NBA Rookie Power Rankings – Week Three

We’re back for the third installment of our 2017-2018 Rookie Power Rankings. Rookies are now closing in on their first month as NBA players; adjusting to the travel, lifestyle and the pace of play. Some rookies have remained steady in their production, others have started to adjust and show their potential that got them drafted in the first place. Before we dive into what the rankings shake out to in Week Three, let’s take a look back at last week’s installment:

1. Ben Simmons – 76’ers
2. Jayson Tatum – Celtics
3. Kyle Kuzma – Lakers
4. Lauri Markkanen – Bulls
5. Donovan Mitchell – Jazz
6. John Collins – Hawks
7. Dennis Smith Jr. – Mavericks
8. De’Aaron Fox – Kings
9. Lonzo Ball – Lakers
10. Mike James – Suns

Honorable Mention:
Malik Monk – Hornets
Dillon Brooks – Oregon
Josh Jackson – Suns

1. Ben Simmons – 76ers

Another week, another #1 ranking for Ben Simmons a top of our Rookie List. The Sixers rookie has remained steady through the first few weeks of his NBA career, turning in averages of 17.4 points, 9 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game, while continuing to shoot 48.6% from the field, despite shooting 17 for 47 (36%) from the field during week number three of his rookie campaign. Simmons is the rookie of the year favorite, but it will be interesting to see if he can continues to hit shots at his current clip as we get deeper into the regular season.

2. Jayson Tatum – Celtics

Tatum begins another week coming in at the #2 spot and as a starter for the NBA’s best team, the Celtics (12-2). Tatum is averaging 13.7 points and 5.7 rebounds a game, and he is doing it while shooting 50% from the field and 3 point range, and chipping in 82.7% at the line. Tatum has been efficient and a major contributor for the league’s best team. It will be interesting to see if he can keep pace with Simmons and others while not being a major focal point within the offense. Regardless of if he can hold onto the 2nd spot, Tatum is proving himself worthy of a top 3 selection in the 2017 NBA Draft.

3. Dennis Smith Jr. – Mavericks

Smith Jr. topped off a great week with some high praise from LeBron James, who thinks the Knicks made a mistake passing on the NC State rookie for Frank Ntilikina. While that statement is something to dive into another time, there is no doubt at how impressive the Mavericks rookie has been early on in his rookie campaign. Smith averaged 21.5 points, 7.5 assists and 6.5 rebounds over the course of two games over the past week. Smith is as fun to watch as any rookie in the league and is starting to produce at a higher level. Smith may be the strongest candidate to make a run at Simmons throne atop the rookie rankings.

4. Kyle Kuzma – Lakers

Kuzma continues to be the best rookie on the Lakers and is showing some of the massive potential that should make him a cornerstone of the Lakers franchise for years to come. He had two double-doubles this week (Grizzlies + Bucks), while missing out by one rebound against the Wizards on Thursday night. He is shooting great from the floor (51.6%) and the line (81.3%), but struggled from beyond the arc this week (2-11 for 18%). Kuzma will have to develop more consistency from beyond the arc as his career progresses, but it is hard to argue with his output a month into his inaugural season in the league.

5. Lauri Markkanen – Bulls

Markkanen suffered an ankle injury Saturday night against the Spurs, but has continued to impress while healthy for the Bulls. He is averaging 14.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game for the lowly Bulls, while showing a versatile game that has to excite Bulls fans for years to come. Markkanen injured his ankle stepping on Rudy Gay’s foot close to halftime, and suffered what is described as a minor sprain. Hopefully Lauri can get healthy (and stay that way) ASAP as his development is paramount in the Bulls building a foundation for the future.

6. Donovan Mitchell – Jazz

Mitchell struggled early on in the week in games against the Sixers and the Heat, but rebounded nicely with 26 points against the Nets on Saturday night. Mitchell struggled from beyond the arc (5-22 for 23%), but has shown an innate ability to get into the lane and create opportunities for himself and his Jazz teammates, while defending at a pretty high level for a rookie (although Dion Waiters gave him trouble down the stretch against Miami). Consistency will continue to be a key for Mitchell as we progress through the rest of the season, but he has a chance to make a push into the top 3 as he continues to become a bigger part of the Utah offense.

