Lonzo Ball – Lakers
8. Josh Jackson – Suns
9. Jarrett Allen – Nets
10. De’Aaron Fox – Kings

As it has been for the last month or two, it is a two horse race for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year between Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons. Interestingly enough, both players are playing leading roles on teams in the thick of the playoff race, which is impressive in its own right. Mitchell has been playing at a slightly higher level since the turn of the new year, not to mention he is the NBA’s Dunk Champion It seems like it will be hard for Simmons to beat out Mitchell for the Rookie of the Year award if he can get Utah into the playoffs. Behind those two the list features a few mainstays, and some rookies who are finally starting to see things click and come together.

Josh Jackson/ Jarrett Allen starting to produce at a high level

Josh Jackson was one of the best freshman in all of college basketball last season, and was long regarded as the best prospect in the class of 2016. While it is not a shock to see rookies start slow out of the gate, Jackson struggling on a bad team from the get-go caught some basketball die hards off guard. Jackson is someone who desperately needs to continue to improve his jump shooting, but he looked lost at times during the first couple of months of his rookie campaign. When Devin Booker went down with an injury in January, Jackson stepped up to the challenge of shouldering the offensive load for Phoenix and has been thriving ever since. Over his last 10 games he is averaging 17.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and shooting 44.6% from the floor in just over 30 minutes a night. Jackson is a competitor and will only get better, but his late season emergence has to make Suns fans extremely happy. A foundation of Jackson, Booker and a likely top 5 draft pick have to give Suns fans hope for far brighter days on the horizon.

Jarrett Allen was not as good of a producer in his one season at Texas as some of the other highly touted names in the draft class, but his potential ranks up there with just about anyone. During the first 3 months of the season Allen was playing less than 20 minutes per night and struggling to find a rhythm. Since being inserted into Brooklyn’s starting lineup, Allen has started to thrive and show glimpses of becoming a very good big man in the NBA. He is averaging 13.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks a game in his 13 games as the Nets starting center. He is great at protecting the rim on defense and has quickly established himself as one of the best rim runners in the league. He must continue to add strength and add polish to his offensive game, but he looks like he is going to be a cornerstone of the Nets future.

NBA Life slowing down for ’17’s floor generals

The 2017 draft class has been complimented on it’s depth for a long time, but no position was deeper in this years rookie class than the point guard position. Six point guards went in the 1st round (Fultz, Ball, Fox, Ntilikina, Smith Jr. and Mitchell), and even more have shown that they have staying power in the NBA (Milos Teodosic, Josh Hart and Frank Mason, what up?). Over the course of the year Mitchell, and Smith Jr. have been the most consistent, Ntilikina has shown flashes, while Fultz has been hurt all season long, but is showing some promise as of late in his recovery. The two not mentioned in the previous sentence have been playing even better as of late and are showing the promise that had both Ball and Fox drafted in the top 5.

Lonzo Ball has been a great passer, rebounder and off-the-ball defender from day one in a Lakers uniform, but has really struggled to find his shot. After missing most of the first two months of 2018, Ball is back, healthy and shooting the ball better than ever. Over his last 5 games, Ball is shooting 14-22 from downtown for an astounding 63.6% shooting rate from downtown. If Ball can continue to improve his jump shot and find any consistency in the 38-42% range, he is going to a very good NBA player, very quickly. On the flipside De’Aaron Fox has been playing very well ever since the Kings dealt George Hill to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Fox has been clutch at the end of games for the Kings, and is flashing the elite potential that he showed all of last season in Lexington. Over the last 10 games, Fox has averaged 14.8, 4.9 assist and 3 rebounds per game while shooting 44.3% from the field. As he continues to improve, his jump shot and his decision-making have to be his top priorities. It is extremely encouraging to see both Ball and Fox find their footing after slow starts to their NBA careers.

