Metrics 101: 2017 NBA Rookie Season Predictions for Every 1st-Round Pick
The wild 2017 NBA draft is now in the rearview mirror. Between the 16 freshmen selected in the first round—including each of the top five picks—the shocking Jimmy Butler trade and the constant pick-swapping that took place within the last 30 selections, it was truly a night to remember.
But enough reminiscing already. It's time to look ahead.
Over the next few months, each of the 30 first-round picks will be fighting to improve as much as possible. Gaining comfort in their new systems will afford them more opportunities to break into the rotation expeditiously, and increased playing time will only up their chances at earning that coveted Rookie of the Year award.
At this early stage, who's in the best position?
By calculating each prospect's expected playing time (based on their readiness and the makeup of the incumbent rotation) and factoring in their statistical profile before entering the NBA, we're coming up with per-game projections for each first-round choice. Use these as the baselines when trying to see how everyone stacks up as we head into the heart of the offseason.
30. Josh Hart, SG, Los Angeles Lakers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 18.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks
It's in the Los Angeles Lakers' best interest to preserve financial flexibility for the 2018 offseason by limiting their free-agency expenditures in the next few months. And that means there's a legitimate chance Josh Hart could enter the 2017-18 campaign as the team's starting shooting guard, joining Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Brook Lopez on the floor for the season's opening tip.
Hart might not have the upside possessed by most other first-round picks, but he's a proven winner and cerebral player who could be a nice steadying force alongside the youngsters joining him in purple and gold. His game is well-rounded enough to blend in without demanding too many touches, and he can certainly hold his own on the defensive end.
All this points toward a significant number of minutes. And with minutes typically comes statistical production.
Hart won't possess the rock frequently enough to challenge for the scoring lead among rookies, even as a starter. But his per-game line won't be anything to sniff at, especially when he's bringing so many intangibles to the proverbial table.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 8.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks
29. Derrick White, PG/SG, San Antonio Spurs
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.4 blocks
So many pieces are in flux for the San Antonio Spurs.
Tony Parker is working his way back from the leg injury that prematurely ended his postseason run. Manu Ginobili may choose to retire, but he could certainly come back for another go-round and keep contributing at a high level. Patty Mills could rejoin the roster, or he could go elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent.
Plus, the Spurs are already shopping key players, presumably in an attempt to open up cap space and lure in a big-name point guard. If Chris Paul or Kyle Lowry joins the team, everything changes. Hell, there are even reports, per ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne, that the organization has looked into acquiring Derrick Rose.
All of this is to say Derrick White likely won't spend much time on the floor during his rookie season. Even if everything goes his way and the Spurs are unable to find veteran options at the point, he'll still be forced to compete for minutes with Dejounte Murray, who has a leg up by virtue of already spending a year in head coach Gregg Popovich's system.
White is a quality shooter and distributor, but he'll come along slowly, especially after spending just one year playing top-level NCAA ball after transferring to Colorado for his senior season. Even if his minutes are efficient, you shouldn't be expecting much.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 4.0 points, 1.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.2 blocks
28. Tony Bradley, PF/C, Utah Jazz
School: North Carolina
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 7.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.6 blocks
Tony Bradley could immediately settle in as Rudy Gobert's primary backup at center, but that doesn't mean the Utah Jazz would roll out a traditional lineup at every opportunity. They can still go smaller with Derrick Favors at the 5, and Joel Bolomboy is sure to earn bigger minutes after showing some flashes of potential as a first-year contributor.
Bradley's advantage is the well-rounded nature of his game. So while he's dominating the glass, he's also able to score a few points in efficient fashion, play decent interior defense and do his best to avoid mistakes.
As Daniel O'Brien wrote for FanRag Sports:
"His early-career duties will consist of battling for position in the paint, aggressively pursuing offensive rebounds and attacking the hoop. Bradley has a decent touch on his low-post hook shots and short-range jumpers, which is encouraging considering his underwhelming athleticism. He also could be a respectable interior defender because his vertical and horizontal reach is so expansive."
