By Nick Whalen, Rotowire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Three weeks into the NBA season, it’s time to check in on how the top rookies from the 2017 class are performing.
Note: All stats through games played on Monday
Ben Simmons, 76ers
While one of the Sixers’ No. 1 overall picks is sidelined with a mysterious shoulder injury, Simmons has firmly established himself as the Rookie of the Year frontrunner — and it’s not really close. Through nine games, Simmons leads all rookies in scoring (18.0 PPG), rebounds (9.8 RPG), assists (8.2 APG), and ranks behind only Frank Ntilikina in steals (1.6 SPG).
He’s still yet to hit a three, but that day will come, and his overall field goal percentage (51.6% FG) makes the lack of threes much more palatable. Simmons is also getting to the line more than any other rookie (5.7 FGA/G), though he’s converting at less than a 60 percent clip.
Jayson Tatum, Celtics
Thrust into a larger role following the Gordon Hayward injury, Tatum has responded with a blistering start, hitting 50 percent of his field goals, including 52.9 percent from downtown (3.1 3PA/G). Both of those numbers will naturally regress, but the 19-year-old already attacks like a veteran in the halfcourt and gets to the line more than four times per game.
Tatum might see a slight regression in value once Marcus Morris is fully up to speed, but the Celtics aren’t nearly as deep as they’ve been in years past.
John Colins, Hawks
A scenario exists in which Collins is drafted by the Kings and has played, like 12, NBA minutes. Instead, he went to the best basketball situation of any non-lottery rookie and has been a rotation player since Day 1. Why Mike Budenholzer insists on keeping Collins out of the starting lineup and playing Luke Babbitt 42 minutes is a bit puzzling — in reality, Budenholzer likes Babbitt’s shooting alongside Dewayne Dedmon — but even in a reduced role, Collins has been a low-end fantasy starter.
He struggled Monday against Boston, due in part to foul trouble, but Collins had ripped off back-to-back double-digit rebound games, and he entered Monday with seven blocks in his previous three contests. While he’s a non-factor from three and won’t provide steals or assists, Collins should be a consistent, three-category threat going forward, with the potential for an expanded workload as the season progresses.
Josh Jackson, Suns
Jackson hasn’t been quite the multi-category monster I thought he’d be, but he’s still averaging a hair below double-figures in scoring to go with 3.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals. Concerns about his long-range shooting were way overblown before the draft (35.5% 3PT), and he already has four games with multiple three-point makes. On the other hand, Jackson is yet to record a block — which, of course, isn’t the end of the world — and he has just eight total assists on the season, a disappointing number for one of the most underrated playmakers in the draft.
Lonzo Ball, Lakers
On the heels of a rough weekend, Ball’s field goal percentage has now dipped under 30 percent, and he’s hitting a horrific 23.4 percent of his 4.7 three-point attempts per game. Even by rookie standards, those numbers are inexcusable. But Ball has played only 10 NBA games, and his success as a long-range shooter at UCLA portend that he’ll snap out of it eventually. Even if that happens, it’s tough to imagine Ball finishing the season as a 40 percent shooter from the field, so swallowing that pill might just be part of the deal for fantasy owners.
Shooting aside, Ball has been fantastic on the glass, and while he hasn’t been transcendent as a passer, the Lakers are a better team when he’s on the floor, and he trails only Simmons for the rookie lead in assists (6.9 APG). Ball is also tossing in a steal per game and has been a sneaky-good shot-blocker, especially for a point guard of his athletic profile.
Kyle Kuzma, Lakers
How high would Kuzma go if we re-did the 2017 Draft today? Does Detroit pull the trigger at No. 12? Would Sacramento take him over Justin Jackson at 15? No chance he makes it past Milwaukee at 17. The the 27th overall pick has been as good as advertised though the first three weeks, ranking third among rookies in scoring (15.4 PPG), and adding 6.3 rebounds with a splash of assists (1.4 APG). Kuzma isn’t shooting it all that well from three (33.3% 3PT), but he’s hitting nearly 70 percent of his two-point attempts and rarely turns the ball over. For as good as he’s been thus far, Kuzma’s value should only increase over the next month-plus with Larry Nance on the shelf. In the two games since Nance went down, Kuzma moved into the starting lineup and played 39 and 38 minutes, respectively, putting up double-doubles in both contests.
