The 2017 draft, as far as we’ve seen in the 2017-18 season so far, could produce the deepest field of impact NBA players in 10 years.
Fully 11 freshman players are in double digits in scoring, the most since 13 rookies finished with better than 10 points per game in 2008-09 — a first-year field that included Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Marc Gasol, Kevin Love and Brook Lopez.
The 2017 draft was notable for Philadelphia’s trading up for Markelle Fultz — and with just four games under his belt before getting injured, the jury is out. The remaining nine in the top 10 panned out pretty much as expected, with over-hyped Lonzo Ball going to the Lakers and Sacramento reaping the benefits of two top-10s in De’Aaron Fox and Zach Collins.
After that there was a lot of moving and shaking as teams called in markers on previous trades, with only 12 of the last 50 players selected by the NBA team in their original slot.
Among those 50 rookie players, there have been some gems, increasing the likelihood this could be a watershed year.
Here are 15 first-year guys who have surprised us so far and who could be significant ballers down the road.
15. SG Tyler Dorsey – Atlanta Hawks
The University of Oregon was well represented in the 2017 draft, with four of its players from a Final Four team taken in the second round. The year with Atlanta started out quite slowly for shooting guard taken 41st overall last year, but he has picked it up in the last month to boost his stats into relevance. Currently, the Pasadena native is 13th among all rookies in three-point shooting at 34.3 percent, which could be better were it not for that slow start. At Oregon, he was a premier three-point shooter, registering a 41.6 percent average in two seasons with the Ducks. As far as this NBA season is concerned, in his last 16 games, Dorsey has scored in double digits seven times. In 38 games, two of them starts, Dorsey is averaging 13.8 minutes, 5.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists. Those kind of numbers are near the same that Dallas SG Evan Fournier put up his first year, and he’s turned into a heck of a player.
14. SG Luke Kennard – Detroit Pistons
In his final season at Duke under Coach K, shooting guard Luke Kennard shot the lights out from beyond the arc, clipping along at 43.8 percent (88 for 201 in 37 games). The Detroit Pistons are probably quite happy now that they took him 12th last year, since they had to surrender starting SG Avery Bradley to the L.A. Clippers to get Blake Griffin. And Kennard has disappointed in his freshman year, draining 54 of 128 three point attempts to sit third among rookies at 42.2 percent. Overall, the Ohio native has also scored 6.4 PPG, 2.0 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 55 games. Lately, he’s been in a funk and hasn’t seen a lot of floor time as the Pistons work hard to make the playoffs, but he has had his moments, including a double-double (10 points, 10 assists) in a loss to Utah on Jan. 24 and a 20-point performance in a win over San Antonio on Dec. 30. His numbers harken those recorded by former Piston and shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in his first year, though Kennard is better from three-point range.
13. PF Daniel Theis – Boston Celtics
No one will find Daniel Theis on any draft board, since he was signed as a free agent by the Celtics out of the German Bundesliga in 2017. And what mighty fine find he was. An old rookie at 25, Theis honed his chops with teams like New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig (say that 10 times fast) and Brose Bamberg since 2009. A 6’9″ power forward from Salzgitter, Theis is tied with Josh Jackson in rebounds per game at 4.4 (ninth among rookies) and is seventh among all rookies in blocks per game with 0.77 (47 in 61 games). He has made the most of his 14 minutes of floor time, pitching in 5.3 points, 31.6 percent shooting from three-point territory and 75.6 free throw shooting. The big German also has two double-doubles to his credit, the second a remarkable 10-point, 15-rebound effort in a win over Chicago on Dec. 23. Theis’ stats mirror those of OKC’s Patrick Patterson in his first season. Being like one of the NBA’s best sixth men can’t be all bad.
12. SF OG Anunoby – Toronto Raptors
When the Raptors picked London, England born OG Anunoby 23rd overall out of Indiana last year, a lot of fans must have said, “OG who?” Ogugua “OG” Anunoby Jr. played just 16 games in his sophomore season with the Hoosiers, scoring 11.1 points per game and averaging 5.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks. With the first-place Raptors, Anunoby has been a revelation. He has started 48 of the 60 games he has appeared in, and while his overall numbers don’t jump out, it’s his overall impact that needs to be considered. He’s kept up his defensive acumen with that 7’2″ reach of his, registering 47 steals to sit 13th in that category at 0.78 per game. Where he has been most surprising is from beyond the arc. A 36.5 percent three-point shooter in the NCAA, Anunoby has hit 59 of 167 attempts this season in the NBA, good enough for 10th place among rookies at 35.3 percent. A player of similar ability, size and stats is SF Harrison Barnes of Dallas, who shot 35.9 percent his first year with Golden State.