If that sounds like a useful package for someone eating up garbage-time minutes and sparsely contributing during competitive action, it's only because it is. And that's the exact role Bradley should fill as he gets his feet wet in the Association.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 3.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.1 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.2 blocks
27. Kyle Kuzma, PF, Los Angeles Lakers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 16.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.5 blocks
Whereas Josh Hart has a clear path to playing time, Kyle Kuzma has no such luxury despite coming off the board three picks earlier. He'll be competing with Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. for minutes, and that's a battle he's bound to lose. And since the Los Angeles Lakers are set up in a way that they can shift Brandon Ingram or Luol Deng to the 4 for a few minutes at a time or throw out a dual-big lineup, minutes should be even tougher to come by.
Kuzma won't quite be a draft-and-stash prospect. He's too skilled for that, especially because the Lakers will be trying all sorts of lineups and attempting to make the most of his unorthodox facilitating prowess from the 4. If he continues to shoot the rock like he did in pre-draft workouts, per CSN Philly's Paul Hudrick, that'll only help his standing, as well.
But for now, count on the Utah product learning as he watches from the pine. He'll play precious few minutes during his rookie campaign, likely only seeing the floor in garbage time or when injuries take away all semblance of depth from the Tinseltown rotation.
Think of this as a de facto redshirt season, though he'll be wearing purple and gold and making spot appearances all the while.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 3.4 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.1 blocks
26. Caleb Swanigan, PF/C, Portland Trail Blazers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.8 blocks
Caleb Swanigan is such a good rebounder that he'd be able to compete for double-doubles right off the bat if he were granted the luxury of major minutes. Not only is he a physical behemoth on blocks, but he has impressive instincts that allow him to read caroms and time his jumpers perfectly to put himself in an advantageous spot for a board. When he seals off a player on his back, it's all but over.
But how is Swanigan going to earn minutes with the Portland Trail Blazers?
If he settles in as a power forward, he'll be competing with Al-Farouq Aminu, Zach Collins and Noah Vonleh. If he tries to play center, he has Jusuf Nurkic, Meyers Leonard and Ed Davis in the way—assuming Festus Ezeli is officially waived and isn't also ahead in the pecking order.
Swanigan's story—just the fact he's made it to this point—is inspiring. Not only has he overcome weight issues that once saw him balloon to 350 pounds in his early teens, but Swanigan spent his formative years in low-income housing and homeless shelters while his father dealt with addiction issues and his mother attempted to raise him and his many siblings. He was a late bloomer at Purdue but broke out during his sophomore season to become the NCAA's premier double-double threat.
Given that work ethic, Swanigan won't stop grinding. But it's an uphill battle yet again, and his efforts likely won't be rewarded until 2018-19.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 4.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.2 blocks
25. Anzejs Pasecniks, C, Philadelphia 76ers
Last Team: BC VEF Riga
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 7.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.7 blocks
2016-17 Advanced Metrics: 18.4 PER, 66.8 TS%
We'll keep this short and simple.
Anzejs Pasecniks still has two years remaining on his deal with BC VEF Riga, and he'll likely continue to play overseas while both he and the Philadelphia 76ers develop. Bringing him aboard now would hinder his development, as he'd be fighting with Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor for minutes, as well as whatever time Richaun Holmes spends at the 5.
After the draft, he told the Associated Press, per Dan Gelston, "But if the team wants me to stay in Europe for a couple more years, why not?"
If he's playing overseas, it'll be awfully difficult to put up stats in the NBA.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: N/A
24. Tyler Lydon, SF/PF, Denver Nuggets
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.4 blocks
The Denver Nuggets went into the draft with a need to consolidate their roster. Instead, they added even more players capable of contributing by trading down, acquiring Trey Lyles from the Utah Jazz and then using the No. 24 pick on Tyler Lydon.
Unfortunately, there simply isn't room for the versatile forward from Syracuse.
If he's strong enough to handle the NBA, he'd immediately become a solid complement to Nikola Jokic, as he's uniquely able to protect the rim and stretch out the floor with his perimeter jumper. During his sophomore season at Syracuse, he actually became one of only three players in the NCAA to average 1.4 blocks and 3.7 three-point attempts per contest while connecting from beyond the arc at no worse than a 39 percent clip. The other two—Colorado's Derrick White and Incarnate Word's Shawn Johnson—both lined up at guard.
