By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Midway through Week 10 of the NBA season, we check in on a handful of the league’s most impactful rookies.
Ben Simmons, 76ers
As has been the case since he put up 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists on opening night, Simmons is far and away the best rookie in a deep class. He leads all first-year players in assists, rebounds and steals, and ranks second in scoring to Donovan Mitchell. Over his last 10 games going into Tuesday night, Simmons is averaging 16.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.1 blocks per game, vaulting him up to the No. 10 spot in terms of overall fantasy output on the season.
Even if you thought Simmons would hit the ground running after redshirting last year, the seamlessness with which he’s made the transition to the NBA is impressive — especially since he’s still doing it without any semblance of a jumpshot. Simmons is yet to make a three-pointer, and nearly three-fourths of his field goal attempts have come from within 10 feet.
Lonzo Ball, Lakers
While Ball’s overall shooting numbers are still pretty unpalatable — 33.9% FG, 27.5% 3PT, 40.2% eFT — he’s looked markedly more comfortable as a shooter of late. Over the last five games, Ball is putting up his usual, strong counting stats — 12.2 points, 8.0 assists, 7.0 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.6 blocks — but he’s also knocking down 46.2 percent of his shots, including 38.5 percent of his threes (5.2 3PA/G).
Ball has hit three three-pointers in each of his last three games, and he even did the unthinkable Monday night and knocked down a mid-range jumper — off the dribble to his RIGHT, no less. And take a look at Ball’s form on that shot — much better than the hitchy, cross-body release we’re used to.
Fantasy-wise, Ball remains much more valuable in non-percentage leagues, of course. Under the NBA’s standard scoring system, which does not count percentages, he’s the only rookie other than Simmons to rank among the top-50 players overall. While he might be turning a corner as an outside shooter, Ball is still horrendous at the free throw line (48.7% FT), even if he only gets there fewer than twice per game.
Dennis Smith, Mavericks
Not much to say here, as Smith has missed the last six games (and counting) with a strained hip. He’d been playing well prior to the injury, averaging 15.0 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists over his last seven games, a stretch in which the Mavs went 4-3 with wins over Oklahoma City and Denver.
Kyle Kuzma, Lakers
The return of Larry Nance, Jr. on Nov. 27 has robbed Kuzma of about six minutes per game, but his production hasn’t really suffered. In the 11 games Nance missed, Kuzma averaged 18.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.7 made threes in more than 35 minutes per game. With Nance back, Kuzma is putting up 16.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 2.0 made threes in 28.2 minutes — so a slight drop in scoring, but an increase in per-minute production and scoring efficiency. Kuzma should see a bump in playing time over the next month or so after the Lakers announced Tuesday that Brook Lopez will miss several weeks with a sprained ankle.
In most years, Kuzma, Donovan Mitchell, and Jayson Tatum would be in a three-way battle for the Rookie of the Year award, but Ben Simmons exists, so Kuzma will likely have to settle for a First-Team All-Rookie nod. Not bad for the 27th pick.
Jordan Bell, Warriors
Bell is still too inconsistent and too much tethered to the health of Draymond Green to warrant ownership in season-long leagues, but the second-round pick continues to lead the NBA in wow moments per-36 minutes. Over the last nine games, Bell is averaging only 6.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in 17.4 minutes per game, but he’s shooting better than 71 percent from the field while adding 2.0 assists and 1.6 blocks, all of which seem to come in spectacular fashion.
Again, Bell is too risky for most leagues, but his long-term potential as a Draymond-lite is tantalizing. He had eight points and eight assists in a win over Dallas last week and followed up with four blocks (and six fouls) in 24 minutes Monday against the Lakers.
De’Aaron Fox, Kings
The story has been mostly the same with Fox thus far: inconsistent play mixed with flashes of brilliance. The Kentucky product has been in a bit of slump of late — 7.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 29% FG, 23.1% 3PT over his last 10 games heading into Tuesday night — but during that span, he went for 14 points, six rebounds and three assists in 21 minutes against the Bucks and played well in a win over a decent Pelicans team. Still, he’s turning the ball over far too frequently and is struggling to get to the rim with defenders daring him to shoot from deep.
Milos Teodosic, Clippers
Teodosic made his long-awaited return from injury on Dec. 11 and led the Clippers to a win over Toronto with a couple of big baskets late. His minutes have since been capped around the 26-28 range, and that’s likely where they’ll stay going forward, even with seemingly the entire Clippers team battling injuries.
While Teodosic didn’t hand out a single assist in that win over the Raptors, he’s averaged 5.3 per game over his last three contests, while adding 4.3 rebounds, 9.7 points and 1.7 made threes. Percentage-wise, Teodosic probably won’t be a net-fantasy-positive from three, but he has a quick trigger and could average close to two made threes per game going forward. Ten of Teodosic’s 14 field goal attempts against Miami on Saturday came from beyond the arc.
Donovan Mitchell, Jazz
There really isn’t much to be said about Mitchell anymore. What initially looked like an early-season hot streak has turned into very much of a this is just who he is now situation. Mitchell has started every game since Nov. 10, and he’s averaging nearly 24 points per game in the month of December, even after having his worst game of the season Monday in Houston (six points in 21 minutes). The scoring has been there for most of the year, but Mitchell has upped his efficiency, shooting 46.5 percent from the floor and 40.6 percent from three over the last 15 games. Under the NBA’s standard scoring system, Mitchell ranks as the 65th overall player.
Jayson Tatum, Celtics
For as good as Simmons, Kuzma and Mitchell have been, Tatum is having perhaps the most impactful season of any rookie. He leads all rookies in win shares by a mile while often functioning as the third or fourth option on his own team. The 19-year-old has scored in double figures in all but two games dating back to Nov. 10, and he’s hitting nearly 60 percent of his three-point attempts over the Celtics’ last 10 games. Tatum still leads the league in three-point shooting (51.5%), and we’re far enough along that this looks to be more than just a fun, early-season trend.
Bam Adebayo, Heat
Adebayo went from a near-nightly DNP-CD to a regular rotation player as soon as Hassan Whiteside went out with a knee injury. Over the last 11 games, Adebayo is averaging 23.5 minutes, which he’s translated to 9.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steal and 0.9 blocks per game. Those certainly aren’t fantasy-viable numbers, but the fact that the Heat are entrusting Adebayo, considered a fairly raw prospect coming out of Kentucky, with this much responsibility — even if they don’t have much of a choice — speaks to his level of development. Keep the 20-year-old in mind in longer-term, dynasty formats.
Other rookies to watch: John Collins, Hawks; OG Anunoby, Raptors; Maxi Kleber, Mavericks; Lauri Markkanen, Bulls; Josh Jackson, Suns; Luke Kennard, Pistons; Jarrett Allen, Nets; Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kings