7. Lonzo Ball – Lakers

In what was a tumultuous week to say the least for the Ball family abroad, the Lakers rookie started to take some steps in the right direction during his third week in the league. Ball became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double, as he made work of the Bucks to the tune of 19 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds while blocking 4 shots and shooting 7-12 from the field and 3-5 from three. Ball is still struggling from the field, but is starting to generate better looks for himself and he can hopefully use the Milwaukee game as a stepping stone for the foreseeable future. As his shots start to drop, Ball will continue to rise up the rookie charts over the course of the season.

8. John Collins – Hawks

Collins had a nice outing against the Pistons on Wednesday (16 points and 8 boards), but struggled in the two other contests he played in this week and as a result saw his ranking drop a few spots. I am still high on Collins and think he is going to be a great piece moving forward for the Hawks, but he took his lumps against two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference (Washington and Boston). The Hawks are outscoring their opponents while Collins is on the floor, and is getting outscored by double-digits (on average) when he is on the bench. Collins will rebound and move up the rankings in the future, but this week served as his “Welcome to the League, Rook” moment number one for the 2017-2018 season.

9. De’Aaron Fox – Kings

While the Kings continue to struggle with the 2nd worst record in the league (3-9), Fox continues to show the skills and athletic ability that made the Kentucky product a great selection in the 2017 lottery. Fox is averaging 11.9 points, 5.2 assists and 3.3 rebounds playing 27 minutes a night. Fox still remains one of the lone bright spots, on one of the youngest teams in the league, but it will be interesting to watch him develop alongside Skal, Cauley-Stein, Buddy Hield and Harry Giles (who has yet to play this season).

10. Mike James – Suns

James continues to play at a high level for the Suns, a team who continues to struggle in the early going. James is averaging 12.4 points, 3.9 assists and 3.1 rebounds a game, and continues to flourish in the Phoenix offensive system working with Tyler Ulis to replace the production of former Suns PG, and new Buck, Eric Bledsoe. James averaged close to 15 points, and 4 rebounds during his 4 outings this week, although he saw his minutes decline against the Timberwolves on Saturday night. It will be interesting to follow this development over the course of the season, and if he can keep up his current pace.

Honorable Mention:

Malik Monk (Hornets)
Josh Jackson (Suns)
Frank Ntilikina (Knicks)
Dillon Brooks (Grizzlies)

Tune in next week for the 4th Installment of HG Insider NBA Rookie Power Rankings. Also don’t forget to join the conversation on Twitter. Let us know who we are missing and who you think will make a run at the top.

NCAA Embarrasses Themselves Again: Suspends UH Guard Rob Gray

Opening night in college basketball an exciting night for everyone. Fans, coaches and especially players relish in the feeling of their team taking the court for real, for the first time. After all, you only get one opening night a year, unless you are Houston guard Rob Gray.

Gray, who was the leading scorer in the AAC last season, did not get the same opening night experience his teammates did on Friday. He was suspended one game by the NCAA for playing in a church league basketball game this summer. According to NCAA, Gray’s participation in this game violated their rules. This suspension just further proves the NCAA seems to have no grasp on handling situations of this nature. Don’t worry though, Jay Bilas is making sure everyone knows how dysfunctional they are.

So far this year we have seen a player forced to sit out the year for enrolling in classes early. We have seen a program get away unharmed for players taking fake classes. And now, we have a player suspended for (gasp) playing basketball. Does any of that make sense?

The answer it no, it does not make sense. You can make a case about Braxton Beverly deserving to sit this season after enrolling at one school and transferring to another to try and play. You’d be wrong, but you can make a solid point. You can say UNC is a big money maker so of course they just got a slap on the wrist for making up classes. But how can you justify suspending a player for playing in a rec basketball game?

