Ranking Most NBA-Ready Rookies as 2017-18 Tips Off

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterOctober 18, 2017

Ranking Most NBA-Ready Rookies as 2017-18 Tips Off

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    Some NBA rookies are more prepared than others for the daunting transition from college to the pros.

    Predraft production is only a small part of the equation when predicting NBA readiness, though there isn't an exact science.  

    Some rookies will make an early impact based on their athleticism, which could translate to easy baskets and free throws in a more spaced NBA with a deeper three-point arc. 

    Others are already skilled enough with the tools to execute NBA sets.

10. Malik Monk (Charlotte Hornets, SG)

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    Malik Monk didn't fall behind after missing summer league. He finished second in scoring among rookies during the preseason, averaging 15.6 points per game.

    That production did come on 14.4 shots a night, and given his jumper-heavy shot selection, Monk is going to be streaky and inefficient. But he will make shots as a rookie and occasionally catch fire and score in bunches.

    Even tight NBA defenses won't be enough to silence Monk once he finds his zone. He creates separation off the dribble by elevating high, although he doesn't need much room, and he excels at converting contested pull-ups or fallaways.

    He's in line for a big role right away with Nicolas Batum and Michael Carter-Williams both sidelined due to injuries. Monk looks poised to shoot poorly from the floor, but still average near double-digits in scoring and a pair of assists per game.

9. Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers, PF)

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    Kyle Kuzma flew up the NBA-ready rankings during summer league and then cracked the top 10 in the preseason after he led all rookies with 17.3 points per game. It's become impossible to ignore his production, despite his less impressive numbers at Utah. 

    Kuzma has showcased advanced inside-out skills that fuel textbook versatility for today's power forward position. A threat from from behind the arc, he's also looked sharp inside with his footwork and scoring improvisation, both on the move and out of the post. Kuzma even shows some playmaking potential in the open floor and off closeouts in the half court.

    He'll cool off from three and will eventually hit a wall offensively. Kuzma isn't the most explosive athlete, and he has relied on converting tougher shots. But everything we've seen from the NBA combine (where he was the best player in scrimmages) until now points to the Los Angeles Lakers having landed a steal.

    Look for Kuzma to challenge Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. for minutes right away.

8. De'Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings, PG)

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    Too much speed and athleticism will help De'Aaron Fox get by without consistent shooting early on. 

    An ankle injury cut his preseason short, but he was a problem before going down, having averaged 10.7 points on 50.0 percent shooting and 3.7 assists in just 17.2 minutes (22.4 and 7.7 per 36). No defense from college to the pros is equipped to stop Fox when he has space to attack.

    Fox won't produce as much as the other NBA-ready rookies, as he'll have George Hill and Buddy Hield stealing reps. However, he will have a chance to carve up second units with his ability to explode toward the rim off transition, ball screens or a first step. That should result in drive-and-dish opportunities as well.

    Fox's jumper won't be consistent, but he's still capable with the mid-range pull-up. His quick hands and feet should also lead to defensive pressure and forced turnovers throughout the season. 

    He'll be used more as a spark off the bench this year than a lead guard, but he should work well in that role while his perimeter scoring and facilitating take time to develop. 

7. Josh Jackson (Phoenix Suns, SF/PF)

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    Older than most freshmen at 20, Josh Jackson looks ready for NBA minutes. He made a strong case in summer league and backed it up this preseason, having averaged 14.0 points and 5.8 rebounds on 46.8 percent shooting, the best numbers among all the lottery forwards. 

    Already up there with some of the most athletic wings in the league, Jackson will continue to put pressure on in transition and the drive-and-slash game. The Phoenix Suns (No. 2 in pace) also play a lot faster than Kansas, who finished outside the country's top 50 in tempo, per KenPom.com.

    But Jackson, who has consistently improved since high school, has some underrated wiggle off the dribble as well. He won't be asked to create a ton as a rookie, but in the right situation, he'll shake free using his handle and quickness and will make plays as a scorer and passer. 

    His three-ball won't fall every game, but Jackson continues to show flashes of shot-creating and shot-making with the step-back, and he's regularly converted baskets out of the post by improvising with short fallaways and unorthodox one-handers. He should also earn time for his defensive intensity, even if he makes risky gambles or picks up silly fouls. 

    If nothing else, Jackson will give Phoenix needed energy and two-way versatility off the bench behind TJ Warren this year.

6. Markelle Fultz (Philadelphia 76ers, PG/SG)

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    Markelle Fultz is slipping down the NBA-ready projections, with questions now being raised over his health and confidence. His jump shot, the most important weapon in his bag, suddenly looks different and far less fluid. 

    "My shoulder is the main reason why my shot's doing that," he told Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

    Based on the preseason, where he shot 7-of-24 overall and took only three triples, Fultz appears to be in the midst of experimentation. And with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid likely dominating the touches in Philadelphia, it's becoming more and more likely Fultz starts off slower than his No. 1 overall label would suggest.

    Assuming he eventually gets healthy and reverts back to the scorer we saw at Washington, Fultz still should emerge as a key piece for the Sixers this season. At full strength, he's arguably the top shot-creator and shot-maker from all three levels in this year's draft class. At 6'4" with long arms and plenty of athleticism, Fultz has the tools and skill level to execute right away.

