With the draft and proceeding NBA summer league all wrapped up, as well as being in the final stages of summer league, there is an increased sense of which prospects in the latest draft class will have the opportunity to get playing time, and which prospects will succeed in these roles. Making or not making an all-rookie team is impressive or disappointing respectively in present time, but absolutely does not define a player’s career for the rest of their time. For example, in the 2013 NBA Draft Class, the three best players selected were Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, and C.J. McCollum. None of them made the 1st team, and only Antetokounmpo made the 2nd team. There are countless examples of this, but nonetheless, here are the opportunity based predictions for the 2017-18 NBA Rookie Teams.
G – Markelle Fultz
Summer League Stats: 8.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 15.0 mpg
The number one pick in this draft is a near lock for this spot if he stays healthy. The idea of the Fultz, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid 76ers trio has dominated talk of emerging NBA teams. Whether or not Fultz is efficient in his playing time, or if his presence on the court translates to wins, Fultz is a near lock to average at least 24 minutes per game. Staying healthy is a big if after getting injured at summer league and the curse that seems to plague 76er draftees (Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid,) but Fultz putting up at least 10 points, 4.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds, with shooting percentages that aren’t jaw-dropping-awful and a sliver of defensive ability, should guarantee him a selection in an NBA that is increasingly difficult for rookies to find success.
G – Lonzo Ball
Summer League Stats: 16.3 ppg, 9.3 apg, 7.7 rpg, 2.5 spg, 1.0 bpg
The number two pick this draft has already captured the national spot light by way of his dad. Going to Los Angeles, and putting up monster numbers in summer league helped him keep and build on that attention. Getting the attention for this award is a done deal, now Lonzo has to show that he has a sliver of ability to be the franchise point guard of the great Lakers organization. If Lonzo gets 24 minutes per game (like Fultz) and can produce highlight reel plays en route to 9 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds per game at least with a clear sense that the Lakers starting point guard role is his for years to come, consider the poster child of Big Baller Brand a selection for the 2nd guard spot.
F – Ben Simmons
Summer League Stats: N/A
Simmons is not only a good pick for a selection on the all-rookie 1st team, but my top pick for rookie of the year. Simmons came out of LSU in 2016 as the clear number one overall pick for that draft, but took all last season recovering from injury. Don’t look to into the extended absence from competitive game-play as a concern about Simmons’ outlook; Simmons missed as much time as he did for precautionary purposes and to get Philadelphia a better pick in this year’s draft, which eventually turned into Markelle Fultz. Simmons was touted as the next LeBron James, and after averaging 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game as a freshman, he’s got the natural ability. If Simmons averages 13 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists like he is more than capable of, he should make this team no problem.
F – Jayson Tatum
Summer League Stats: 17.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.0 apg
This spot on the first team is more up for grabs. Tatum is the default pick for checking off the boxes. Top three pick? Check. On a team (Boston Celtics) where he can succeed with one of the best coaches (Brad Stevens) in the NBA? Check. Performed at a high level on a high-level college program (Duke) as a freshman? Check. The department Tatum might be lacking in is the front court depth the Celtics assembled. Jaylen Brown was able to get a role on Boston as a rookie last season, but Tatum will have to compete against Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris, Jae Crowder, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Semi Ojeleye, and Guerschon Yabusele for minutes at the three and the four. If Tatum can play 15-20 solid minutes per game, showcasing talent, and playing his best against the Clevelands, Golden States, and Houstons of the NBA, he can earn a 1st team selection.
C – Jarrett Allen
Summer League Stats: N/A
More so than any of the other prospects, Jarrett Allen is the beneficiary of shallow depth at his position on his team. The center position on the Brooklyn Nets is the natural position of Allen, and Timofey Mozgov: a player who has been ineffective since 2015, doesn’t fit Brooklyn’s time-line, and even when he was effective, was so in limited minutes. Trevor Booker can play center, but is a power forward naturally. Other than that, the spot is Allen’s to lose, and as a player who was projected by many to go in the late lottery/teen picks, the 22nd overall pick in 2017 could very well end up a steal. Brooklyn is also a great team to go to for the floor spacing players they have (DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert) for a center like Allen. 8 points and 6 rebounds per game is very achievable.