At this point players should just sit at home all off-season. Don’t practice, don’t study. Heck, don’t eat because you never know where that food came from and who served it to you. The “by the book” mentality that Mark Emmert and the NCAA is adhering to is starting to become a joke, and it’s affecting hard working players.

In Midst of Recruiting Scandal, Duke Remains Supreme

There hasn’t been a more talked about off-season in college basketball than this year. By now everyone knows about the FBI investigation that flipped multiple programs upside down, and likely isn’t going anywhere for sometime. The investigation has exposed all the flaws and corruption that exist in college recruiting. Despite the negativity surrounding recruiting, one thing remains constant. Duke is number one.

Last night, RJ Barrett, ESPN’s #1 player in the class of 2018 announced his commitment to Duke over Kentucky and Oregon. Barrett solidified himself as the premiere recruit in the 2018 class with his play in the U19 FIBA games this past summer. He led Canada past Team USA, coached by John Calipari, in the semifinals on his way to a gold medal.

With Barrett’s commitment, Duke has now landed the top ranked recruit in four of the last five recruiting classes. In the those five years, Coach K has landed a total of 22 players ranked in ESPN’s Top 100. Barrett gives the Blue Devils three of the top ten next year already.

Five lottery picks in the last three years and countless McDonald’s All-Americans prove that when it comes to recruiting, it is Coach K, along with John Calipari, at the top of the list. And with players like Barrett, Marvin Bagley, Trevon Duval, Gary Trent and Cam Reddish waiting for their draft nights, you can expect that lottery number to continue to rise.

A lot of people like to label Coach K a cheater. When top recruits choose Duke, critics like to make pay-for-players jokes. Whatever your personal opinion may be, facts are that coaches all over the country are getting busted for illegal recruiting. None of them have the last name Krzyzewski. The FBI investigation is expected to be around for awhile. Duke may come up, they may not. But until that day comes, you have to admire and respect Coach K’s ability to bring in the best of the best.

Best Match Ups During Opening Week of College Basketball


College Basketball begins tonight, but the first week can often be over-hyped, as it consists of many lopsided affairs. A lot of fans look forward to seeing new talent beat up on lesser opponents, but outside that the excitement begins with the championship games of the more prominent preseason tournaments. Don’t sleep on the first week this year however. There are a lot of good games between teams who should be playing come March. Here are eleven games to check out during week one.

Texas A&M vs West Virginia – Friday, November 10th

The season starts off with a Top 25 match up between the SEC and Big 12. Neither team will be at full strength due to suspensions. A&M will be missing future pro Robert Williams and JJ Caldwell and the Mountaineers will be without Esa Ahmad. West Virginia does have Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Carter and Bob Huggins’s defense is always fun to watch. For A&M, you will see a lot of Admon Gilder, DJ Hogg and Paul Davis – their top three scorers from last year. Williams and Ahmad will be huge pieces for their teams this season, but there is plenty of talent without them.

Georgia Tech vs UCLA – Friday, November 10th

This game gained a little traction with the news of three UCLA players caught shoplifting while in China. This game would be great if Josh Okogie wasn’t suspended for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets still have All-ACC second team Ben Lammers, who should have another strong year. For UCLA, you will get your first look at new freshman Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes. Both players are replacing pretty highly touted freshman in their own right. This is a chance for Georgia Tech to get a resume boosting win on day one.

Yale vs Wisconsin – Sunday, November 12th

Yes, I’m including Yale in a best match up blog. Yale will be talented this year. The Bulldogs were a tournament team just two years ago, and could have been one last year if Makai Mason had not injured his foot early in the year. Yale now returns Mason, and three of their top four scorers from last year. Wisconsin will struggle some, but they still have All-American Ethan Happ. Expect this to be close and don’t be surprised if Yale wins.

