NBA Rookie Ladder: Ben Simmons Leads the Pack 1 Month into Season

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterNovember 20, 2017

NBA Rookie Ladder: Ben Simmons Leads the Pack 1 Month into Season

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    This year's NBA rookie class has been one of the more exciting ones to track in recent memory.

    Five newcomers are averaging at least 14 points, and nine are scoring in double figures. And that's with Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 overall pick, out resting his shoulder.

    Two top-10 rookies weren't lottery picks. There were also a handful—including Jonathan Isaac, Mike James and Dillon Brooks—who didn't crack the top 10 but are knocking on the door 

    The ladder reflects current play and impact—not long-term potential.

10. Frank Ntilikina (New York Knicks, PG)

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    Behind the other lottery guards when it comes to ball skills and scoring, Frank Ntilikina is winning New York over with passing, defense and high-IQ basketball.

    Unselfish almost to a fault, the French rookie has shown nice feel and timing facilitating and dishing off ball screens. He's averaging nearly as many assists (4.1) as Dennis Smith Jr. (4.5) and De'Aaron Fox (4.7) while playing at least six fewer minutes than both.

    Long with quick hands and feet, Ntilikina has mainly earned himself playing time, even late in crunch time, by forcing turnovers, getting through screens and contesting shots. Amazingly, he's third in the league in steals per game.

    His handle, shot-creation, finishing and shooting need significant work. He may not hit the 20-point mark all season. But Ntilikina has made a legitimate impact just by playing to his strengths as a passer and defender.

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

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    The eye test on De'Aaron Fox has looked better than the numbers, which point to the worst real plus-minus in the league. 

    He's still putting pressure on defenses with his athleticism, speed and ball-handling. Fox ranks third among rookies in assists and ninth in scoring. He's just being held back by his shaky jumper, which lacks three-point range (5-of-22) and hasn't been consistent overall. 

    He has made 1.8 pull-ups per game, a relatively encouraging sign. 

8. Lonzo Ball (Los Angeles Lakers, PG)

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    It hasn't been the smoothest start for Lonzo Ball, but he's also playing 32.7 minutes a game without a ton of supporting talent. 

    He's still second among rookies in assists with 6.8 per game and ranks No. 5 in rebounds (6.6). Ball has kept the offense moving with unselfish play, quick decisions and terrific vision. And though never known for his defense, he's surprised early, showing impressive anticipation, which has helped make up for a lack of quickness and strength.

    But Ball has struggled as a scorer, shooting just 30.8 percent from the floor, 30.6 percent on pull-ups and 22.7 percent on threes. He's scoring 2.7 points per game off drives, an extremely low number for a point guard playing starter minutes.

    He's earned a top-10 spot on the ladder for his floor game and presence. And his three-ball should start falling eventually. But the predraft concerns over his explosiveness, off-the-dribble scoring and shooting form have shown up early.

7. John Collins (Atlanta Hawks, PF)

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    College basketball's leader in player efficiency rating a year ago, John Collins ranks second among rookies playing at least 20 minutes. 

    He's leaning almost exclusively on his athleticism, activity and motor for offense. Collins' 3.6 points per game as a roll man is in the top 20 in the league. His 3.3 points as a cutter is top 10. Seventy percent of his offense has come off zero dribbles, which points to his role as a catch-and-finisher.

    Shooting 54.5 percent from the floor and grabbing 12.2 rebounds per 36 minutes, Collins has seen his activity and efficiency carry over to the pros. 

    He's on track to emerge as starter for the Atlanta Hawks while he works on building his defensive IQ and offensive skill.

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

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    The positives outweigh the negatives through the first 15 games of Dennis Smith Jr.'s career.

    Averaging 14.5 points, Smith has already gone for at least 21 in three games this month, including a 27-point outing against the San Antonio Spurs.

    Only nine NBA players have been used more in isolation (minimum of five games played). Smith has handled a heavy workload and flashed everything from drives and floaters to shooting off the dribble.

    He just hasn't been overly efficient with his jumper or facilitating, making 32.4 percent of his pull-ups and 29.4 percent on spot-ups, and averaging 4.5 assists to 3.5 turnovers.