11. C Jarrett Allen – Brooklyn Nets
Considering they have nearly traded away a top five pick in perpetuity — thanks to that disastrous 2013 deadline deal — the Nets did very well getting Jarrett Allen out of Texas at no. 22 (thanks to a previous trade with Washington). While the Nets are nowhere near the playoffs and looking at another lottery pick they’ll surrender to a team like Cleveland, Allen’s play thus far has to be heartening. The 6’11” teenager from San Diego has started 14 of 55 games and has averaged 8.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game. His average rebounds are seventh among rookies, with 110 of 290 being of the offensive variety. Allen’s 50 blocks and 0.91 percentage are fourth among first year players, too. More impressive is the fact that when many young players hit a wall during the dog days, Allen has amped up his game in the last month and a half. All four of his four double-doubles have come in his last 17 games since Jan. 23.
10. PG Milos Teodosic – L.A. Clippers
If we were to cap “rookies” in terms of age when they start, Serbian star Milos Teodosic would fall far outside it at 30. At an age when many players are starting to think about their last contracts and retirement options, Teodosic has laced them up for the first time in the NBA with the Clips. And up to now he has been a low risk free agent signing out of CSKA Moscow. In 33 games Teodosic has scored 9.4 points and is shooting 36.5 percent (as of Tuesday) from three-point range. Those two figures put him in the top 10 among all rookies this season, as do his 163 assists, or 4.9 per game rate, good for third with Dennis Smith Jr. He has started 29 of his 33 games and seems to play better against good clubs. For instance, he had 11 points, four rebounds and five assists in a recent win over Denver. He could become the greatest undrafted Serb to ever play in the NBA, given the time to shine.
9. PG Frank Mason III – Sacramento Kings
Before last year’s draft, Kansas standout Frank Mason III was rated as high as the middle of the first round. Imagine their surprise, then, when the Kings were able to snag him 34th overall in the second. Offensively, the former Big 12 Player of the Year has done very well in a back-up role, recording 7.5 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 36 games (two starts). He’s also shooting a sterling 40.7 percent from three-point territory, or 22 for 54. After not seeing the floor for long stretches, he has made a bit of a season comeback, getting decent floor time the last seven games for the 20-44 Kings. In a tight loss to Utah on March 3, Mason dropped nine points on 3-for-7 three point shooting, as well as registering an assist, a block and a season high four steals. He’ll be a gamer down the road.
8. SG Josh Hart – Los Angeles Lakers
On a young and up-and-coming Lakers team that features fellow rookies Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball, it’s a little harder to get recognition. Drafted 30th overall out of Villanova, Josh Hart has maybe not had the pressure to perform like Ball, but has not wilted under the white hot spotlight of basketball in L.A. with the Lakers either. It is because of players like Hart, then, that the Lakers are on the verge of a renaissance. He has been a shooting machine with the Lakers, nailing 60 of 151 three point attempts in just over 21 minutes of playing time per game this season. His 39.7 percent average is fifth among all rookies and best on the Lakers, so far. Even though he has only averaged 6.6 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, Hart has recorded six double-doubles, fifth overall for first-year players. One of those double-doubles came in a big win over OKC on Feb. 4, where Hart had 14 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and two steals. He should model his game on teammate and shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
7. SF Dillon Brooks – Memphis Grizzlies
The Oregon Ducks, like we said above, were anything but under-represented at last year’s draft. One of four Ducks to go, he was originally picked 45th by the Houston Rockets, then flipped immediately to Memphis for a future second rounder. Now, Brooks may have wanted to play for a big-time contender like the Rockets, but he is probably seeing more floor time with the last place and rebuilding Grizz. And floor time he has gotten, starting 55 of his 63 games and averaging 28.6 minutes. The Mississauga, Ontario born Brooks is 14th in rookie scoring at 9.2 points per game, and along with that he has logged 3.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 0.8 steals. He has hit 62 of his 173 three-point attempts for a solid 35.8 percent average. Many of his better games have been overshadowed by the fact his team lost (they are the worst team in basketball with 45 defeats), like the season high 21 points he dropped on San Antonio in a loss on March 5.
6. C Bam Adebayo – Miami Heat
We think this rookie’s first name is quite apt. The 6’10” center from New Jersey is enjoying a great first season as understudy to Hassan Whiteside. He has started 11 of 55 games this season and is in the top 10 among first year players in a few statistical categories like rebounds (5.3, 6th), double-doubles (7, 5th) and blocks (0.67, 8th). With the Heat in the thick of the race for the eighth playoff spot, Bam helped them stop a recent five-game losing skid, notching his seventh double-double in a win over Milwaukee on Feb. 9. He scored 15, pulled down 10 rebounds and added three assists and two blocks. Adebayo, picked 14th overall out of Kentucky, has stats that resemble the rookie output of Robin Lopez, who was taken 15th overall in 2008-09. He could do worse than to have a career like the current Chicago Bull.