Minnesota vs Providence – Monday, November 13th

Two of the most under-appreciated coaches in the country. Ed Cooley and Richard Pitino have built two strong teams. Minnesota, ranked 15th in the country, broke onto the scene last season, and return their two best players, Nate Mason and Amir Coffey. The addition of good recruiting class has the Gopher’s sights set on another NCAA tournament bid. The same can be said for Providence. The Friars return All-Big East player Rodney Bullock and are a seasoned club. Just like Minnesota, they have a very talented freshman to add to a deep team in Makai Ashton-Langford. Expect both these teams to be playing in March.

Butler vs Maryland – Tuesday, November 14th

This is another match up between two teams who will compete in the top half of their respective conferences. Butler returns their best player in Kelan Martin, and will have Kamar Baldwin back as well as supporting cast. The Bulldogs have a nice freshman guard in Aaron Thompson who will get his first real taste of college action against a tough Maryland team. For Maryland, they will experience life without Melo Trimble. Get to know their sophomore trio of Justin Jackson, Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan. These three will make this team go this year.

Indiana vs Seton Hall – Tuesday, November 14th

The Archie Miller era begins in Indiana this year. It will be a tough first year, as IU loses a lot from last year’s team. Look for Josh Newkirk and Juwan Morgan to become the go to guys this season. I also think Curtis Jones will give the Hoosiers so balance at the point guard position. For Seton Hall, this is a big year. The once heralded recruiting class of Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Kadeen Carrington have not reached senior year. Delgado is one of the best bigs in the country. He’s a double-double machine, plain and simple. The Pirates also have sharpshooter Myles Powell and a nice group of freshman to add to their veteran group. Expectations are high in Jersey.

Xavier vs Wisconsin – Wednesday, November 15th

We talked about Wisconsin earlier. If Yale isn’t a test for them, Xavier definitely will be. The Muskateers have one of the best guards in the country in Trevon Bluiett, and J.P. Macura is back for his senior season. The Big East has been Villanova’s conference to lose, but Xavier will look to have a say about that. New faces like Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall will only add more weapons to a dangerous Big East team.

Virginia Tech vs St. Louis – Thursday, November 16th

This match up would be awesome next year; That’s not taking away from the one we have this year. Both teams have a lot of young talent and will use this year to gain some much needed experience in their conferences. Saint Louis has senior Davell Roby to lead their group of sophomore and freshman. Billiken fans will enjoy watching Jermaine Bishop for an entire season after medically redshirting, and will be introduced to freshman Jordan Goodwin. For Virginia Tech, they welcome freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Wabissa Bede. The two will join returning players such as Chris Clarke and Ahmed Hill, who both averaged 11 points a game last year.

Virginia vs VCU – Friday, November 17th

Tipping at 4P EST on Friday, this is the last game before first rounds of many opening tournaments start. Virginia got hit by the transfer bug, while VCU will have some nice transfer pieces eligible this year. You can always count on Tony Bennett’s team to be stout defensively, and a back court of Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome will be fun to watch for the Cavaliers. VCU loses a lot of scoring, but Justin Tillman and Jonathan Williams are reliable scorers. Transfers Kris Lane and Isaac  Vann both transferred from smaller programs, but will be contributors for VCU as well this season.

Champions Classic – Tuesday, November 14th

This needs it’s own section. It’s one of, if not the biggest non-conference event of the year. Four of college basketball’s blue bloods and four of the top five teams in the country this year. The 2017 Champions Classic has a little bit of everything.

Duke vs Michigan State – 7PM

Bagley vs Bridges. Krzyzewksi vs Izzo. Duke vs Michigan State. This match up features a deep and primed Spartan team versus a NBA bound Duke club. The Blue Devils are led by highly touted freshman Marvin Bagley, Trevon Duval and Wendell Carter. Oh, and who could forget Grayson Allen. Duke doesn’t have the deepest of teams, but their starting five is as good as it gets. Michigan State is the opposite. The Spartans have depth upon depth. They return a team that went through growing pains and injuries last season. They have future lottery pick Miles Bridges, they have great depth in the post and the have Tom Izzo. These are two teams expected to play deep into March.