    He'll mix flashes of exciting defensive playmaking with lapses, and his assist totals and shooting percentages will fall due to Simmons' presence and this new shoulder discomfort. But at some point, he'll start to look like the scoring playmaker that most scouts pegged as the draft's top prospect.

5. Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz, SG)

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    Donovan Mitchell put the NBA on notice in summer league, where he averaged 20.4 points through five games and brought contagious defensive energy. He validated the hype that came from it by averaging 14.8 points in 24.6 minutes during preseason.

    At 6'3" and 215 pounds with a 6'10" wingspan, Mitchell brings a unique mix of explosiveness, length and power to the backcourt. It's an unusually dangerous combination, even by NBA standards. 

    But his improved shot-creating skills and confident shot-making ability are what should lead to scoring production as a rookie. Mitchell has gotten tighter with his handles and sharper separating into off-the-dribble jumpers. His knack for hitting contested looks will be key for him against NBA defenders.

    His jets and burst will also translate to layups and free throws, although he's still likely to be dependent on his perimeter game, which should lead to streakiness. 

    With Dante Exum out indefinitely, Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder will be frequently calling on Mitchell, who could perhaps find his way to the starting lineup by midseason. He'll hold value in Utah right away by putting pressure on opponents at both ends of the floor.

4. Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics, SF/PF)

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    Jayson Tatum distinguished himself at Duke with advanced moves that mirrored NBA scoring wings of past and present.

    He showcased razor-sharp footwork to separate as a shot-creator, as well as the versatile shot-making skills to go with it. Jab steps, step-backs, fallaways—Tatum has a deep bag of tricks and the skill level and physical tools to execute each one.

    Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens playing Tatum at the 4 will only help with the transition. He'll have an easier time exploiting his quickness around the perimeter against heavier power forwards.

    Without standout explosiveness or playmaking ability, he could struggle on days his jumper is off, and he'll be vulnerable to defensive inconsistency and giving up ground to opposing bigs. He's also looking at a major role change, having been the man in high school and college and now serving as more of a spot-up, secondary option.

    Tatum is fundamentally sound offensively, and there will be games where he emerges as one of the Celtics' top scorers, especially with Gordon Hayward likely facing an extended absence. But expect it to take time for Tatum to figure out how to consistently generate offense playing off the ball without being featured in isolation. 

3. Lonzo Ball (Los Angeles Lakers, PG)

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    Explosiveness, power and skill typically help prospects make quicker, smoother transitions to the NBA. For Lonzo Ball, who's skinny, upright and relatively conventional off the dribble, it's basketball IQ that will fuel his early production and Rookie of the Year campaign, as he'll adjust faster and pick up on nuances with an obvious understanding of the game.

    The NBA's uptempo flow and the Los Angeles Lakers' pace will also play to Ball's strengths. Last year, 42.3 percent of his made field goals and 39.1 percent of his assists came within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, per Hoop-Math.com. His open-floor vision and passing accuracy will translate to open shots and easy baskets for teammates, both in transition and the half court.

    Ball won't hit the 20-point mark often, but he should convert enough timely drives and threes to keep the pressure on defenses.

    Otherwise, he's a lock to lead all rookies in assists and could even finish top 10 in the league. 

2. Dennis Smith Jr. (Dallas Mavericks, PG)

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    Dennis Smith Jr. averaged 18.1 points per game during his lone season at NC State and led the ACC in assists. Summer league wasn't a major challenge—he finished with at least 21 points in three of six games and shot a respectable 45.7 percent overall. 

    Smith is going to take some questionable shots and make lazy reads, but he's ready to produce.

    Already on par with the top athletes at the point guard position, his success exploding by defenders and up toward the rim should carry right over. His hesitation won't just stop working. He's too quick with impressive power. He's a good bet to lead the 2017 draft class in free-throw attempts.

    Smith is also skilled enough by NBA standards with his handle, shot-creating and shot-making off the dribble. Built-in confidence should only help during the college-to-pro transition, even if it results in poor decisions. Smith may be erratic, but in a full-time starting role, he's going to knock down plenty of pull-up and speciality jumpers that lead to volume-scoring outputs.

    This will be Smith's first time where opposing teams won't be purely focused on stopping him. He'll benefit from more support and spacing and put up Rookie of the Year-caliber numbers.

1. Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers, PG/PF)

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    NBA defenses will immediately have trouble containing Ben Simmons' unique mix of size, power, speed and agility. Few players in the league can match it.

    The fact that he comes with a guard's handle and vision only enhances the mismatch his tools and athleticism already create. His ability to fly with the ball in transition and make plays off the dribble in the half court aren't going anywhere.

    Simmons will love the NBA's faster pace and the Philadelphia 76ers shooters he didn't have at LSU. And he still has the height to pass over the top and facilitating instincts that translate. His preseason average of 5.4 assists in 22.8 minutes shouldn't be far off from what we see during the year.

    With an impressive upper body, hands and coordination, Simmons should also continue being a handful around the basket as a finisher and rebounder. 

    Not having a jump shot will hurt his scoring average, but he'll hit double figures just by tapping into his athleticism. Mark Simmons down for multiple triple-doubles during his rookie campaign.