NBA Rookie of the Year Race: Jayson Tatum Is Leading the Way...Again
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 top-5 players of the 2017-18 season so far.
5. John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
Previous Rank: 2
One of John Collins' best attributes is how he plays with a fast motor. His high-energy level has helped the Atlanta Hawks big man dominate the boards, averaging 12.4 rebounds per 36 minutes. His offensive rebound (16.5%) and total rebound percentage (18.7%) not only lead all rookies but have him near the top of the leaderboard among all 440 NBA players -- we're talking 14th in total rebounds and fourth in offensive rebounds.
The constant activity has a significant drawback. Collins leads the Association in fouls with 54, an average of 3.9 in 21.0 minutes per game. Last Friday, Collins ended up with a career-high 16 points with 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in 26 minutes. A nice stat line against Andre Drummond and the Detroit Pistons, but it could have been more, as the rook was held back due to picking up five fouls.
Through 14 games, Collins ranks ninth among rookies in points (10.4), third in rebounds (7.2), second in blocks (1.1), and first in field goal percentage (50.4%).
4. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers
Previous Rank: NR
With all the talk (and hype) surrounding Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma has quietly been the better rookie for the Los Angeles Lakers, at least in terms of efficiency. Kuzma has a better offensive rating (98.5) and net rating (-3.3) than Ball while owning a 58.4% true shooting percentage, trailing only Jayson Tatum among qualified rookies.
In the last two weeks, Kuzma was handed the starting power forward job in L.A. following a Larry Nance Jr. injury and has made the move pay off for coach Luke Walton. Kuzma is averaging 14.8 points and 9.5 rebounds in the six games he has started. His rebounding average during that stretch leads all rookies, while the former Utah Ute's three double-doubles trail only Ben Simmons among first-year players.
The 27th-overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft is looking like a steal for L.A., as he ranks third among all rookies in points (14.9), fourth in rebounds per game (6.8), and second in field goal percentage (50.3%).
3. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Previous Rank: 3
Since we last checked in on the rookies, all Simmons has done is post four double-doubles and a triple-double in six games. When he rattled off 14 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists for his second trip-dub of the year, Simmons joined a short list of 15 NBA players (since 1963-64) who accomplished the feat at least twice in their rookie campaigns. Bear in mind the Philadelphia 76ers forward pulled it off in just nine games.
Besides leading all rookies in points (17.8), rebounds (9.2), and assists (7.5) per game, Simmons sits in the top-10 of all NBA players in assist percentage (35.3%) and is top-5 in assists. If he keeps it up, he could finish the season as one of only two rookies in league history to average at least 9 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game, the other being Oscar Robertson. In fact, only 10 times in NBA history has the feat been pulled off by any player.
If counting stats were all that mattered to us, we would hand Simmons the trophy right now. However, since our nERD rating factors in a player's overall efficiency, the Fresh Prince's 18.5% turnover percentage, 52.4% true shooting percentage, and 102.9 defensive rating have him coming up short for the hardware.
2. OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors
Previous Rank: 4
After tearing his ACL in late January, OG Anunoby was expected to need some time to get back up to full speed, with the Toronto Raptors aware he may not be able to step on a court until December. Through the first month of the season, the Raptors rookie has defied the expectations, as he has played a significant role for Toronto.
On Tuesday, Anunoby made his first NBA start and proceeded to flash his two-way ability by scoring a season-high 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting including 3-for-4 from deep, while locking down superstar James Harden for nearly 30 minutes. The Beard finished the day 8-for-25 from the field as he had to contend with Anunoby defending him most of the night.
Simply examining the counting stats makes Anunoby look ho-hum. The small forward is averaging 6.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 17.8 minutes per game. The advanced metrics, though prove he truly deserves his ranking on this list as Anunoby leads all qualified rookies in offensive rating (114.2) and net rating (97.8) while sitting third in defensive rating (97.8).
1. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Previous Rank: 1
The one rookie who has combined the big numbers of Simmons and the exceptional efficiency of Anunoby has been Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics.
An everyday starter for the NBA's top team (13-2), Tatum ranks in the top-8 among first-year players in virtually all traditional categories: points (14.0), rebounds (5.7), blocks (0.8), and three-pointers (1.5). The forward is only the second Celtics rookie to ever post that stat line, but the former Duke Blue Devil is doing it while shooting 50% from the field and 48.9% from three. Pretty impressive. However, when you shine a light on his advanced metrics, that's where Tatum truly stands out.
The forward is in the top-5 among rookies in offensive (103.1) and net rating (7.9) while ranking first in defensive rating (95.2) and true shooting percentage (63.4). Rookie ranks aside, Tatum's overall efficiency has him in the top-20 of all NBA players in win shares (1.9), win shares per 48 minutes (.202), and (most importantly for our purposes) nERD (2.1).