NBA Needs to Overhaul Its Playoff Format

With the NBA season past it’s midway point and All-Star Weekend finished, the focus of the rest of the season turns towards the playoffs and the race for the final playoff positions in both conferences. While there have been subtle mentions in the past about a playoff overhaul, those discussions have become far more frequent over the last few days. Most NBA fans, or rational ones at least, will recall how the Western Conference is regarded as the deeper conference over the last decade plus. That has triggered some minor debates about the merits of the current playoff format. In fact, most discussions have centered around taking the 16 teams with the best records into the playoffs, instead of the 8 best from each conference. In recent days, new ideas have been brought to the forefront of the discussion and the NBA is taking it’s first look at serious talks of a playoff overhaul. Let’s take a look at some of the ideas proposed and what the best options moving forward for an NBA playoff overhaul are.

Taking the 16 best teams

The most common and long held take regarding an NBA playoff overhaul involves taking the top 16 teams and seeding them accordingly in a bracket style playoff. This would put the legitimate 16 best teams in the playoffs instead of taking the 8 best from each conference. Under this format, the 16 teams who made the playoffs would not have changed, but their seeding and their paths to the finals change a little bit. In 2015-2016 the Bulls missed the playoffs in the East, but would have nabbed the final playoff spot in this system over the 41-41 Houston Rockets. The year before, the Thunder missed the playoffs at 45-37. However, they would have been the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference that year. In reality the top 16 teams make the playoffs more often than not, but seeding and creating match-ups with a disregard for conference affiliation would make the playoffs a lot more interesting.

7-10 Seed Play-In Tournament

ESPN’s Zach Lowe first reported on the new discussions centering on a 4-team playoff format in each conference (between the 7-10 seeds) to determine playoff seeding for the 7th and 8th seeds. Under the format the 7th and 8th seeds in each conference would play and the winner would get the 7th seed. The 9th and 10th seeds would play with the winner moving on to play the loser of the 7 and 8 game to battle it out for the 8th seed in the playoffs. While this is a newer discussion brought to the table, it is still a long ways away from potentially being implemented in the NBA playoff discussion. With this plan, the NBA hopes to reduce tanking and make it more viable for teams to stay competitive for the entire 82 game slate.

There have been also some talks of expanding the lottery and including the 7th and 8th seeds in the lottery to also add additional support against tanking. Will either of those moves completely eliminate tanking for the worst teams in the league? Not entirely, but any move to make the playoff race even more competitive could go along way towards making the NBA more competitive from top to bottom. And generating more interest in the playoffs as a whole.

The NBA needs an overhaul to their playoff system. A multiple step overhaul that also gives incentives to make 9, 10 and potentially even 11 seeds reasons to stay competitive and avoid tanking are all things that can increase the overall play of the league. I am a major fan of the top 16 teams making the playoffs regardless of conference. I support a potential play-in tournament to supplement the top 16 seeding format. The top 16 teams making the playoffs and seeding them accordingly will create some interesting match-ups as the playoffs progress. Having the top 12 teams securely in the playoffs, while the next eight teams battle it out for the final four spots would generate a bigger interest in the beginning of the NBA playoffs. It would help to put an end to “tanking.” The NBA needs to address the One and Done issue, but a playoff overhaul should be the second task on the list.

It’s still a few years out, and requires a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but I believe it would help make the NBA more competitive than it already is.

NBA Rookie Power Rankings

After a couple week hiatus, we are back with a new edition of the HG Insider NBA Rookie Power Rankings. We are closing in on the all-star break and the race for rookie of the year is becoming clearer. Markelle Fultz has still yet to return for Philadelphia, but some other rookies are becoming consistent and making a name for themselves as we are sprinting towards the finish line in year one of their careers. Without further ado, let’s dive into the rankings:

1. Donovan Mitchell – Jazz

Mitchell is once again on top of our Rookie Power Rankings, as he has been playing the best out of all of the rookies since the middle of December. He is making a push towards averaging 20 points per game for the season, and would become the first rookie to average 20+ a game since Blake Griffin’s rookie season with the Clippers. Mitchell is averaging 19.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.4 assist per game this year, and his shooting percentages are holding at a respectable clip; 44.4% from the field, 35.3% from 3 and 83.7% from the free-throw line. Mitchell will have to keep his foot on the gas in order to hold off Simmons, but so far, so good for the Louisville product.

