By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Heading into Week 6 of the fantasy season, Nick Whalen checks in on the NBA’s top rookies.
Ben Simmons, 76ers
Simmons has officially gone from impressive for a rookie to arguably one of the top 30 players in the NBA. After another strong showing Monday against Utah, Simmons is averaging 18.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 2.0 steals per game. No rookie has ever averaged 18/9/7/2 over the course of an entire season, and it’s only been done twice by non-rookies (Magic Johnson, Fat Lever).
Considering he’s still a complete non-factor on the perimeter (0-7 3PT on the season), Simmons is considerably more valuable under the NBA’s new standard scoring system, which does not count three-point percentage or made threes. Under that system, Simmons ranks as the league’s No. 8 fantasy player, one spot ahead of Steph Curry and just 0.1 fantasy points per game behind Kevin Durant.
Lonzo Ball, Lakers
While Ball is still shooting horrifically from both the field and from three, what hasn’t been talked about as much are his struggles at the free throw line. The No. 2 overall pick has hit just 46 percent of his attempts heading into Tuesday’s action, but perhaps more concerning is the fact that he’s taken just 26 free throws in 563 minutes. Ball’s free throw rate is among the worst in the league, and he ranks ahead of only Elfrid Payton, Kris Dunn and Patty Mills among starting point guards. Ball put up his second triple-double of the season Sunday against Denver, but he failed to get to the line for the third time in four games.
All that said, in the context of fantasy, Ball hasn’t been a complete disaster. Like Simmons, he benefits greatly from the standard scoring system, ranking 44th overall in fantasy points per game (32.8).
One final note: If you’re a believer in the Jason Kidd comparisons — for the record, I am not — maybe there’s not much reason to panic about Ball’s rough start.
Here are Kidd’s numbers through the first 17 games of his career: 36.8 MPG, 8.7 PPG, 7.3 APG, 6.1 RPG, 2.4 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 32.7% FG, 13.2% 3PT (5-38 3PT)
Donovan Mitchell, Jazz
Utah has gone into a complete freefall in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury, but that hasn’t stopped Mitchell from gunning away on a nightly basis. Since moving into the starting lineup on Nov. 10, Mitchell is taking nearly 16 shots per game, including 5.9 threes, which has translated to averages of 17.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 steals in just under 33 minutes.
Mitchell ranks second among rookies in usage rate, despite making at least half of his shots in just three of 18 games.
Malik Monk, Hornets
Monk began the year as a regular rotation piece off the bench, but the return of Nic Batum has all but forced him out of the rotation. The 19-year-old picked up his first career DNP-CD Saturday against the Clippers and played just over a minute in Monday’s blowout win over Minnesota. For the time being, Steve Clifford is going with a 10-man rotation, with Dwayne Bacon, Jeremy Lamb and Michael Carter-Williams as his reserve guards.
Dillon Brooks, Grizzlies
Brooks’ overall numbers don’t jump off the page, but it’s nonetheless time for me to eat crow. Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected Brooks to be a rotation player as a rookie, let alone average nearly 30 minutes per game. Of course, that’s due in part to Memphis’ lack of depth, but Brooks — a big-time gunner at the college level — has proven to be an NBA-caliber talent. While the 21-year-old hasn’t shot the ball particularly well from three, he still holds respectable averages of 8.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.2 steals through 16 games.
Frank Ntilikina, Knicks
A low-speed collision with LeBron James is probably Ntilikina’s claim to fame at this point, and he hasn’t been particularly relevant as a fantasy commodity through 14 games. He’s been good as a passer (7.1 AST per-36) and has been mugging opposing guards (3.3 STL per 36), but his shooting is still a mess, and the minutes simply haven’t been there to warrant widespread ownership. Ntilikina played only 11 minutes in Monday’s win over the Clippers, his lowest total since opening night.