5. PF John Collins – Atlanta Hawks
It is certainly a lost season for the Hawks, which has meant extra playing time for rookies such as John Collins and Tyler Dorsey. But, it can be a measure of a young player’s resiliency, particularly in regards to long losing streaks and potential discord in the locker room. Collins, taken 19th out of Wake Forest, has been a find for last place Atlanta. He is currently sixth on his team in scoring with 10.3 points per game (11th for rookies) and is tied with Bam Adebayo in double-doubles with seven. Collins has also recorded 7.0 rebounds per game (third among rookies) and leads all freshmen in blocks with 1.14 per game. In one of his best contests this season, Collins put on the full display of his talents in a loss to Toronto on Jan. 14. He scored 13 points and registered season highs in rebounds (16) and blocks (4). Collins and Denver PF Kenneth Faried are comparable, in that they were drafted around the same time (Faried went 22nd overall in 2011-12) and share very close first year stats.
4. SG Bogdan Bogdanovic – Sacramento Kings
Bogdanovic is another one of those “old” rookies at 25. Originally drafted 27th overall by Phoenix in 2014, he stayed in Europe to play — where he was a star — and in 2016 the Kings acquired his rights at that year’s draft. It was a bold move for Sacramento, in that there was no guarantee he’d come over from Turkish pro team Fenerbahce. Last July, he did exercise the opt out clause on a four-year contract and it has paid off for the Kings. The slick shooting Serb is fourth in team scoring at 12.0 PPG, which includes 40.9 percent efficiency from beyond the arc (fourth among rookies). He’s also done well sharing the ball, recording 3.3 assists per game and has been decent defensively, stealing the ball 60 times in 61 games. He was very good in a pair of recent victories over New York based teams, scoring 22 points and dishing out seven assists against the Knicks on Sunday, preceded by 23 points, six rebounds and two steals versus the Nets on March 1.
3. SG Donovan Mitchell – Utah Jazz
At this point in the season, we think Donovan Mitchell is a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year in the NBA, especially if his Utah Jazz make the playoffs and the team that drafted 13th and traded him, Denver, doesn’t. After losing shooting star Gordon Hayward to free agency, most felt the Jazz would struggle this season. But, at 34-30 they are within a game of eighth place and just 4.5 games out of third. Mitchell, drafted out of Louisville, is leading the Jazz in scoring with 19.4 points per game as well as being tops in rookie scoring. He’s also been good in other areas, with 3.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game. What has helped him reach lofty scoring totals — he has two 40-point games this year — is that he hasn’t been afraid to launch three point attempts, dropping 143 of 412 for 34.7 percent efficiency. The Nuggets may well regret their draft day decision.
2. PF Kyle Kuzma – Los Angeles Lakers
There is a day of reckoning coming for Western Conference powerhouses Houston and Golden State, and it isn’t long in the offing. Suddenly, the Los Angeles Lakers aren’t a sad-sack bunch, but rather a young team on the rise. Three rookies are having an impact and the most surprising is Kuzma, who was selected 27th out of Utah by Brooklyn and swapped in a draft day trade. Again, the Nets may have made another dubious deal. Kuzma is averaging 28.5 minutes of floor time for the 28-35 Lakers, and is scoring at a 15.3 points per game clip, good for third in freshmen scoring. He’s also grabbed 5.9 rebounds (5th for rookies) and shot 36.3 percent from three-point range (7th). He’s also tied with teammate and second overall pick Lonzo Ball in double-doubles with 11 (3rd for rookies). Speaking of that day of reckoning, Kuzma had his best game as a pro in a close loss to Golden State before Christmas, where he scored 27, had a season high 14 rebounds and added a block and two steals.
1. PG Ben Simmons – Philadelphia 76ers
Yes, Ben Simmons bucks our trend here as a no. 1 selection — but that was in 2016. What makes the imposing 6’10” point guard’s superb 2017-18 season even more astounding is the fact he is coming off an injury that wiped out what was supposed to be his rookie season. The big Aussie has surprisingly supple hands and is a dual threat at both ends of the court. He has recorded 7.7 rebounds this season and 7.6 assists, while contributing 16.5 points per game to Philly’s playoff drive (the Sixers are in sixth in the Eastern Conference). Simmons has 25 double-doubles this season, as well as six triple-doubles, easily putting him into the lead in Rookie of the Year voting. The fact that he has taken over the point guard role in the absence of 2017 no.1 overall pick Markelle Fultz is nothing short of remarkable.