By Matt Bagdat,
Sports Business Editor
The young 2017 NBA season has already been filled with intriguing storylines: the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers, injuries to stars such as Gordon Hayward, and surprising teams such as the Orlando Magic.
One other storyline that the NBA universe seems to be obsessed with more than in recent years is the play of its rookies. Players such as Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons are constantly being talked about, and for good reason.
One player who came in with incredible hype is Lakers’ point guard Lonzo Ball. Ball, who played his only season of college basketball at UCLA, has been under the microscope this season, due to the numerous bold statements by his father, LaVar, who claimed his son would be a Laker all along.
When the Lakers indeed drafted Lonzo with the second pick in this year’s draft, LaVar told ESPN that his son would lead the team to the playoffs, winning 50 games in the process, with Lonzo winning Rookie of the Year. Despite his claims, the Lakers have been off to a 4-5 start, with Lonzo struggling with his shooting. Ball is averaging nearly nine points on around 30 percent shooting, with just under seven rebounds and seven assists per game. His best performance came in his second career game against the Suns, where he just missed a triple double by putting up 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in the victory. His passing can get contagious, but if Ball wants to live up to expectations he needs to be more aggressive in the scoring department.
While Ball has been a bit of a disappointment thus far, one rookie who has been thriving is last year’s number one pick from LSU, Ben Simmons. Simmons is listed as 6’ 10” and is running the point for the up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers. Despite questions about his game after his lone season at LSU, it appears his versatility is translating well to the next level, as he is averaging nearly 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists. He flirts with posting a triple-double every night, and if he can keep up this level of play, he will run away with the Rookie of the Year award, while continuing to provide hope for a 76ers team with a bright future. His all-around play thus far has drawn comparisons to Magic Johnson, and while it is still early in his career, Simmons looks like a future All-Star for years to come.
A high pick from this year’s draft who has been playing very solid is forward Jayson Tatum of the Celtics. The former Duke product is averaging nearly 14 points per game and 6 rebounds, while shooting the ball at a high mark. While he may not win Rookie of the Year due to Simmons’ performance, he is certainly playing at a high level on one of the best teams in the league.
Despite his team’s poor record, rookie De’Aaron Fox has been a bright spot for the Kings, making a strong impact on both sides of the ball. Bulls’ rookie seven-footer Lauri Markkanen has been scoring at a high level, emerging as a potential star and sleeper for Rookie of the Year. Dennis Smith Jr. of the Mavericks is an athletic freak who will have no shortage of highlight plays this season. Last but not least, Lonzo Ball’s fellow rookie teammate, Kyle Kuzma, has been looking like the steal of the draft. The 27th overall pick from Utah has played well thus far, averaging 15 points and 5 rebounds, and is living up to the hype after a strong showing in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Ultimately, this season’s rookie class is a very strong one, with a number of big names. While the season is still young and the jury is still out on these players, it appears that NBA fans have another reason to be excited.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 7th print edition.
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