2. Ben Simmons – Sixers

Simmons, who was leading these rankings for most of November & December, is still in the thick of the rookie of the year race with two months to go. Philadelphia is currently holding onto the 8th seed in the East, and with Simmons rounding back into form they have a chance to get hot and make a run at home court in the Eastern Conference come playoff time. Simmons, who has been vocal about being an all-star snub, is averaging 16.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. If Simmons can hold his numbers steady and get the Sixers into the playoffs he has a very good chance of taking the Rookie of the Year trophy away from Mitchell come June.

3. Lauri Markkanen – Bulls

To no ones surprise the Bulls have been awful this season, but they have shown signs of promise, highlighted by Markkanen’s steady play all season long. The power forward is averaging 15.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Along with Zach Lavine, The Bulls are showing a decent young nucleus, that could be further bolstered by a lottery pick in the 2018 draft. Markkanen has shown to be a lethal asset in pick and roll situations, and can score at all three levels. The Bulls are struggling, but they may have the next great, versatile European forward at the NBA level.

4. Kyle Kuzma – Lakers

The Lakers added an additional draft pick, and a ton of future cap space this week, but they have to be happy with the rookies and sophomores already on the roster. Perhaps no one makes them happier for their future than Kyle Kuzma, who is averaging 15.7 points and 5.9 rebounds during his rookie campaign. He has held steady shooting the ball with averages of 45.2% from the field, 36.2% from the three and 70% from the line. While he has had his share of great weeks, and poor ones, Kuzma is going to be a fixture of the Lakers plans moving forward, even if they get some big names in free agency over the next couple of summers.

5. Jayson Tatum – Celtics

Tatum may end up having the best career on this list, but as a Rookie he is playing on one of the best teams in the league, and he has sacrificed numbers for wins. The Celtics are a better team when Tatum plays well, as he is averaging 14.8 points, 5 rebounds and shoots 50% from the field in wins. While his shooting has fallen off a little bit, Tatum is already a very good NBA shot maker, and he has also been a plus defender for the Celtics, which is asking a lot of a rookie. Tatum will not win Rookie of the Year, but will win a championship before anyone else in the top 5 of this list.

6. Dennis Smith Jr. – Mavs

While Smith spent the first part of the season dealing with injuries and inconsistent minutes, he has suddenly found his stride over the last month. Over his last 10 games, Smith is averaging 15 points, 6 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game. Smith has still struggled to shoot the ball well at a consistent clip, and will have to improve in this department moving forward to take the next step as an NBA player. It will be interesting to see how he improves over the coming years, and what the Mavs will do to surround him with talent moving forward.

7. De’Aaron Fox – Kings

Fox has come on strong over the last month, after recovering from injury, and is showing sings of the player who terrorized college basketball in Lexington just one year ago. Over his last ten games, Fox has averaged 14.3 points, 4.5 assists, 2.7 rebounds while shooting 43% from the field. The Kings have continued to struggle, but Fox’s play gives Sacramento fans something to look forward to in the coming years. His role will only increase as George Hill was moved to Cleveland this week, and it will be interesting to see how he handles the extra responsibility over the last two months of the season.

8. John Collins – Hawks

Collins leads all rookies in PER at 20.12, but plays on one of the worst teams in the league. Collins has been uber-efficient for a rookie, and it will be interesting to see how he develops over the next couple of seasons for the woeful, yet rebuilding Hawks. He is averaging 10.3 points, 7 rebounds and is shooting 58.5% from the floor. With the emergence of some of the guys behind him, it will be tough for him to stay at 7, without an uptick in his current level of play, however, Collins is going to have a long and prosperous career.