5. Lauri Markkanen (Chicago Bulls, PF)

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    It's been a smooth early transition for Lauri Markkanen, who appears to enjoy the NBA's extra spacing. 

    He's averaging 14.8 points on 2.5 threes a game. Mainly a spot-up and pick-and-pop weapon, he's also averaging 1.23 points per play off screens, which is a tribute to his shot-making versatility. 

    A lack of explosiveness hasn't hurt his finishing around the basket, either. Agile with light feet and soft hands, he's shooting 62.8 percent inside 10 feet.

    He's had encouraging flashes when attacking closeouts and on pull-ups, and though not known for his defense, Markkanen has shown he can slide his feet and guard the perimeter.

4. Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz, SG)

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    It took fewer than 15 games for Donovan Mitchell to emerge as a top option for the Utah Jazz.

    Second on the team in field-goal attempts, the No. 12 pick is averaging 18.6 points in November, burning defenses with change-of-speed driving and difficult perimeter shot-making. 

    He's converting 1.8 field goals per game after 3-6 dribbles, which is a tribute to his one-on-one skills and ability to score off the bounce. 

    Mitchell's shot selection has always been somewhat reckless, a reason for his 38.7 field-goal percentage. But coach Quin Synder has given Mitchell a green light to play through mistakes, and it's already led to volume scoring outputs.

3. Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers, F)

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    An early candidate for steal of the 2017 draft, Kyle Kuzma is second in scoring among rookies and first for the Los Angeles Lakers ahead of Brook Lopez, Jordan Clarkson and Brandon Ingram.

    Friday night against the Phoenix Suns, he became the first rookie this season to hit 30 points.

    His footwork and shot-making have stood out. From post moves to runners and jumpers, Kuzma has flashed impressive versatility in terms of creating and converting different types of attempts.

    Shooting 64.8 percent inside 10 feet, Kuzma has also done a good job of finishing in traffic. He's making 71.4 percent of his attempts when his defender has been within two feet (very tight) and 55.2 percent when he's  been 2-4 feet away (tight). 

    Kuzma hasn't experienced the same success defensively. The Lakers have been better at that end when he sits, as Cleaningtheglass' Ben Falk noted. And he's totaled just two blocks and six steals all year. 

    Still, the No. 27 pick has quickly established himself as a legitimate scoring weapon and an unlikely cornerstone for the Lakers' franchise. 

2. Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics, F)

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    Initially drafted to a roster with Jae Crowder and a healthy Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum has adapted quickly to a starter's workload. 

    It's not the biggest surprise, given how he distinguished himself at Duke with such an advanced skill level and offensive repertoire. Ironically, it's been his ability to work off the ball that's led to early success.

    Making 52.8 percent of his catch-and-shoot opportunities and 47.9 percent of his threes, Tatum's jumper has been a key weapon while Kyrie Irving does the ball-handling and creating. The rookie is also converting 60.8 percent of his shots off zero dribbles and averaging 1.78 points per play scoring off screens.

    Flashes of one-on-one and post moves hint at Tatum eventually being more involved as a featured option, but for now, he's fitting right into the Boston Celtics' small-ball lineup, capitalizing opportunistically as a shot-maker and slasher.

1. Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers, PG)

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    It's as if Ben Simmons skipped a few steps from rookie to star. 

    He leads the NBA in touches per game.

    Though just 15 games in, Simmons is on pace to join Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, Grant Hill, Russell Westbrook, Magic Johnson, John Havlicek and Fat Lever as the only players to ever average at least 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

    Simmons' size, athleticism and ambidexterity have consistently led to easy baskets and one-handers in the lane, even though he isn't an advanced or traditional one-on-one shot-creator and scorer. His 18.3 drives per game ranks second in the league behind Dennis Schroder's tally and just ahead of the totals of speedy guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

    Meanwhile, at 6'10", Simmons' ball-handling, vision and basketball IQ already look on par with some of the top true point guards across the league. He's fifth in the NBA in assists.

    A jump shot could take his game to unthinkable heights, but it doesn't appear Simmons will need one to reach All-Star status. It almost feels safe to call him a Rookie of the Year lock before December.

         

    All stats courtesy of NBA.com, RealGM.com, Basketball Reference or ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.