Kentucky vs Kansas – 10:30 PM

Game two features Big Blue Nation and Rock Chalk. New year, same script for Kentucky, as they will lean on numerous McDonald All-American freshman to lead them through SEC play and into the NCAA Tournament. Different than most UK teams, John Calipari really doesn’t have an upperclassmen to lead his young team. As a result, don’t be surprised if it takes a little for Kentucky to click. Once they do though, players like Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo will be household names, if they somehow aren’t already. Kansas, like last year, will again rely on their guard play in 17-18. A small ball line up of Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Svi Mykhailiuk and LeGerald Vick will be utilized a lot. They have question marks upfront, but KU appears to be the favorite once again in the Big 12.

So there it is, a schedule to get you through week one of the college season. After these games, preseason tournaments will begin and there will be some great championship battles to look forward to. Just don’t look ahead too soon, or you may miss a couple of great games.

SEC Basketball 2017-18 Conference Preview

More seasons than not, the SEC is viewed as “Kentucky and then everyone else,” by those unfamiliar to the conference. Even when teams like Florida have been good, or McDonald’s All-Americans like Malik Newman have been in the conference, Kentucky has always been heads above the rest of the conference. That will remain true this season, but on a smaller level. The SEC will be very good this season, and have loads of talent all across the board.

Projected Finishes

  1. Kentucky – This Kentucky team has the talent in the freshman class that rivals Wall/Cousins/Bledsoe, Davis/Kidd-Gilchrist & Towns/Booker/Lyles. The issue is this Kentucky team has ZERO upperclassmen. The Wildcats have one returner who played significant minutes last season. That will cause some growing pains initially. Eventually, I expect the trio of Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo and Quade Green to run this team. Calipari is great at getting players to buy into their roles and Kentucky is littered with guys who serve specific roles.
  2. Florida – Nipping on the heels of the young Wildcats will be Mike White’s Florida Gators. The Gators return a back court of KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza, who each serve different purposes on the floor. Allen led the team in scorring, while Chiozza is more defensive minded. The Gators also add two Top 100 recruits to a front court that brings back John Egbunu and Kevarrius Hayes.
  3. Texas A&M – The Aggies have my Player of the Year pick in Robert Williams. Williams impacts the game on both ends of the floor and I think will take a giant step forward this year. A&M gets back most of it’s production from last year. Joining Williams, Tyler Davis, DJ Hogg and Admon Gilder bring back a strong core from last season. Freshman JJ Caldwell and Savion Flagg only add to the depth of this team.
  4. Alabama – Alabama could be the third best team in the SEC, but uncertainty regarding Colin Sexton forces me to put them below A&M. Sexton is a tremendous and exciting player. If deemed eligible, he we be one of the best players in the conference. In addition, Alabama returns basically everyone from last year and is one of the more veteran teams in the conference. Add to the mix another Top 100 player in John Petty and Alabama will be good. A cleared Sexton will make them great.
  5. Missouri – Missouri is one of the most interesting teams in the country, let alone conference. Obviously they have Michael Porter Jr, potential #1 pick and the 1A/1B recruit in the country with Bagley. The challenge will be mixing a strong freshman class, which also includes Jeremiah Tillmon, Blake Harris and Johntay Porter, with returning players like Kevin Puryear and Terrence Phillips. The talent is there for Mizzou to compete, the question is will they?
  6. Arkansas – Arkansas showed everyone last year that they are a tough out. They’re chaotic defense causes fits for opponents, as Seton Hall learned, and UNC was lucky enough to escape. That defense will remain a constant this season. The Razorbacks also have a good tandem in Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford to lead the charge.
  7. Vanderbilt – Vanderbilt was an NCAA Tourny team last year, and should have won their first game if not for some late mishaps. The Commodores bring back a trio set on not making the same mistake twice. Seniors Riley LaChance, Matthew Fisher-Davis and Jeff Roberson will give Vandy strong leadership to compete in a tough SEC. And with the home court advantage they have, that’s all they can ask for.
  8. Auburn – This is an important year for Bruce Pearl and Auburn. For one, they have the FBI Investigation looming over them. Next, they have multiple players suspended indefinitely to start the season. Third, Auburn has under performed despite strong recruiting classes the past two years. Bruce Pearl has brought in five Top 100 recruits during his time as head coach, and he will bring in two more this season. This should add up to wins eventually, but it hasn’t yet.
  9. Mississippi State – Similar to Bruce Pearl and Auburn, Mississippi State returns a great 2016 recruiting class that featured four Top 100 recruits. Ben Howland has another Top 100 recruit in Nick Weatherspoon coming in. Add to this youthful mix, All-SEC second team Quindarry Weatherspoon and you should expect the Bulldogs to make a jump from last season.
  10. Ole Miss – Andy Kennedy sees his leading scorer return in Deandre Burnett. Burnett will get assistance on offense from Terence Davis, who averaged 15 points a game last year. Those two should be able to handle a the timely baskets, and Memphis transfer Markel Crawford should pitch in as well. Combined, these three should ease the pain of losing Sebastian Saiz.
  11. Georgia – The Bulldogs have one of the best players in the conference in Yante Maten. He’s a SEC Player of the Year candidate despite a Georgia being so lowly ranked. The problem is behind Yaten there isn’t much of anything. JJ Frazier is gone and unless someone else steps up, it’ll be a one man show in Athens.
  12. South Carolina – South Carolina’s run last year was nothing short of incredible. With Frank Martin inspiring on the sidelines, you can expect Carolina to compete on a nightly basis. The issue is the talent. The gamecocks lost a lot from last year’s Final Four club. Chris Silva is their most experienced returner but he was not a go to scorer on offense. There is a lot of opportunity for players to step up this year.
  13. LSU – Will Wade is turning LSU around, but he may need another year to really make an impact. Antonio Blakeney leaving hurts for this year, but LSU does have scorers coming back in Duop Reath and Brandon Sampson. Newcomers Tremont Waters (ESPN #34 recruit) and Randy Onwuasor (So. Utah transfer) will help as well, but LSU is a year away from making a significant jump in the conference.
  14. Tennessee – Tennessee returns two of its top four scorers, but combined they account for 20 points a game. Tennessee lacks size. Their three biggest players are a junior (Kyle Alexander) who averaged 3 points and 4 rebounds last year, and two freshman (Zach Kent and John Fulkerson). Struggle to score and lack of size does not bode well against the Kentuckys, Floridas and Texas A&Ms of the world.