9. Josh Jackson – Suns

While the Suns are still among the worst teams in the league, no rookie has improve their play over the last month than Josh Jackson. Devin Booker has missed some time hurt, and Jackson has taken advantage of the extra touches and responsibility with Booker out. Over his last ten games, Jackson is averaging 17.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in just under 20 minutes per night. Jackson has been a mainstay in the honorable mentione section all season long, but he has earned his way into the top 10 in these rankings with his recent play.

10. Jarrett Allen – Nets

If Jackson has been the fastest rising rookie of late, Allen is not too far behind him. Over the last month, Allen has seen his minutes skyrocket, and he has become increasingly comfortable with the pace of play at the NBA level with each passing game. Over his last ten games he is averaging 13.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and is shooting 68.8% from the field. He is flashing the long term potential he possesses and is turning out to be a hell of a pick for the Nets and their rebuilding efforts moving forward.

Honorable Mention:

Bogdan Bogdanovic – Kings
Jordan Bell – Warriors
Josh Hart – Lakers
OG Anunoby – Raptors
Lonzo Ball – Lakers
Bam Adebayo – Heat

The New and Improved Cavaliers: Contenders?

Among all of the title contenders in the NBA this season (all 4 of them) no one has struggled as much as the Cleveland Cavaliers. They are one of, if not the worst, defensive teams in the league. They have cycled through drama involving both Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas recently, and Jae Crowder has been a bust of a pickup from the Celtics. Cleveland has put up a dismal 7-10 record since the calendar turned to 2018. They are trending towards fighting just to have home court in the first round of the upcoming NBA playoffs. Today at the trade deadline, the Cavs made several moves in order to retool the roster. Let’s take a look at each and how they will help Cleveland improve their roster as they try to make their 4th consecutive NBA Finals.

Deal with LA Lakers

The biggest deal of the day involving Cleveland was the trade with the Los Angeles Lakers that sent Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye to the LA for Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. For good measure the Cavs also sent their 1st round pick for the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft. While this move will definitely benefit the Lakers long term, freeing up cap space and adding another 1st round pick has to make Magic happy. On the flip side, this brings much needed youth, athleticism and energy to Cleveland’s roster. Nance is a plus defender, a great screener and an active player on both ends. Not to mention he is one of the favorites for the dunk contest over All-Star weekend. Clarkson will give them a spark plug off the bench, adding to their already solid bench.

It was becoming clear that Isaiah Thomas was A) Not healthy and B) Not a fit with what Cleveland was trying to do. He was not great this season in Cleveland and has not done himself any favors in the pursuit of a big-time deal this off-season.  It is more likely than not that the Lakers will part ways with him at season’s end. This trade was a win for both teams: it sheds the Cavs of a piece that did not fit, and brings in two players that fit holes they desperately needed to keep pace in the Eastern Conference. For Los Angeles, it is setting the Lakers up for a potential huge stretch of free agent pick-ups over the next couple of years.

Miami Vice: Wade County is back

Dwayne Wade and LeBron James have been great friends for a long-time. Outside of that, bringing Wade to Cleveland did not make a whole lot of sense for Cleveland. Wade has been a steady presence for the Cavs, but he is a shell of the player who ran with Lebron back in Miami. This deal allows Wade and family to return to Miami, where it all started, in order to retire where it all begin. The Cavs acquired a second round pick in the deal, which is rather inconsequential, but getting younger and more active was paramount in order for the current Cavs to get their season turned around. They were also running out of minutes for Wade, and this move was a classy thing to do.

