Ben Simmons, Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson and De’Aaron Fox have been pegged as favorites to win NBA Rookie of the Year. But it won’t just be a five-man race. A number of other candidates have emerged during Summer League.
Both their early production and projected roles are key when predicting Rookie of the Year contenders. Boston Celtics wing Jayson Tatum has looked as impressive as anyone in July, but with Isaiah Thomas, Gordon Hayward, Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Jaylen Brown each ahead in the pecking order, he won’t have enough minutes or touches to challenge for the award.
The following three summer-league standouts have NBA-ready games and plenty of opportunities coming in 2017-18.
John Collins (Atlanta Hawks, PF, No. 19 pick)
Predicted Rookie Stats: 10.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 45.0 percent FG
Though still a long shot in what should be a competitive Rookie of the Year race, Collins projects as a surefire contributor in 2017-18.
He’ll have his chance playing for a rebuilding team and frontcourt that features Mike Muscala, Dewayne Dedmon and Miles Plumlee. The Hawks would be silly not to give Collins major minutes right away, especially after what’s been an encouraging summer league.
Collins, who nearly averaged a double-double at Wake Forest last season, is averaging one through four games with 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds. While it’s his explosiveness and motor around the basket that’s fueled his production over the past year, Collins has also flashed encouraging skill, particularly against the New Orleans Pelicans, who found out the Hawks’ rookie can score and shoot in the mid-range.
His tools, athleticism and energy should translate to points in the paint and boards. And with a significant role and the freedom to make mistakes, Collins could sneak up and put pressure on the high-profile Rookie of the Year favorites.
Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz, SG, No. 13 overall pick)
Predicted Rookie Stats: 11.8 points, 2.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 41.0 percent FG, 33.0 percent 3PT
Mitchell is making a case as the summer league’s top two-way player.
He just exploded for 37 points and eight steals against the Memphis Grizzlies, having played with his signature aggression at both ends.
Known for his microwave scoring at Louisville, Mitchell has showcased his advanced perimeter shot-making. He’s hit deep threes and contested jumpers, and he’s shown the ability to create them with nifty ball-handling and footwork.
Flashes of playmaking (13 assists, five games) suggest he could eventually receive opportunities to initiate the Utah Jazz offense or facilitate off ball screens.
The most pleasant surprise has been his defensive activity that’s led to 22 steals in five games. He’s made and lost gambles, but he’s also won a fair share and converted them into easy points. He’s pressured opponents—including the bigger Jayson Tatum—into turnovers and loss of confidence.
He’ll bring an exciting punch of athleticism and firepower to a backcourt now led by Ricky Rubio. Coach Quin Snyder will want to use Mitchell right away.
“We like that he likes to defend,” Snyder told the Desert News’ Jody Genessy. “The competitor in him will allow him to play early in his career.”
If Rodney Hood and Dante Exum struggle, they could be in danger of losing minutes to Utah’s rookie.
Dennis Smith Jr. (Dallas Mavericks, PG, No. 9 overall pick)
Predicted Rookie Stats: 14.5 points, 5.8 assists, 41.0 percent FG, 32.0 percent 3PT
It’s only been three summer-league games, but Smith may already have made early lottery teams question their draft decision.
His 25-point, four-assist, four-steal game against the Phoenix Suns was an eye-opener. We saw flashes of next-level ball-handing, shot-creating and shot-making off pull-ups and step-backs—both inside the arc and behind it.
He also showcased his strength by finishing after contact and his vision on a few beautiful passes on the move.
With way more space than he saw at North Carolina State, it’s looked easy for Smith, who’s effortlessly getting to his spots and putting pressure on defenses unable to contain his hesitation dribble and explosiveness.
He’ll start for the Mavericks from opening night and won’t have anyone to steal many minutes at point guard. Between his tools, athleticism, skill level and confidence, Smith looks ready to put up big numbers.
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