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.

What Should the Sixers do With Jahlil Okafor?

Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor’s career as a 76er is quickly coming to an end. Philadelphia announced this week that they will not be exercising the 4th year option on Okafor, showing that the team plans to move on at season’s end. The Sixers are refusing to buy out his contract in full because they want to get a return piece(s) in a trade for him. The former Duke big man has appeared in just one game so far this season. He has expressed his desire to leave Philadelphia in order to rejuvenate his young NBA career. After

how this week has gone, it is hard not to side with him. I empathize with Okafor. He is still just 21 years old and wants the chance to prove himself with a franchise who believes in his ability. While I’m sure there are GM’s who still believe in his potential, Philadelphia has shown that they are willing to exercise some patience to find the right suitor.

Okafor averaged 18 and 7 in 53 contests as a rookie, but saw his numbers dip to 12 and 5 last season with the emergence of Joel Embiid. His role has been diminished even further in his 3rd season, and it has caused an early stir between Jah and the Sixer’s front office. Okafor is an extremely talented offensive player, with good touch around the rim and a solid all-around skill level with the ball in his hands. The issue has always been his defense. Okafor does not move well enough laterally and it makes him a major liability on the defensive end, especially matching up against versatile big men. This limits Okafor’s value on the trade market. While it is not wise to write off a 21 year old, I do not think many, if any, NBA GM’s see him as anywhere close to the franchise altering talent he was labeled out of Duke. This begs the question: What should the Sixers do with Jahlil Okafor?

#FreeJah

The answer here is simple: trade him. As mentioned earlier, the Sixers are not going to buy out his contract. Adrian Wojnarowkski stated earlier today that the Sixers are looking at moving Jahlil for a 2nd round pick. Chris Mannix of Yahoo thinks that in addition to 2nd round pick(s), a “salary filler or a stashed mid-level European prospect” are other potential options for the Sixers. Philadelphia is making a business decision to coerce another organization to eat the final $5 million of Okafor’s contract, but they need to move quickly. Their treatment of Okafor is already setting the league ablaze on social media (see Isaiah Thomas) and it would be in the best interest of both parties to move on swiftly.

Okafor wants to show another team why he was a Top 3 pick back in 2015.

The Sixers should move quickly to trade Okafor for future draft picks. Have the Sixers been drafting a lot in recent years? Absolutely. But dealing Okafor for another expiring gives the Sixers a piece for the remainder of the season before letting them go into free agency. Plus, they can pair the picks they would receive with a current player (preferably an expiring contract) to make moves for assets in the future. Rumors were tying Okafor to the Celtics if his contract were bought out, but it does not appear that is in play. In a trade the Celtics are probably not going to give up much in return. Okafor would give the Celtics an offensive threat up front off the bench, but it seems like there are hurdles to clear before that becomes a possibility.

Potential Suitors

If they decide to make a move for draft picks they may focus their potential moves on teams with at least $5 million in cap space. Atlanta, Brooklyn, Indiana, and Phoenix all fall into this category. Okafor and Myles Turner would be an interesting pairing, but the Pacers do not have a 2nd round pick until 2020. Collins and Okafor are redundant, but the Hawks are awful, and it is an opportunity for Okafor to put up offensive numbers. They have multiple 2nd round picks in 2019. Brooklyn and Phoenix are similar situations with bad teams and ample minutes for Okafor to get back on the court and earn a deal during the 2018 off-season. While Okafor may end up somewhere other than these four places, but the fit with minutes and cap space make them intriguing options for the Sixers to explore on the trade market for Okafor.

Philadelphia needs to trade Okafor, and do it fast. Find a suitor with a draft pick or two to part with and get it done. Continuing to stockpile future assets and potential trade bait, and give Okafor a chance to fulfill his potential in another city. I am far from the biggest fan of Jahlil Okafor, but he has handled the benching with grace and I will be screaming (figuratively, of course) #FreeJah until the Sixers make a move.

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.