Three Team Dealin’

The Cavs finished off the afternoon with a three-way deal with the Jazz and the Kings. They acquired George Hill from the Kings, and Rodney Hood from the Jazz, while Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose ended up in Utah and Iman Shumpert will play the rest of the season in the Capital of California. This was the most impressive move of the day as Hill is both a good defender and a solid scorer from the point guard position. Rodney Hood is a good scoring complement to LeBron on the wing as well. Rose and Crowder had been lackluster for Cleveland and Shumpert has been the same player for a while. Getting Hill and Hood for those three was an impressive feat.

Cleveland comes out of the trade deadline with a total rebuild of the roster. That is a positive thing, and it positions them much better to compete out East. They will be better offensively Defensively they still will not be great, but they will be improved. Ultimately they should find their way clawing back up the Eastern Conference standings to compete with Boston in late May. Yesterday the Cavs looked lost, defeated and a total question mark on if they were even the biggest threat to tackle Boston in the playoffs. Cavs fans have to be happy with the activity and the output of the trade deadline, and LeBron has to be pleased with the efforts to build a better roster around him for the playoffs.

Griffin to Pistons in Blockbuster Deal

The NBA trade deadline on February 8th is fast approaching. The Pistons and Clippers pulled the trigger on the first blockbuster move this season on Monday evening. The LA Clippers sent Blake Griffin, Willie Reed and Brice Johnson to Detroit for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic and a 1st and 2nd round pick. The deal will give the Pistons one of the best frontcourts in the league, and their first true superstar since pre-ankle injury Grant Hill.

It is a risky pickup with the contract and injury history of Griffin, but has the potential to pay off big-time for Detroit. On the flip-side this looks to be the first of potentially a few moves by the Clippers as we approach the trade deadline. They are focused on putting themselves in position to rebuild long term.

What Were the Clips Thinking?

First off, I’m sure many have thought, what in the world are the Clippers doing? Those people are far from alone. What bothered me more was the lack of respect they gave Blake Griffin than the decision. Over the summer they gave Griffin a 5-year, $173 million contract to essentially make him a Clipper for life. Less than seven months later, he is being traded to Detroit.

Griffin’s departure leaves DeAndre Jordan, who was convinced to stay with the Clippers a couple of summers ago,  pretty much alone in a Clippers uniform. That said, it would be far from a surprise to see Jordan traded by next Thursday. The Clippers cleared a ton of cap space, and will get a chance to start anew in free agency this summer. They also acquire a pick in a loaded 2018 draft class. Trading a superstar is a risky move, but the Clippers now have cap space and some draft picks to start trending the franchise back in the right direction.

Did Detroit Give Up Too Much?

It’s fair to say the Pistons gave up A TON to get Griffin and the $141 million on his contract. Tobias Harris has played well this season, and Avery Bradley has been a nice addition, at times. Without them it leaves their wing depth to Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard. That is easily among the worst in the entire league. Boban Marjanovic had been a fan favorite, and it will be no different for the Clippers. That’s all well and good, but his on-court presence is far from a major loss for the Pistons. Two draft picks are huge, but Stan Van Gundy’s draft track record has been abysmal. The Pistons gave up a lot, have made their cap situation tough over the next few years, and still will come out on top of the deal if Griffin can stay healthy.

Who Won?

Who wins the deal? The NBA is a superstar league, and Blake Griffin is still a superstar. I’m giving this one to the Pistons. Are the Pistons going to win a title with Griffin as their best player? No, but Griffin/Drummond complement each other well and the Pistons, more importantly Stan Van Gundy, desperately needed to make a move. The Pistons also need to get more fans into their new arena in downtown Detroit, which has been struggling to attract consistent crowds with an average team and no superstar to buffer, an average at-best team.

If  Detroit can get even average play from Kennard/Bullock the Pistons may make a run at a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. That makes the Griffin acquisition very worth the amount they parted with. The Clippers were also in desperate need of a shakeup, and it will be interesting to see how they approach the rebuild, presumably without Doc Rivers. This trade could age a lot better for the Clippers in the long run, but the edge goes to the Pistons for the immediate future.