Projected Awards

Player of the Year – Robert Williams (Texas A&M)

Maten and Porter Jr will be names tossed around for this award all year, but I’m going with Williams making a big jump in his second year. He passed on the NBA to return and better his draft stock. Dominating a on both ends in what is a much better SEC Conference will surely do that. His ability to block shots at a high rate, as well as bring in double-doubles nightly make him more than qualified to be POY.

Freshman of the Year –  Michael Porter Jr (Missouri)

Kevin Knox and Colin Sexton are going to be tremendous to watch. They are not Michael Porter Jr. The hybrid 3/4 will be dynamic for Missouri. This Tigers group is in need of a leading scorer, someone who can take over. Porter will be that guy and as the season goes on, he will get more and more sets run for him specifically to break down his defender and score.

Coach of the Year – Mike White (Florida)

Finishing behind Kentucky is no easy task, when A&M and Alabama are as good as they are this year. The difference between one and four is as minimal as its ever been in the SEC. I think White will have his Gator team behind Kentucky all season. I think he’ll cause fits defensively for the conference’s diaper dandies and have Florida marching into the tournament ready to make a run.

Projected All SEC Teams

First Team *

Robert Williams – Texas A&M

Yante Maten – Georgia

Michael Porter Jr – Missouri

Kevin Knox – Kentucky

Quindarry Weatherspoon – Mississippi State

Second Team

Colin Sexton – Alabama

Austin Wiley – Auburn

KeVaughn Allen – Florida

Hamidou Diallo – Kentucky

Matthew Fisher-Davis – Vanderbilt

*Pending Sexton’s eligibility, if cleared sooner than later, he will be First Team All-SEC