Grading Every 1st-Round 2017 NBA Draft Pick so Far This Season

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterDecember 20, 2017

Grading Every 1st-Round 2017 NBA Draft Pick so Far This Season

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    Brock Williams-Smith/Getty Images

    Early report cards are out on the first-round picks from the 2017 NBA draft.

    The results have been mixed, though even a poor grade through Christmas shouldn't destroy a rookie's long-term potential.

    Three A-plusses were handed out. There were also multiple D's given to players who've struggled mightily to adjust.

    Expectations tied to each player's draft position were taken into account during the grading process. The bar was set higher for top-10 picks compared to those in the 20s.

    An A grade means a rookie has exceeded expectations.

    A B grade means a rookie has been relatively average, showing enough signs of potential but also obvious weaknesses that need improvement.

    A C grade means a rookie has been disappointing based on where he was taken in the draft.

    A D grade means a rookie has consistently struggled, resulting in severe inefficiency and demotion. 

Markelle Fultz (Philadelphia 76ers, PG/SG)

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Grade: Incomplete 

    How can an injured rookie be fairly assessed through 75 minutes?

    Markelle Fultz tried to play hurt, and it didn't work. Shoulder discomfort forced him to pass up jumpers and alter his free-throw form. He didn't even attempt a three-pointer in four games. Through four games at Washington, he'd already been 8-of-17 from behind the arc.

    Fultz shot 42.3 percent from deep last year and ranked in the 88th percentile in half-court jumpers off the dribble (1.021 PPP), per Synergy Sports. He might as well have played the first 75 minutes for the Philadelphia 76ers with a hand tied behind his back.

    The situation could have been handled better by both sides. Fultz shouldn't have been playing if the pain was bad enough to make him change his game.

    Philadelphia announced the soreness was finally gone and that he'd be reevaluated around the new year, according to The Undefeated's Marc Spears. Fultz's report card will show an incomplete until he's back to full strength with the jumper he'd used to build a No. 1 overall case.

Lonzo Ball (Los Angeles Lakers, PG)

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Grade: B

    Some areas of Lonzo Ball's game have translated quicker than others. 

    Averaging 7.1 assists, 6.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals and a block per game, his unteachable instincts have carried right over. Ball's basketball IQ and anticipation consistently show at both ends, whether it's on a pass, loose ball or defensive rotation. 

    However, skill and athletic limitations have also been evident, leading to early inefficiency and difficulty scoring.

    Ball has shot 43.0 percent inside five feet, and he's made just 30.8 percent of his pull-up jumpers and 28.0 percent of his catch-and-shoot chances. Converting at a 39.3 percent clip inside the arc and 27.5 percent clip behind it, Ball has struggled to finish in traffic and connect around the perimeter.

    He's averaging 9.3 points, the fewest among the 41 NBA players who play at least 33 minutes per game. Ball has even had trouble generating offense out of pick-and-rolls (0.60 PPP, 14th percentile).

    On the other hand, many of the good things he does won't show up in box scores. He ranks No. 7 in the NBA in potential assists. Fourth in passes made, Ball shows zero agenda at the point outside of getting his teammates open looks.

    It still hasn't been the smoothest transition from college to the pros. The first step toward righting the ship will be getting that jumper back on track.

Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics, SF/PF)

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Grade: A+

    The Boston Celtics couldn't have asked for more from Jayson Tatum through two months. 

    A No. 1 option in high school and college, he has quickly adapted to a new role by seamlessly transforming into the three-and-D player Boston needed. Leading the NBA in three-point shooting, Tatum also ranks third among Celtics rotation players (minimum 18 minutes per game) in defensive plus-minus

    He's making 54.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot chances, up from 36.4 percent at Duke, per Synergy Sports, a key to his early success playing off the ball.

    Scoring an efficient 1.42 points per possession in transition, Tatum has capitalized on the opportunities he's received within the flow of each game. An efficient starter for the East's top team, the No. 3 pick in the draft has outperformed Fultz, Ball and Nos. 4 through 12.

Josh Jackson (Phoenix Suns, SG/SF)

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Grade: C

    The positives have come in flashes for Josh Jackson, who's scoring 9.0 points per game but shooting 37.3 percent from the floor and averaging more turnovers (1.9) than assists (1.1). 

    His shaky jumper, which he's used for 50.9 percent of his offense, has held him back, considering he's making just 22.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot chances and 26.2 percent of his pull-ups. But he's even struggled to capitalize on his drives (34.5 percent FG), a more surprising issue given his athleticism.

