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

Stop Worrying About Markelle Fultz

Markelle Fultz is likely done for the year. Philadelphia 76ers general manager Bryan Colangelo gave a very blanketed quote when asked about Fultz’s status. “There’s always a chance that he’s going to be out there soon, and there’s a chance that he’s not going to play this year.” He said. The news of Fultz potentially sitting out the rest of the year has sent the NBA Twitter world into a frenzy. The word bust is being thrown around and people are already to lump Fultz with Kwame Brown and Anthony Bennett. But let’s make one thing clear.

Markelle Fultz will be just fine

The day he entered his name into the 2017 NBA Draft, Markelle Fultz received the criticism. “Washington didn’t even make the tournament,” is what many unknowledgeable fans would say. There’s truth to that, but neither did Ben Simmons a year before. The reason is not their fault. If you’re going to point to anything, point to the coaching first. Look at what Will Wade and Mike Hopkins are doing at LSU and Washington, respectively. They both have those programs trending in the upward direction for the first time in awhile. A good coach goes a long way at the college level.

Playing on the West Coast, and not in prime time a lot, left Fultz in the dark most of his year in college. Not many people on the East Coast stayed up to watch a bad Washington team lose in the Pac-12. That is completely understandable. But lack of knowledge or exposure doesn’t make a player less talented.

What’s going on with Fultz is very uncharacteristic, and the cause for concern by Sixer fans is understandable. Even more so when you remember what Philadelphia gave up to draft him. How does a player who has been playing basketball his whole life “forget” how to shoot? The more Fultz stays off the court, the more questions arise and the more people demand to see practice videos of him shooting. The situations are different, but Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons didn’t play their first seasons either. Now Fultz isn’t sitting due to injury, but let’s not turn our backs on a 19 year old so quickly.

It’s all bizarre. Colangelo said today that Fultz can’t shoot outside the paint. That screams scary, but it also seems a little unrealistic Regardless, as you’ve been doing for literally years now, Trust the Process. Don’t jump to negativity before year one is over. If there’s one person who will work his way back, its Fultz.

Markelle Fultz worked his way to the national spotlight. He didn’t grow up a highly touted recruit and prospect. He wasn’t playing varsity basketball as an 8th grader or some of the crazy things you hear top recruits doing at young ages. Markelle Fultz was playing JV basketball as a sophomore. He transformed himself from a kid playing JV basketball to a top 10 recruit nationally through his work ethic. He went from unknown to #1 pick by getting in the gym. The same work ethic that will get this bizarre shot dilemma solved. Take a deep breath, Philly.

While Free Agency Dominates, The 76ers Go Against the Grain

Ever since The Decision, NBA fans have been talking themselves into the possibility of Lebron’s team missing the Finals. The first candidate to knock him off was the “Big 3” Celtics. Lebron’s Heat knocked them out in 5 games during his first year in Miami, and took them out in 7 games the next year. The next challengers were Paul George’s Pacers. The Pacers met the Heat two straight years in the conference finals, but couldn’t slay the dragon. After that, Lebron returned to the Cavs in 2015. His Finals appearances have felt more preordained than ever. Neither the Hawks nor the Raptors posed any real threat. Te parade of challengers came full circle last year, with a completely rebuilt Celtics team falling to the Cavs in the Conference Finals. But there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel for those who want to see new blood come out of the East.

Last week, Joel Embiid put up 46 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 7 blocks in a game against the Lakers. It’s a stat line that no one else has ever accomplished. Anyone who has ever been close to that in a single game is indisputably an all-time great. Since 1980, the most similar lines were put up by Shaq (40/17/8/5) and David Robinson, (42/14/5/5) per basketball reference’s game finder. In the same game, his teammate Ben Simmons had 18/9/10 to go along with 5 steals. These numbers are starting to look normal for him.

Obviously, Embiid has a long way to go before being considered an all-time great. Making an All-Star game would be a good start. His health will remain a huge question for the foreseeable future. But this game and his play throughout the first month of the regular season erases any lingering doubt about the type of player he is when healthy. His dominance, combined with the play of Simmons (who is a lock for Rookie of the Year), make the 76ers a force to be reckoned with almost immediately.

It’s possible that the emergence of two future superstars on the 76ers ends up having little impact on Lebron’s reign over the East. Lebron is rumored to be looking to sign with a team in the West after this year, and the Sixers remain one year away from truly putting a scare into the top teams in the conference. With Gordon Hayward’s leg injury, the Celtics probably lack the firepower to take out the Cavs this year. But with all of these factors combined, the East should finally – finally! – be represented by a non-Lebron team in the 2019 Finals.

Trust The Process: The Beginnning

There’s always moments in time where you remember exactly where you were, who you were with and what you were doing that just stick in your head.

For myself, and many other crazed 76ers fans, that day was June 27, 2013. The day The Process truly began.

I was sitting on media row at an empty Bollman Center, prepping for a month of clinics and tournaments and showcases with Hoop Group with a live feed of the Draft blasting on another tab of my laptop.

There wasn’t much reason to pay attention to the top of the draft in terms of rooting interest, with the Sixers picking 11th in what was ultimately on the weaker end of draft classes. It wasn’t until Twitter started going crazy with rumors and the usual #WojBombs that I started to pay attention.

Jrue Holiday, who had been tagged as the future of the franchise under the previous regime, along with Evan Turner, was off to New Orleans. Nerlens Noel, the No. 6 pick in that draft, plus an extra pick, was on his way to Philadelphia.

