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.

NBA Opening Night Quick Hitters

Opening night in the NBA featured two great opening games, games that could be a predictor of both the Eastern and Western Conference finals next spring. Cleveland and Houston were victorious on opening night, a Tuesday evening that featured highlights and lowlights. Let’s take a look at some things of note and (likely) overreactions coming out of Tuesday nights opening slate:

Hayward Injured

First things first, the Gordon Hayward injury was as gruesome as it gets, and nothing in this article will replicate the sheer sound and reaction that took place early in the first quarter in Cleveland. It will be hard for the Celtics to replace Hayward and the firepower he would have given the Boston offense. The most important thing is to send positive thoughts Hayward’s way and hope for the quickest, healthiest recovery possible.

Boston Still Has Young Talent

While the Celtics will miss Hayward’s presence, back-to-back draft picks, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, both showed a ton of promise on opening night. Brown scored 25 points and looked comfortable within the offense. While he shot a poor 2-9 from the Three-Point line, and registered zero assists, his ability to score looks to be improved over his rookie campaign. He also continues to show that he will be a plus defender for the entirety of his career. Tatum looked very comfortable for a rookie making his debut on the road. He finished with his first career double-double and showed that he will be a key factor in the Celtics offense. Tatum will undoubtedly take his lumps as a rookie, but it is going to be a treat for fans to watch his development as he begins to get his feet wet in the league.

Kyrie and Lebron

It was great to see the mutual respect between LeBron and Kyrie at the end of the game. Following a nasty summer breakup, it was good to see the divisiveness off the court was not able to trump the respect for their games on the floor.

Cavs Played Small Ball

Cleveland went small with their starting lineup of Rose/Wade/LeBron/Crowder/Love. Coach Tyronn Lue will tweak the lineups throughout the season, when intermittent rest becomes a priority for Rose/Wade/Bron. Plus, it will be interesting to see how the rotation looks once Isaiah Thomas is back from his injury. Jae Crowder struggled from Three Point land (1-5) on Tuesday, but he will serve as an upgrade over the streaky JR Smith and Iman Shumpert.

Durant a Millisecond Late

Kevin Durant’s game winner was just a touch too late, as the Rockets upset the Warriors to open the season. It is not even close to time to hit the panic button on the Warriors, but it was surprising to see them drop the home opener.

Houston’s Bench Was Deep

Houston’s bench outscored Golden State’s 58-48 on the strength of 20 point outings from PJ Tucker and Eric Gordon and was a key in the victory. If Houston is going to have a chance at contending with the Warriors come May, the bench will need to continue to be as productive as possible. Gordon is a lethal 6th man in a Mike D’Antoni coached offense, while PJ Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute must continue to produce on both ends off the bench for the Rockets. Nick Young looks to be a good pick-up for the Warriors if he plays within himself and becomes a consistent scoring threat off of the bench.

CP3 Still The Same Floor General

Chris Paul only scored 4 points, and struggled from the floor in his Houston debut, but he played extremely well in every other facet of the game. He chipped in 11 assists (to only one turnover), and grabbed 8 rebounds and showed great command of the offense. The dynamic between Harden and Paul will be interesting to follow as the season progresses, but so far so good 1/82nd of the way through the season.

Off Night For the Golden State Trio

Durant/Curry/Thompson combined for ONLY 58 points, which was as much as the Houston bench. No cause for concern, as it was opening night, but an interesting statistic that caught my eye while looking through the Box Scores from last night.

NBA opening night 2017 was an interesting one, setting the tone for many more compelling nights of NBA hoops forthcoming this season.

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.