Lauri Markkanen, Bulls
The Bulls have a lot riding on the Markkanen pick and early returns have been better than most expected. The 20-year-old is second rookie scoring (16.3 PPG) on the back of 2.8 made three-pointers per game, one full make per game ahead of No. 2, Donovan Mitchell. Markkanen is still somewhat one-dimensional on offense, but that’s acceptable, if not expected, at this stage, and he’s been a far superior rebounder to the player who was often inconsistent in that area at Arizona.
Malik Monk, Hornets
With Nic Batum and Michael Carter-Williams nursing injuries, Monk is averaging nearly 22 minutes over his first 10 NBA games, seeing time at both guard spots. The results have been mixed, but Monk has showed a few flashes — 17 points vs. Denver; 25 points, five made threes vs. Milwaukee — of the microwave scoring ability that made him one of the most endearing players in recent college basketball history.
Monk is tossing up 5.3 threes per game and only hitting at a 32.1 percent rate, a number that could rise, slightly, over the course of the season. He also handed out a career-best eight assists in 20 minutes against Minnesota on Sunday. There’s a good chance that doesn’t happen again the rest of the season, but it’s something to keep an eye on, especially if a healthy Carter-Williams plays his way out of favor.
With that said, it’s important to realize Monk’s limitations. He’s a non-factor in the defensive categories and has gotten to the line only six times on the season.
De’Aaron Fox, Kings
Fox has solidified his place in one of the league’s most unpredictable rotations, playing between 24 and 29 minutes in each of his nine appearances. He’s been up-and-down as a scorer and has struggled a bit, as expected, from beyond the arc (3-11 3PT), while providing solid assists (5.0 APG) and rebounding (3.7 RPG) figures for a rookie guard.
Frank Ntilikina, Knicks
Ntilikina has looked more and more comfortable since returning from an early-season ankle injury, and he had his best game of his young career Sunday against Indiana. Ten points, seven assists and two rebounds is nothing to write home about in the grand scheme, but he hit a pair of three-pointers and added three steals in 24 minutes.
Scouts raved about Ntilikina’s potential as a defender before the draft, but I’m not sure anyone expected him to be this good this quickly. At 6’5” with long arms, Ntilikina is a best on the perimeter and has racked up double-digit steals — including five in Wednesday’s loss to Houston — in four of his last five games.
Dennis Smith, Jr., Mavericks
With the Suns apparently back from the dead, Dallas might be the worst team in the Western Conference. While I hate to see Dirk go out like this, losing basketball games shouldn’t have much of an effect on Smith’s role as a rookie. After a bit of a rocky start, he’s averaging 17.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting 38.9 percent from three over his last three games. The dip in assists isn’t super-encouraging, but Smith was never expected to be a pass-first point guard, and his supporting cast isn’t exactly lighting it up. Entering Tuesday, the Mavs rank 29th in field goal percentage, 28th in offensive rating, and 24th in pace.
Donovan Mitchell, Jazz
The Kyle Kuzma of the lottery, Mitchell caught fire in a couple of summer league games and hasn’t missed a beat since. Over his last three games, Mitchell is putting up 23.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steal and 3.3 made threes per game. He can be a bit of a loose cannon but the Jazz need someone to help replace Gordon Hayward’s playmaking, and Mitchell has been more than happy to raise his hand.
Over the course of the entire season, Mitchell probably won’t be a reliable source of assists or rebounds — he has three or fewer boards in eight of 10 games — but he should continue to score at an excellent rate for a rookie, and he carries th the potential for a block or two on any given night.
Other rookies to keep an eye on: Jonathan Isaac (ORL), Bam Adebayo (MIA), Justin Jackson (SAC), Jarrett Allen (BKN), OG Anunoby (TOR), Caleb Swanigan (POR), Luke Kennard (DET)