John Collins, Hawks
Collins has been perhaps the league’s steadiest rookie not named Ben Simmons. Mike Budenholzer has been hesitant to unleash him for more than 20-25 minutes on most nights, but that hasn’t stopped Collins from ranking seventh among rookies in scoring, third in rebounding and third in blocks. The Wake Forest product played a season-high (by far) 36 minutes Monday in San Antonio after Luke Babbitt left early with an injury and finished with a career-best 21 points to with nine rebounds and a pair of blocks. Collins is shooting a strong percentage from the floor (56.9% FG) for a rookie, though he’s a complete non-factor from the perimeter and has only 11 total assists and six steals in nearly 400 minutes.
OG Anunoby, Raptors
Anunoby slipped out of the lottery after missing almost all of last season with a torn ACL, but he recovered more quickly than expected and has been a fixture in the Raptors’ rotation since opening night. Numbers-wise, Anunoby hasn’t been a significant fantasy contributor, but he’s a capable scorer when given the opportunity. Anunoby had a career-high 16 points in 30 minutes against Houston on Nov. 14, hitting 3-of-4 three-point attempts and 6-of-8 field goals, overall.
Luke Kennard, Pistons
Kennard has been a per-36 darling — 13.6 pts, 4.5 reb, 2.1 ast, 1.6 stl, 1.9 made threes — but he’s yet to earn his way into a consistent role on a night-to-night basis. That’s nothing out of the ordinary for a rookie on a Stan Van Gundy-coached team, but it’s nonetheless been a frustrating situation for owners in deeper leagues, especially after Kennard averaged 12.7 points on 57.7 percent shooting (61.5% 3PT) over a three-game stretch last week. In two games since, Kennard has played 10 and 17 minutes, respectively, totalling just seven points.
Josh Jackson, Suns
Jackson has cooled off after an encouraging start, scoring in double figures only twice in his last eight games. Rebounding and steals continue to be strengths, however Jackson’s three-point shooting has tailed off of late, as he’s hit just two of his last 18 attempts.
Kyle Kuzma, Lakers
LA’s other rookie has taken things to another level in the ongoing absence of Larry Nance, averaging 17.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and shooting 48 percent from the floor in nine games since entering the starting five in Nance’s place. More importantly, Kuzma is averaging more than 35 minutes per game over that span, and he ranks third in that category among rookies, behind only Simmons and Ball. Unlike those two, Kuzma’s value isn’t necessarily boosted in non-percentage leagues, but he’s still been a top-90 player under the NBA’s standard scoring system.
De’Aaron Fox, Kings
Dave Joerger blindly picking names out of a hat to set his rotation on a given night has made Fox difficult to evaluate, but it’s encouraging that he’s leading the four-win Kings in minutes per game. Efficiency remains a bit of an issue, but that was always the expectation with Fox, who was a sub-30 percent three-point shooter at Kentucky. He currently ranks third among rookies in assists per game (4.7) and has actually been slightly better than Ball in terms of assist percentage
Dennis Smith, Mavericks
Smith put together the best stretch of his young career to begin November, averaging 19.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.0 steal and shooting 37 percent from three (2.4 makes per game) over the first seven games of the month. In three games since, Smith has scored a combined 21 points on 9-of-36 shooting, including 1-of-12 from three.
Jayson Tatum, Celtics
There’s really not much to say about Tatum at this point, and that’s a compliment. Not many 19-year-olds can enter the league and positively contribute to the league’s best defense, while simultaneously shooting 50 percent from the field and 46 percent from three. He’s also rebounding at solid rate — watch the end of Monday night’s win over Dallas for further evidence — and leading all rookies (min. 150 minutes played) in free throw attempt rate.
If we really want to nitpick, Tatum still has a ways to go as a playmaker — one assist in roughly his last 150 minutes — but Boston hasn’t asked him to do much of that,
Lauri Markkanen, Bulls
The return of Bobby Portis hasn’t seemed to affect Markkanen, as he’s continued to routinely top 30 minutes on most nights. The Arizona product is coming off of his best game of the season Sunday in Phoenix, when he finished with 26 points (10-19 FG), 13 rebounds and two assists in 34 minutes.
Other rookies to watch: Jonathan Isaac (ORL), Sindarius Thornwell (LAC), Mike James (PHO), Dwayne Bacon (CHA), Bogdan Bogdanovic (SAC), Semi Ojeleye (BOS)