    That athleticism has still led to exciting plays and defensive versatility, which is why he'll start in place of the injured Devin Booker at shooting guard. He plays at high speed on both ends and adds some extra bounce to the Phoenix Suns lineup.

    But through two months, only De'Aaron Fox and Emmanuel Mudiay have registered lower real plus-minus numbers among NBA players.

De'Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings, PG)

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Grade: C

    De'Aaron Fox's numbers aren't pretty, though the highlights still fuel plenty of promise. 

    With the second-lowest real-plus minus in the league, Fox hasn't been involved in many winning stretches. 

    His 23.7 assist percentage is low, and his 17.7 turnover percentage is high. He's shown minimal signs of improvement with his shooting, having missed 27 of his first 38 three-point attempts. And despite the predraft hype over his athleticism and attacking, he's converted just 42.0 percent of his drives.

    Fox has still put pressure on opponents with his first step and quickness. He's getting out for three transition opportunities per game, roughly the same amount as Ben Simmons (3.1), who's averaging 11.2 more minutes.

    He's also had to adjust to sharing the ball in a three-guard lineup, which is not easy for a player who'd been used to running the show at Kentucky. 

    With Fox, the long-term potential remains intact, but he's not ready to give the Sacramento Kings starter-level production and impact. 

Jonathan Isaac (Orlando Magic, PF)

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    Barry Gossage/Getty Images

    Grade: B

    Between an ankle injury and offensive limitations, Jonathan Isaac racked up 17 straight DNPs from November 13 to December 15. The sample size to evaluate the No. 6 pick has been small.

    Before going down, though, the Orlando Magic were 8-4. Their record on the day he returned (December 17): 11-19.

    He ranks No. 2 on the team in defensive plus-minus, averaging 2.1 blocks and 1.1 steals per 36 minutes. Isaac's defensive versatility was ultimately a key selling point in the draft after he'd flashed such impressive foot speed around the perimeter, plus the ability to make plays on the ball around the basket.

    Isaac remains limited on offense, averaging 5.7 points in 19.6 minutes with 10 assists all season. He's looked spry at the rim, converting 80.0 percent of his chances inside five feet and 73.7 percent of his shots within 10 feet.

    But he's only making 22.7 percent of his pull-ups, which account for 36.1 percent of his offense. And he's just 5-of-17 from behind the arc.

    Without creating and playmaking skills or a reliable jumper, Isaac will only offer so much offensively.

Lauri Markkanen (Chicago Bulls, PF)

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Grade: B+

    One of the more pleasant early surprises, Lauri Markkanen ranks third in scoring among rookies taken in the 2017 draft.

    He's averaging 14.5 points, working mostly as a catch-and-shooter (54.3 percent of offense, 2.3 FGM), drilling 2.2 threes per game, shooting off screens and spot-ups. But he's also flashed some ability to put the ball on the floor or make speciality shots, either off the dribble or falling away.

    His 14.0 rebounding percentage is exactly the same number from college. He's held his own under the boards, though he's No. 9 on the team in defensive plus-minus.

    Markkanen has ultimately been a bright spot for his shot-making and scoring versatility. The fact that he's only shooting 33.5 percent from three—a number that's bound to rise— and still putting up points is an encouraging sign.

Frank Ntilikina (New York Knicks, G)

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Grade: B

    The numbers don't tell the whole story on Frank Ntilikina. He's hit some rough patches that have exposed his lack of explosiveness around the rim, struggles handling the ball against pressure and overall decision-making.

    But Ntilikina has mostly either blended in or made a positive impact with his defense, passing and timely shot-making.

    He ranks just behind Kyle O'Quinn among New York Knick rotation players (minimum 18 minutes per game) in defensive plus-minus. Averaging 1.4 steals in 20.2 minutes, Ntilikina has forced turnovers and contested shots. He's made life tougher for opposing point guards than Jarrett Jack has.

    Offensively, Ntilikina has taken what defenses give him, showing little ability to create his own shot or blow by his man. He's also had trouble finishing inside, making a poor 42.9 percent of his layups inside five feet.

    His 22.3 turnover percentage is sky high as well, a result of a handle that needs improvement so he can protect the ball and pass without rushing.

    However, he has shown impressive vision and the accuracy to fit the ball in tight windows. In time, Ntilikina figures to be a solid pick-and-roll setup man, thanks to his feel and length to dish over defenses.

