NBA Rookie of the Year Race: Is Ben Simmons Living Up to Expectations?
Rookies are exciting. They bring hope and energy to floundering teams, while also providing a glimpse of what future the league may hold. First-time players in the NBA routinely struggle to adapt to the pace of the professional game, but there are always a few standouts every year who look and play like seasoned vets from the start.
Our rookie rankings here at numberFire are not subjective or influenced by the latest hype -- we put our faith and trust in our algorithms. Every two weeks, we’ll list the top five rookies in the Association based on our nERD metric, which measures a player's contributions, based on efficiency, and indicates how many wins above or below .500 a player would make an average team over a full season.
To make sure we only include players regularly contributing to their team, we are limiting ourselves to considering rookies averaging at least 15 minutes per game.
Let's dive into the Rookie of the Year contenders with our initial top-5 players of the 2017-18 season.
5. Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic
The sixth overall pick in the 2017 draft, Jonathan Isaac has played limited minutes (16.8 per game) as the backup power forward to Aaron Gordon for the Orlando Magic. Even with the modest role, the 6'10" Isaac has made an impact on both ends of the floor. He leads all qualified rookies with a 111.0 offensive rating and ranks in the top-5 with a 93.8 defensive rating, per NBA.com.
He also ranks in the top-10 of all rookies with 4.8 boards and 1.0 steals per game. In his NBA debut, the former Florida State Seminole grabbed 8 rebounds and blocked 2 shots in just over 16 minutes of action.
A balanced player, Issac's only hurdle in climbing higher in our ranks is playing time. With the Magic and Gordon off to a hot start, there just isn't enough minutes for the rookie in Orlando at the moment.
4. OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors
Another first-year player seeing limited action for a winning team, OG Anunoby has played just 17.7 minutes per game for the Toronto Raptors. Even those numbers are propped up by early-season injuries to Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, thrusting the 23rd overall pick into a prominent role as a high-energy and highly-versatile defender with the second unit.
His offensive game has been a struggle -- we're talking 36.1% shooting from the floor and 26.3% accuracy from three. Still, Anunoby has thrived on the defensive end. In his last two games, he swiped 3 steals, and the 6'8" forward leads all qualified rookies with a 91.7 defensive rating through 6 games played.
After tearing his ACL in college, the fact that Anunoby is playing, let alone succeeding, bodes well for the rest of this season.
3. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
After sitting out all of 2016-17, Ben Simmons has proven to be worth the wait for the Philadelphia 76ers. The dynamic forward leads all rookies in points (18.4) and assists (7.7) per game, while ranking second in rebounds (9.1), and third in steals (1.4). In fact, his assist numbers rank in the top-5 of all NBA players. After just seven games played, Simmons already has four double-doubles and even logged his first career triple-double (21 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists) in just his fourth professional game. While the surface numbers are no doubt impressive, you start to see why Simmons ranks third and not number one on our list when you look at the overall picture.
The point forward is committing over 3 turnovers per game while showing no shooting touch or range. He has gone 0-for-4 on threes, with his average shot coming from less than 8 feet away from the basket. His free throw percentage been ugly too, making just 23-of-41 attempts for a dismal 56.1%. Simmons also owns a negative net rating (-2.7), thanks to some weak defense.
2. John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
While Simmons was expected to do well, he was the number one overall pick in 2016; John Collins was an afterthought as the 19th pick this year. Even though he slid in the draft, due to concerns about his defense and lack of shooting range, the former Demon Deacon appears to have landed in the perfect spot for him, with the Atlanta Hawks.
With the Hawks in rebuild mode, they have found plenty of minutes in the front court for Collins, over 20 per game. The 6'10" big hasn't wasted his time on the floor either as he is averaging 11.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks per game. He has two double-doubles in seven games, both coming in 21 or fewer minutes. He ranks either first or second among rookies playing at least 15 minutes per game in offensive, defensive, and total rebound percentage.
Collins' success hasn't been limited to just crashing the boards. His 51.7% shooting percentage ranks third among all rookies who have attempted at least 8.0 shots per game. In five of his seven games played, Collins has dropped at least 13 points. His per-48 minute scoring average of 27.2 points leads all qualified rookies.
1. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Not only does Jayson Tatum lead all rookies in nERD, but he ranks in the top-20 of all NBA players in the metric. The third-overall pick has benefited from injuries to the Boston Celtics' preseason projected starting five, first with Marcus Morris and then Gordon Hayward. The small forward proved himself worthy of a starting job on day one, notching a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) in the season opener.
Since then, Tatum has been able to do it all, blocking 3 shots in a game twice while swiping 4 steals in another, all while shooting 50.0% from three (10-for-20). His versatility has been on full display as well, as he leads qualified rookies with a 63.1% true shooting percentage while also sitting in the top-10 with a 95.1 defensive rating.
Through the first two weeks of the season, the former Dukie ranks third among rookies in points (14.0), fifth in rebounds (7.0), 10th in assists (1.7), and first in blocks (1.1) per game.