When the trade was signed and sealed, I initially wasn’t a fan; At the time, Jrue was coming off his best season (career highs with 17.7 PPG and eight APG) and Noel wasn’t scheduled to play the next season after that gruesome ACL tear. Months after the Draft playing NBA2K with my college roommate he cried (jokingly, I think) when the crowd started the “MVP” chant for Holiday.

But the more time passed and the more I thought about it, it was clear that was the only way to go. What General Manager Sam Hinkie and the Sixers were selling wasn’t the status quo, it wasn’t the idea that the seventh- or eighth-seed and a small chance at an upset in the first round was good enough. What the Sixers front office was selling was something that hadn’t been there since Allen Iverson was dropping 30 points a night. Hope.

June 27, 2013 – The Day Hope Came to Philly

In order to truly compete, a team needed a star and that wouldn’t happen picking in the 10-18 range. Sure there were attempts to get a star to lead the team (Elton Brand in 2008, Andrew Bynum in 2012) but it never truly prospered. The only way to truly build, in the beginning of the Superstar Era, was the draft. 

And even in the aftermath of the Hinkie era and the beginning of the Colangelo era, that hope has exploded into what is basically a nationwide phenomenon.

Just take a look at the handful of preseason games: Joel Embiid is proving he can be a generational player when healthy and an even better s*** talker on Twitter. Ben Simmons, despite his broken shot, has at least three or four plays a game that remind you why he had such lofty expectations coming out of LSU.

Robert Covington, one of the biggest diamond-in-the-rough finds, has blossomed into an elite wing defender and a capable 3-point shooter. Dario Saric and TJ McConnell are bordering on folk hero status and JJ Redick gives them the shooting that has been sorely missing for the past few seasons.

Sure the 76ers are coming off a year where they won just 28 games, the most since The Process began in 2013, and have yet to prove they can compete on a nightly basis. But if Embiid stays healthy, Simmons somehow finds his shot and Markelle Fultz’s shoulder/abhorrent shooting stroke gets fixed, is it really hard to imagine the Sixers gunning for the fifth seed in a talent-depleted East?

The Process has handed Philly three budding stars, will Sam Hinkie’s vision finally come to fruition soon?

This is the type of hope that Hinkie and Co. built their regime on during his three-year tenure. And it’s been incredible to see just how that hope has changed a city deprived of a true winner. The go-to Philadelphia chant when a team is losing (which has happened plenty the last few years) of “E-A-G-L-E-S” has now been replaced by chants of “Trust the Process.” Embiid gave himself “The Process” nickname, an incredibly appropriate moniker given his injury-prone time in the NBA. Hell, even #RaisetheCat has become a national thing (Good work @GipperGrove).

It’s that hope that makes this team intriguing to follow, because of that Process. No team has gone to his length, something that people only thought happens in NBA2K GM Mode, in an attempt to rise to the top. And it’s a refreshing take in a league that has, in recent years, only had a handful of competitive teams vying for the championship.

It’s a Different Feel

I’ve gotten my hopes up throughout the years between the Eagles’ consecutive trips (and mostly failures) in the NFC Championship game, the rise and even faster fall of the Phillies between 2007 and 2013 (we’ll always have 2008) and a Flyers organization that gave Philadelphia a glimmer of hope in 2010.

It’s certainly an unfamiliar time (especially considering the last few years) in Philadelphia sports. The Eagles and Flyers have found early-season success while the Phillies are in the early stages of their own Process with some players already showing their ability late in the regular season. 

The Sixers had long been the organization, between Iverson’s departure in 2007 to the beginning of the Hinkie era in 2013, that drew the least interest among the main four professional teams. There’s plenty of pieces that still have to fall in place for the Sixers to get back into a competitive state. But make no mistake, the pieces are there. The only thing the fans can do now is something they’ve been saying for the past three years: Trust the Process.

Andrew Koob is a former Hoop Group Digital Media Member and a native of Warrington, Pa. He currently is a high school sports writer for NJ.com and the Star-Ledger. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewKoob.

R.J. Barrett Reclassifies to 2018

rj barrett

R.J. Barrett is looking to get to college, and ultimately the pros, a year sooner. Just days after Marvin Bagley, the #1 player in the Class of 2018, filed papers to re-class into 2017, Barrett followed suit. He announced he would be re-classing from 2019 to 2018. Barrett said the decision came after evaluating his play this summer. The move does not come as a surprise, as anyone who has seen Barrett play knows he is ready for the next level.

If his play this summer was the deciding factor, then I can’t imagine the decision took very long. Barrett was a monster this summer. You probably heard his name mostly during the U19 FIBA Games. Barrett not only dominated Team USA, but took home tournament MVP, while leading Canada to the gold. At only 17 years old, Barrett was outshining players who are signed, and enrolling into colleges in the Fall. Despite the age gap, Barrett was the most outstanding player by far. He has shown he has nothing left to prove at the high school level.

He has been touted by some as the best Canadian prospect ever, as well as the best high school player in the nation as a sophomore. With accolades like that, it is no surprise that Barrett is currently being recruited by all the major powerhouses. Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA, Arizona, Oregon and Michigan were all listed as schools working hard for him. Expect Kentucky to make a hard push after John Calipari got a front row seat to Barrett’s torching of theUSA U19 team in Egypt.

The bar has been set high for R.J. Barrett. Playing at a school that has produced lottery picks Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid & D’Angelo Russell, and for a coach who coached Kyrie Irving and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist prior to joining Montverde, Barrett could be the best of all of them. And we are now a year sooner to finding out.