Every Top NBA Rookie's Calling Card

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterSeptember 20, 2017

Every Top NBA Rookie's Calling Card

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    Each of the top NBA rookies will be known for something once the season starts to unfold. 

    Their identities early on will revolve around these signature qualities or strengths, which include scoring skills, passing and speed.

    If 2017-18 will be your first time watching them, we broke down the No. 1 thing you'll think about when assessing each player after the season.

    Other than Ben Simmons, only 2017 lottery picks expected to have legitimate roles were deemed eligible. 

Markelle Fultz (Philadelphia 76ers, PG/SG)

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    One thing Markelle Fultz will be known for: Effortless scoring ability 

    Sometimes, it looks like Fultz is floating or nonchalantly going through the motions.

    Announcers are going to talk about how easy he makes offense look. His style of play is closer to Stephen Curry's than Russell Westbrook's. Fultz doesn't move at 100 miles per hour. He's a smooth operator, highly skilled with nifty ball-handling maneuvers and footwork.

    He'll also take and make contested jumpers as if there isn't a defender an inch away from blocking his shot. Confident, poised and precise, Fultz will quickly be known for his seemingly effortless scoring ability.

Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers, PG/PF)

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    One thing Ben Simmons will be known for: Coast-to-coast transition offense 

    We'll talk about Simmons' playmaking and passing in the half court—strengths behind his unique point-forward identity. But with the Philadelphia 76ers playing fast, Simmons will consistently create spectacular fastbreak highlights. 

    Alarms should sound for opposing teams whenever he grabs a defensive rebound. Simmons is a coast-to-coast threat—an advanced ball-handler with agility, vision and exceptional body control around the basket.

    Despite being 6'10", 240 pounds, at LSU, he converted 63 shots at the rim in transition—27 more than Markelle Fultz, 18 more than Dennis Smith Jr., 10 more than Lonzo Ball and just four fewer than De'Aaron Fox. 

    In 33 games, he dished out 157 assists within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock as well.

    Simmons will be known for his overall versatility, but if we're talking specifics, he should already be one of the NBA's most dangerous weapons in transition. 

Lonzo Ball (Los Angeles Lakers, PG)

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    One thing Lonzo Ball will be known for: Elite passing skills

    It's not just the vision with Ball. His actual passing skills are already elite by NBA standards. 

    He sees his man streaking down the floor before even bringing down the defensive rebound. But others can't flick their wrist like Ball, without hesitation, and launch a 60-foot pass on the money.

    He'll use perfect touch on those post entries and dish out one-handed assists off the dribble with his right or left. He anticipates and throws accurate lobs to cutters and threads the needle to driving bigs in traffic.

    We'll talk about his shooting form and basketball IQ. His leadership for a rookie will draw rave reviews. But Ball's ability to deliver every pass in the book—with remarkable timing and precision—is his most distinguishable, buzz-worthy strength. 

Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics, SF)

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    Jayson Tatum will be known for: Polished, advanced scoring skills

    Tatum already opened eyes across the NBA during summer league, where he flashed moves that mirror many of the game's star scorers.

    He's an unusually sharp shot-creator for a rookie, capable of separating one-on-one using precise, timely footwork, whether it's with a simple jab step or an advanced back-to-the-basket pivot into a fallaway. 

    But he's equally as impressive as a shot-maker. Tatum consistently reminds of scorers like Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce for his ability to make contested pull-ups, step-backs and tough jumpers out of the post.

    By the All-Star break, he'll be known for his diverse repertoire and unmatched polish among first-year pros.

Josh Jackson (Phoenix Suns, SF)

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    One thing Josh Jackson will be known for: Being a jump shot away

    Jackson checks boxes with explosive athleticism, streaky scoring ability, improved playmaking skills and defensive potential. Whether he can rise from high-end role player to NBA All-Star will come down to his shooting development.

    Along with unconvincing mechanics, a 56.6 percent free-throw mark and small sample size of threes at Kansas raises skepticism over his jumper. 

    Otherwise, he slashes for layups and dunks, improvises using runners and post-ups, can create for teammates and guard multiple positions. And despite questions over his perimeter game, he's still capable of connecting around the arc once his confidence starts to build.

    The outside touch just hasn't been reliable and won't be during his rookie season, either. Jackson will enter his sophomore year in Phoenix known for being a jump shot away.

De'Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings, PG)

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    One thing De'Aaron Fox will be known for: Speed

    Fox shows flashes of developing skill, but his biggest weapon right now is speed.

    He'll be known for his ability to blow past defenses in transition before they can set. And he'll apply constant pressure with his first step and the jets to explode through the lane and up toward the hoop. Of his 601 total points scored at Kentucky, 432 of them either came right at the rim or from the free-throw line. 

    But his speed will come into play defensively as well. His feet and hands are fast. Fox should be able to poke live balls loose, jump passing lanes and pick up his man early in the shot clock. 

    His role behind George Hill will be to provide a spark at both ends. Fox should be able to with his two-way speed, even if he isn't making jumpers. 