    He isn't starting, but he is closing. Ntilikina recently averaged 7.3 fourth-quarter points in three consecutive wins over the Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets. His confidence is rising, and though his 36.0 field-goal mark remains ugly, Ntilikina has still been a valued reserve for the Knicks at 19 years old.

Dennis Smith Jr. (Dallas Mavericks, PG)

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Grade: B+

    Averaging 14.4 points, Dennis Smith Jr. has looked like an NBA-ready scorer.

    He's flashed an entire arsenal of different drives, mid-range scoring and three-point range. Smith is producing, while the dazzling ball skills and explosiveness continue pointing to long-term upside. 

    Still, behind the exciting highlights and stats have been inconsistent decision-making and inefficient execution. His 4.0-3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks No. 29 of 30 (only Jamal Murray's is worse) among starting point guards. He's shooting 39.4 percent from the floor, making 31.7 percent of his pull-ups and 30.6 percent of his threes.

    Smith hasn't shot well or demonstrated the sharpest floor game in terms of pushing the right buttons with his shot-hunting versus playmaking. But this early, he's put enough points on the board for a 20-year-old, Western Conference starter.

Zach Collins (Portland Trail Blazers, C)

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Grade: D

    After playing 20 minutes total in November, Zach Collins is averaging 17.7 minutes a game through December. 

    We've only learned that Collins isn't ready. He's totaled 40 points and 28 fouls on the year, shooting 25.0 percent on post-ups and 28.6 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers. Collins is capable with his back to the basket and knocking down spot-ups, but it doesn't appear we'll see it consistently this year.

    His rebounding percentage (13.7 percent) is also significantly lower than what he registered at Gonzaga (18.3 percent), when he played mostly mid-major competition. 

    Collins looks like he'll need his rookie season to work on his body, sharpen his skills and learn the NBA whistle. 

Malik Monk (Charlotte Hornets, SG)

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Grade: D

    Struggling at both ends, Malik Monk has fallen out of the Charlotte Hornets rotation.

    There haven't been many positives to take away through two months. He has made 1.2 threes per game, a tribute to his shot-making and range. He's been effective catching and shooting at a 41.3 percent clip.

    And he's demonstrated some restraint offensively, recognizing his role has changed. Monk is taking care of the ball (10.0 turnover percentage), and he's shown some underrated passing skills. 

    But he's shooting 35.1 percent inside the arc and 33.7 percent from three. His pull-up game (24.5 percent) hasn't worked, and he's only taken 17 free-throw attempts all season.

    Only six players in the NBA sport a lower real plus-minus. He ranks No. 95 in defensive plus-minus among NBA shooting guards. 

    Monk has had some promising stretches shooting off step-backs, screens and spot-ups. But he hasn't been consistent enough to compensate for the offensive inefficiency and unreliable defense. 

Luke Kennard (Detroit Pistons, SG)

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Grade: B

    Luke Kennard has had some promising moments, particularly in November during a three-game stretch that saw him average 12.7 points on 8-of-13 shooting from three. 

    Otherwise, he's been hit or miss, but for a rookie, the hits outweigh the misses. Kennard has given the Detroit Pistons a shot-maker off the bench, converting 1.7 jumpers (0.8 off catch, 0.9 off dribble) in 16.5 minutes. 

    Shooting 38.3 percent from three, his stroke looks like the real deal early.

    The question was always how much a lack of athleticsim would hold him back. So far, he's struggled to finish at the rim, converting 38.1 percent of his shots within five feet and shooting 38.9 percent on drives.

    But Kennard has ultimately served his purpose through two months, entering games to move the ball and knock down shots in limited minutes. 

Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz, G)

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    Alex Goodlett/Associated Press

    Grade: A+

    Had Ben Simmons played last year, Donovan Mitchell would be the Rookie of the Year front-runner at Christmas. 

    The No. 13 pick in the draft is already a top-40 NBA scorer, averaging more points (17.7) than Carmelo Anthony, Kyle Lowry, Brandon Ingram, Gary Harris and Goran Dragic. He's gone for 41 points and hit the 25-point mark on four other occasions in December alone.

    Any concerns about his jump shot coming out of Louisville have quickly been squashed. Shooting 41.3 percent off the catch, he's also converting 1.9 shots per game off the dribble, which includes 1.1 pull-up three-point makes. 

    Scoring 5.3 points as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, Mitchell is being used to generate offense in a variety of ways. He's even flashed some playmaking with his 3.4 assists, which is more of a reflection on Mitchell's ability to break down defenses and make a play.

