If April, as T.S. Eliot once wrote, is the cruelest month, then surely August is the most hopeful. Nestled between the Las Vegas Summer League and the start of training camp, it’s a time when every player is healthy or rehabbing “ahead of schedule,” every new acquisition is primed to take his team over the top, and it’s when even the Knicks have a mathematical shot of making the playoffs.
Amidst all the hope being generated, no one elicits more optimism than the rookies. They are, after all, the great unknowns entering into every new season. Will they flop? Will they succeed? Will they get busted for sneaking girls into the rookie symposium? We’ve taken the guesswork out of the equation with our comprehensive NBA Rookie of the Year rankings. We’ve got the odds on eight of the league’s top first year players and have even tossed in some props for their future production.
NBA ROOKIE OF THE YEAR RANKINGS
Lonzo Ball (LA Lakers): 5/2
Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers): 4/1
Markelle Fultz (Philadelphia 76ers): 5/1
Dennis Smith Jr. (Dallas Mavericks): 7/1
Josh Jackson (Phoenix Suns): 15/1
Jason Tatum (Boston Celtics): 20/1
De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings): 25/1
Malik Monk (Charlotte Hornets): 50/1
MALIK MONK (Charlotte Hornets)
Malik Monk can flat out score. The 6’3” guard averaged 19.8 points per game on 45% shooting in his only season at Kentucky, and exploded for a cool 47 points against a stacked Tar Heels team in December. He needs to fill out his slender frame, but for now the Hornets will benefit from his ability to stretch defenses and take some pressure off of Kemba Walker. He’s one of the few impact rookies who will see significant playing time from day one, and Charlotte will be a better – and far more exciting – team because of it.
Over/Under on Malik Monk’s top scoring game in 2017-18: 24.5
DE’AARON FOX (Sacramento Kings)
Just how good is De’Aaron Fox? The Lakers seriously considered nabbing him with the second pick in the draft before settling on Lonzo Ball. The Kings are happy they did, because they’ve finally found a franchise point guard after cycling through seat fillers like Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, and Rajon Rondo in past years. Fox will have to bide his time behind new pickup George Hill this season but he possesses the kind of game changing speed, size, and defensive intensity to make him a star.
Odds De’Aaron Fox will be the Kings fulltime starter in 2018-19: 1/1
JASON TATUM (Boston Celtics)
Jason Tatum will likely have a better career than Jackson, but he’ll have fewer chances to shine during his rookie season given the Celtics’ superior depth. The silky smooth small forward will have to share minutes at the three with incumbent starter Jae Crowder and emerging star Jaylen Brown. At 6’8”, Tatum could appear at the four in some small ball line-ups but he’ll have to battle for minutes first with new acquisition Marcus Morris. In many ways, this will year will be a kind of apprenticeship for Tatum, as he learns the ins and outs of the game and is groomed for future stardom. The Celtics did the same thing many years before with a couple of guys named John Havlicek and Kevin McHale, and that turned out pretty well for them.
Over/Under on how many minutes Jason Tatum will average per game in 2017-18: 20.5
DENNIS SMITH JR. (Dallas Mavericks)
It won’t take long to find out just how good Dennis Smith Jr. really is. The Mavs point guard will receive a trial by fire as he squares off against Malcolm Brogdon, Dennis Schroder, Steph Curry, Mike Conley Jr., and Markelle Fultz within his first 12 games in the league. It will be a tough test for the 19-year-old rookie, but he isn’t exactly a slouch himself. Smith led the ACC in points and assists as a freshman at North Carolina State and he displayed world class athleticism during Summer League play. His dunks (and even his missed dunks) had fans leaping out of their seats, and Dallas’ coaching staff absolutely loves the way he attacks the rim. The Mavs have plenty of point guards this season but no one who can match Smith’s sheer explosiveness.
Odds Dennis Smith Jr. will participate in the NBA Slam Dunk Competition: 3/2
JOSH JACKSON (Phoenix Suns)
The success of Josh Jackson’s rookie season could all hinge on a player who’s not even on his team: Kyrie Irving. The Cleveland Cavaliers are reportedly eyeing a deal that could net them Jackson and guard Eric Bledsoe in exchange for their disgruntled all-star. If the deal goes through, it would almost certainly stall Jackson’s growth as he finds himself stuck behind LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyle Korver on a team hellbent on reaching the Finals. If, however, it falls through, Jackson will get all the shots and minutes he can handle in Phoenix. The Suns are woefully thin at the three and Jackson’s athleticism and court awareness fit well with their preferred up-tempo style.
Odds Josh Jackson will be traded for Kyrie Irving before the 2017-18 season begins: 8/1
MARKELLE FULTZ (Philadelphia 76ers)
In any other year, Markelle Fultz would be the top rookie on his team, but this isn’t any other year. Fultz will have to share top billing on the Sixers this season with 2016 number one pick Ben Simmons. It should make for intriguing theater as coach Brett Brown doles out minutes and responsibilities to his two young studs. Simmons is expected to initiate the offense, which will necessitate a move to the two for Fultz. He has the stroke to make it work as evidenced by his 23.2 points per game on 47.6% shooting at Washington State, but he’ll need to adjust on the fly against the best athletes in the world. Like it or not, Fultz’s rookie season will be all about sharing. He and Simmons will need to share the spotlight, share the ball, share point guard duties, and ultimately share rookie of the year votes.
Odds Markelle Fultz will lead the 76ers in assists in 2017-18: 3/1
BEN SIMMONS (Philadelphia 76ers)
Ben Simmons would never have chosen to miss the 2016-17 season but he’s made the most of his forced sabbatical. The Aussie has packed an additional 33 lbs. onto his 6’10” frame and has been refining his wonky jump shot with the team’s coaching staff. A reliable, outside shot was the one thing missing from his arsenal a year ago, and will make him an absolute nightmare to guard on pick and rolls. The Melbourne native has also been working out recently with LeBron James, a player to whom he’s been favorably compared since high school. Spending time with James is like getting a PhD in hoops and Simmons should be light years ahead of most rookies when he makes his long-awaited debut on October 18th.
Over/Under on number of triple doubles Ben Simmons will have in 2017-18: 5.5
LONZO BALL (LA Lakers)
It isn’t easy stealing attention away from LaVar Ball, but that’s precisely what Lonzo did this summer in Las Vegas. The 6’6” point god earned Summer League MVP honors after averaging 16.3 points, 9.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds and leading the Lakers to the championship game. Vegas offered only a small sample size but it’s easy to see how much easier Ball makes the game for his teammates. He has an uncanny knack for finding the open man and hitting them in stride for an easy bucket. By the end of the tournament, his new teammates were passing the ball more often and running harder to get open, knowing full well that their efforts would be rewarded with a pinpoint pass. Ball’s presence should have a similar impact this season in L.A. and offers to bring a welcome dose of joy back to the Staples Center.