Jonathan Isaac (Orlando Magic, SF/PF)

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    One thing Jonathan Isaac will be known for: Versatility

    Isaac will generate buzz in Orlando for his guard skills, which will stand out coming from a 6'10" power forward.

    Though a solid rebounder and bouncy finisher around the basket, his ability to score away from it sets him apart and ultimately drives his mismatch potential. Isaac has a clean-looking jumper, both off the catch and the two-dribble pull-up. And he shows the body control and agility to face up and swoop to the rack.

    Tall and long enough to cover bigs and capable of getting low and switching onto guards, Isaac will earn praise for his defensive versatility as well. 

    He just isn't sharp enough yet and will likely give the Magic flashes as opposed to steady production. But the sporadic glimpses will still point to exciting long-term upside, given his unique mix of tools and inside-out game.

Lauri Markkanen (Chicago Bulls, PF)

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    One thing Lauri Markkanen will be known for: Shot-making

    Markkanen separates himself with perimeter skills for a 7-footer, most notably, an accurate, convincing shooting stroke. 

    The numbers back up the eye test—Markkanen shot 42.3 percent from three at Arizona and 47.8 percent earlier this month during EuroBasket. 

    Between his release point and ability to put the ball on the floor, Markkanen rarely has his shot tightly contested. He'll give the Chicago Bulls a consistent spot-up and pick-and-pop threat while being a unique scoring big man capable of knocking down jumpers off screens.

    Defense and rebounding are question marks, but his outside game is the real deal. 

Frank Ntilikina (New York Knicks, PG/SG)

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    One thing Frank Ntilikina will be known for: Defensive potential

    Ntilikina will make his mark on defense.

    Few guards can match his tools, including 6'5" size and a wingspan reportedly over 7'0", which would be strong for a small forward. But Ntilikina will wind up covering ball-handlers.

    Capable of picking up full court, showing terrific lateral foot speed, he'll help the Knicks prevent opposing teams from running. And he'll contest shots and disrupt passing lanes with his length.

    Even if he struggles to create offense, Ntilikina should give New York a valuable defensive asset who can lock down around the perimeter and switch onto wing scorers. He'll find a way into the rotation with threes and D. 

Dennis Smith Jr. (Dallas Mavericks, PG)

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    One thing Dennis Smith Jr. will be known for: Upside

    It won't all come together for Smith as a rookie. We'll see questionable shot selection, erratic shooting and occasional lapses in effort. He'll still have everyone drooling over his upside.

    Flashes of explosiveness, takeover scoring and playmaking should draw comparisons to many of the game's current and previous star point guards. 

    The elite athleticism and skill will buy him time with fans and coaches when it comes to his early inefficiency. They'll see hope in his ability to improve the three-ball and decision-making, being that he's only 19 years old, still hit 55 college triples and has a big adjustment to make going from North Carolina State to the Dallas Mavericks. 

    This year, the positive moments will outweigh the bad. We'll be talking about whether scouts underestimated Smith's potential compared to Markelle Fultz's, Lonzo Ball's and De'Aaron Fox's. 

Malik Monk (Charlotte Hornets, SG)

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    One thing Malik Monk will be known for: Microwave scoring

    Monk can play to his strengths coming off the Charlotte Hornets' bench. He'll make noise for his ability to catch fire and score in bunches.

    Coach Steve Clifford will call on Monk to inject the offense with some firepower. His game is fueled by confidence, and when it's pumping, tight defense isn't enough. 

    We've seen 47-point outbursts and 30-point halves from Monk at Kentucky. A streaky but lethal shot-maker, he can knock down jumpers in a variety of ways, off spot-ups, pull-ups, screens and quick-trigger transition opportunities. 

    It wouldn't be shocking to see inconsistency from Monk as a rookie. It also wouldn't surprise anyone if he sporadically hit the 20-point mark.

Luke Kennard (Detroit Pistons, SG)

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    One thing Luke Kennard will be known for: Offensive skill level

    Kennard's shooting accuracy is well documented, but he could surprise fans with how advanced he is as an overall offensive player.

    He didn't average 19.5 points per game at Duke by only drilling threes. He'll be known for more than just his jumper. Kennard is going to impress with ball-handling, footwork, shot-creation and even occasional playmaking off ball screens.

    He's a crafty lefty, Manu Ginobili-like with scoring and passing skills that help compensate for underwhelming athleticism and length. 

    Kennard will likely earn rookie minutes for his ability to give the Detroit Pistons a reliable marksman around the arc. But he'll also break free from any premature specialist labels and show there are more layers to his game.

Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz, SG)

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    One thing Donovan Mitchell will be known for: Spark-plug ability 

    Aggressive and explosive, Mitchell may have some wild moments, but he's going to put pressure on opponents with confident shot-making and defensive playmaking. 

    He drilled 80 threes and averaged 2.1 steals last year at Louisville. Offensively, he's a streaky, microwave-type scorer, capable of making jumpers in bunches. At the other end, he's quick, strong, extremely long and competitive. 

    At this stage, his game was built to come off the bench and give the lineup a jolt. And that's the exact role he'll play this year in Utah. 

                 

    Advanced stats courtesy of Hoop-Math.com.