    One scout told Bleacher Report he'd expect the Utah Jazz to hang up on anyone calling to make a trade offer for Mitchell, even it included Markelle Fultz, 2017's No. 1 pick. 

Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat, C)

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Grade: B+

    Bam Adebayo has played efficiently to his strengths, though he's also flashed potential new ones. 

    Still, his bread and butter will always be finishing. Shooting 69.8 percent inside 10 feet and scoring 1.38 points per possession as a roll man, Adebayo's agility, power and bounce continue translating to easy baskets above the rim.

    His 10.9 offensive rebounding percentage is also a strong number that would rank top 15 in the league had he qualified with enough minutes.

    Adebayo hasn't taken many jumpers or post-ups, mainly serving the Miami Heat as an energizer, dunker and rim runner. But he's created intrigue with his defensive versatility and ability to switch out and contain around the perimeter. Adding 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes, Adebayo ranks second among Heat players in defensive plus-minus.

Justin Jackson (Sacramento Kings, SF)

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Grade: D

    Justin Jackson hit the rookie wall fast after a promising month of November. Struggling to make shots or add value in other areas, he's fallen outside the regular rotation. 

    A breakout junior at North Carolina whose jumper suddenly clicked, Jackson hasn't found the touch this season, making just 27.9 of his catch-and-shoot chances. It's made him difficult to play, given his lack of versatility. 

    He doesn't create for others (11 assists in 20 games), and at 210 pounds, he's not built to guard bigs. 

    Only seven NBA players have lower real plus-minus than Jackson. 

TJ Leaf (Indiana Pacers, PF)

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    Ron Turenne/Getty Images

    Grade: B-

    TJ Leaf looked good in November, but with Domantas Sabonis breaking out, the rookie's minutes have disappeared.

    Leaf's shooting has still stood out during his limited time on the floor. The 6'10" power forward has made 11 of his first 23 three-point attempts. And he's shown good hands in traffic, scoring 1.31 points per possession as a roll man (82.8th percentile).

    Leaf hasn't done much rebounding (9.9 percent REB) or defending, but his ability to stretch the floor and convert within the offense could eventually earn him playing time.

John Collins (Atlanta Hawks, PF)

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Grade: A

    Even without the flashy scoring skills, John Collins continues to efficiently produce, quickly jumping out to lead all rookies averaging at least 15 minutes after having led the nation last year in player efficiency rating.

    He's picking up buckets and boards by tapping into his explosive leaping and timing. Shooting 68.2 percent inside five feet, Collins is generating 3.5 points per game as a roll man, the same amount as Blake Griffin, and he's top 10 in the NBA in points per game off cuts.

    Collins hasn't taken many jumpers, but he's making 46.7 percent of the ones he's attempting in the 15-19-foot range.

    His 17.8 rebounding percentage also leads all rookies.

    Collins could stand to improve his defensive IQ, as well as his post game and shooting range. But after his first two months as a pro, he leads the Atlanta Hawks rotation in box plus-minus.

Jarrett Allen (Brooklyn Nets, C)

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Grade: B

    Leading the Brooklyn Nets in defensive plus-minus, Jarrett Allen has looked like the right pick for them at No. 22.

    He's blocking two shots per 36 minutes while forcing opponents to shoot 53.6 percent against him within six feet, 22.7 percent against him beyond 15 feet and 43.4 percent overall. 

    Offensively, Allen hasn't been used much in the post, and though he's thrown down some big finishes above the rim, his 1.0 points per possession scoring as a roll man could be higher. 

    He'll need to get stronger around the basket and continue to improve his shooting touch and range, which we've seen flashes of (75.0 percent FT, one three-point make).

OG Anunoby (Toronto Raptors, F)

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Grade: A-

    A wild card entering the draft, having played just 13.7 minutes as a freshman at Indiana and then missing half his sophomore year with a knee injury, OG Anunoby has looked like a steal at No. 23 overall.

    The key development early: He's shooting 43.0 percent from three, making 1.2 of them in 20.6 minutes per game. Converting 45.2 percent of his catch-and-shoot chances, Anunoby has given the Toronto Raptors a reliable shot-maker off the ball.

    It's huge for him, given his limitations as a shot-creator. He's not playmaking for others (0.8 assists per game) or rebounding (2.0 per game).

    Leaning mostly on spot-ups and transition (1.5 points per game), Anunoby has remained efficient by taking what the defense gives him. Flashes of defensive versatility will continue to fuel excitement over his two-way, three-and-D potential. He's still learning how to play at both ends, but a raw feel for the game hasn't kept him from making a positive impact.

Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers, F)

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Grade: A+

    Among rookies drafted in June, only Donovan Mitchell is scoring more than Kyle Kuzma, who's averaging more points in the NBA (16.6) than he did as a junior at Utah (16.4). 

    Improved shooting has been a major reason—Kuzma is making 1.7 threes per game at a 38.0 percent clip. He's already hit 46 triples through 27 games after making just 27 through 29 games last year and 52 total through three seasons in college.

    He's also looked sharper as a shot-creator and one-on-one player. Only 4.9 percent of his offense has come out of isolation, but he's scoring an efficient 1.43 points on those possessions and shooting 57.1 percent on post-ups.

    One of the more surprising stories early in the season, Kuzma has immediately established himself as the Los Angeles Lakers' No. 1 option ahead of Jordan Clarkson, Brook Lopez, Brandon Ingram, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Lonzo Ball.

    And they got him at No. 27 overall, a pick they acquired by trading Lou Williams last February.

    From a grading standpoint, Kuzma's production for a late first-round pick negates the fact he has the second-lowest defensive plus-minus among Lakers rotation players.

Josh Hart (Los Angeles Lakers, SG)

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    Grade: B

    It's been a rollercoaster start for Josh Hart, though he's back in the rotation after falling out last month. Hart has shot 50.0 percent so far in December after combining to go 0-of-12 through his first fives games of November.

    He's recently coming off one of his more productive efforts of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Dec. 18.

    Shooting 50.0 percent inside the arc and 11-of-30 behind it, Hart has been relatively efficient working off the ball. And he's flashed glimpses of the defensive toughness he established during four years at Villanova.

    He hasn't shown enough scoring or playmaking ability to warrant a high grade, but all indications point to Hart becoming a regular role player in the Los Angeles Lakers rotation.

The Injured and the Bench Warmers (Under 10 Minutes Per Game)

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    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Justin Patton (Minnesota Timberwolves, C)

    Patton had foot surgery in July and hasn't played yet in Minnesota. He has logged four games with the Iowa Wolves in the G-League, where he's averaging 10.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 17.0 minutes.

    DJ Wilson (Milwaukee Bucks, PF)

    Wilson has only played five minutes in December after scoring four total points through November. He did fill it up during his one game for the Wisconsin Herd in the G-League, finishing with 24 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals.

    Harry Giles (Sacramento Kings, PF)

    Giles hasn't seen live game action since college, when he only averaged 11.5 minutes at Duke. Delicate knees have forced him to skip summer league and preseason, and it's probable we won't see him on the floor until after the All-Star break. 

    Terrance Ferguson (Oklahoma City Thunder, SG/SF)

    Ferguson didn't play much last year in Australia and hasn't cracked the Thunder's rotation as a rookie. The highlight of his season has been scoring seven points in 21 minutes against the Dallas Mavericks in November, but he hasn't shown he's good enough in one area to justify playing for a team under a lot of pressure to win soon.

    Tyler Lydon (Denver Nuggets, PF)

    Who knows when we'll see Lydon playing in Denver? Even with Paul Millsap going down, Lydon has only made one appearance all season. With Trey Lyles playing well, the Nuggets' 2017 first-round pick could spend the next couple of years developing in the G-League. So far with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, he's averaging 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds in 31.0 minutes.

    Caleb Swanigan (Portland Trail Blazers, PF)

    Swanigan has played just six total minutes over the Blazers' last 15 games. There is debate as to where he's most effective—either undersized at center or at power forward against much quicker athletes. Defense will always be a concern, but Swanigan, a slower, below-the-rim big, will still need his jumper to start working for a chance to crack Portland's rotation and stick.

    Tony Bradley (Utah Jazz, C)

    Bradley has only played 21 minutes with the Jazz, but he's been one of the better G-League bigs through seven games, averaging 15.7 points and 9.9 rebounds on 60.2 percent shooting. With Rudy Gobert expected to miss another month and Bradley playing well for the Salt Lake City Stars, the Jazz first-round rookie could be looking at NBA minutes in December.

    Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs, SG)

    The Spurs aren't ready to call on White, who's gone from junior college to Colorado to the NBA in a short period of time. Through four games, he's averaging 15 points in 20.2 minutes with the Austin Spurs. Cracking San Antonio's deep backcourt rotation sounds unlikely for White this season. 

                   

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