G – Dennis Smith Jr.
Summer League Stats: 17.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.2 apg, 2.2 spg, 45.7% FG, 25.8 mpg
Dennis Smith Jr. had an amazing summer league. “Derrick Rose 2.0” showed great athleticism, play making, and skills in Las Vegas. Smith would be a contender for a 1st team selection if he had ended up on New York, but Dallas happens to have a crowded back court rotation of players who coach Rick Carlisle all likes: Wesley Matthews, Yogi Ferrell, J.J. Barea, and Devin Harris will all play a role for Dallas this season, and so will Smith, but the team will likely bring him along more slowly. Expect around 8 points, 3 assists, and 2 rebounds per game for Smith year one.
G – Donovan Mitchell
Summer League Stats: 28.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 6.0 spg, 33.0 mpg
Donovan Mitchell shot up the mock draft boards as the draft approached, and Denver took him 13th overall before sending him to Utah for Trey Lyles and Tyler Lydon. Utah might have just blindsided Denver with that deal; Mitchell looked like a stud in summer league. Mitchell is another player who has to deal with a crowded rotation. Ricky Rubio, Rodney Hood, Dante Exum, Joe Ingles, and Alec Burks will all be in the back-court rotation gunning for minutes. Utah is also a competitive team without some of the patience a tanking team has. If Mitchell beats out Exum and Burks in the rotation, he can easily get a large enough role to score 6-7 points per game and earn 2nd team distinction.
F – Josh Jackson
Summer League Stats: 17.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.2 spg, 1.0 bpg
Josh Jackson could be the best defender in this draft, and the fact that a defensively starved Phoenix team selected him makes for a perfect fit that will get Jackson some immediate playing time. The key to Jackson’s first year success is whether he can beat out one of Phoenix’s other prospects for a starting job or high usage bench role. Jackson has to compete with T.J. Warren, Devin Booker, Derrick Jones Jr., Brandon Knight, and Jared Dudley for minutes at the two and three. The pace Phoenix plays with will pad Jackson’s stats, which is good news for him. If Jackson can average 6-8 points per game as a defensive presence in 17-20 minutes per game, he should be able to earn a spot on the 2nd team.
F – Kyle Kuzma
Summer League Stats: 21.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.4 bpg, 1.1 spg, 51.4% FG
Kyle Kuzma did not receive any special press leading up to, or even right after, the NBA Draft. Once the draftees were put to the test, however, the 2017 Summer League MVP performed quite well. Kuzma could very easily be the guy who plugs a few different roles on the team if Luol Deng and Corey Brewer fall out of favor with the organization based on their conflicting time-lines. Kuzma can be the back-up three to Brandan Ingram, a stretch four option when Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. aren’t cutting it for L.A., and a lengthy two in a tall line-up. If Kuzma can get about 6 minutes per game in these different roles, and score a basket or two in each, he can definitely make the 2nd team with that 15-20 minute and 5-7 point per game role.
C – Caleb Swanigan
Summer League Stats: 16.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.4 bpg, 30.9 mpg
Caleb Swanigan did make noise during the collegiate season in 2016-17, but the organizations wouldn’t bite until Portland took the Purdue product 34th overall. Swanigan made the 29 other teams regret not going for him after a great showing in Vegas. Swanigan improved drastically after gaining a new level of conditioning, and Swanigan looked like a conditioned and ready NBA player. Averaging a 16 point and 10 rebound double-double against everyone who went before him has to feel good for the big man. If Swanigan can earn playing time in a front court rotation crowded with players who have bigger names but lesser impact last season (Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard, Noah Vonleh,) he can absolutely earn 2nd team honors in a 15-18 minute per game role.