But even if Danilo Gallinari walks in free agency, the list of people Lydon has to beat out for a job is staggering. Juancho Hernangomez, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur and Lyles all stand in the way.
Lydon should receive a few spot minutes at the 3 when the team can afford to play him, but he won't come close to earning any All-Rookie consideration.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 2.8 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.2 blocks
23. OG Anunoby, SF/PF, Toronto Raptors
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks
The only reason OG Anunoby was available to the Toronto Raptors at No. 23 was that he tore his ACL in January. That depressed his stock dramatically, since it's not a guarantee he'll be ready for action at the start of the 2017-18 season. In fact, the Raptors will likely treat him with extreme caution, bringing him along slowly to avoid any setbacks, even if that means throwing him into the fire midway through his rookie campaign.
When the former Indiana standout is ready, he'll immediately thrive on the defensive end. He's so overwhelmingly athletic and possesses such innate instincts that the transition to the sport's highest level will be far easier than it is for most prospects in their teens.
Regardless of whether Serge Ibaka returns or leaves in free agency (and you should bet on the former), Anunoby will have a job. He won't be a starter, but he can serve as a primary backup to both Ibaka and DeMarre Carroll, even potentially joining both defensive stalwarts to form one of the NBA's stingiest frontcourts for short durations.
His offense will come around more slowly, but that's not why he'll be playing as a rookie.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 6.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.9 blocks
22. Jarrett Allen, C, Brooklyn Nets
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 13.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.5 blocks
Jarrett Allen probably won't beat out Timofey Mozgov for the job of Day 1 Brooklyn Nets starting center. But by the end of 2017-18, he should be jumping for the opening tip and intimidating opposing 5s with the hair that makes him look that much taller.
The 19-year-old doesn't yet have the skill necessary to serve as a dark horse in the Rookie of the Year race. He's best when utilizing his rebounding chops, athleticism and knack for rolling to the hoop after setting a screen, but those aren't glamorous contributions. Even though the Nets have forced the ball into their center for offense over the last few seasons, Allen simply isn't Brook Lopez. In many ways, he's the polar opposite.
Eventually, the big man's perimeter stroke should develop. But for the time being, he'll earn minutes by playing quality defense on the interior, crashing the boards with fervor and accepting his role as a player who's only going to score right around the hoop.
If he demands touches, that's bad news. And he shouldn't, even as his lessened points per game mask the value he's adding to the up-and-coming Brooklyn organization.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 6.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.8 blocks
21. Terrance Ferguson, SG/SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Team: Adelaide
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 4.6 points, 1.1 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.3 blocks
2016-17 Advanced Metrics: 5.4 PER, 47.0 TS%
Terrance Ferguson's production with Adelaide in the Australian NBL was actually worse than the per-game numbers might lead you to believe. He averaged 4.6 points and 1.1 rebounds, but those came while he shot 38.1 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from beyond the arc.
He's simply not ready to contribute to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Ferguson is brimming over with potential, thanks to his incredible athleticism and the potential he's shown with his shooting form. Every once in a while, he can settle into a rhythm that allows him to space the floor and show off the three portion of the three-and-D potential.
But again, he's not ready.
If the Thunder were willing to send Josh Huestis to the D-League for an entire year after he was drafted at No. 29, they should be open to following the same course of action with this draft's No. 21 selection. He belongs with the Oklahoma City Blue in what's now known as the G League.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: N/A
20. Harry Giles, C, Sacramento Kings
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 3.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.7 blocks
The Sacramento Kings aren't exactly known for their patience, but they'll need to take it slow with Harry Giles. The big man has already had the ACL repaired in both knees, and injuries ruined what was supposed to be a hyper-productive collegiate career with the Duke Blue Devils.
Lest we forget, Giles was once considered a lock for the top five when he was leaving high school and preparing to work under head coach Mike Krzyzewski. There was a chance he'd wind up as the No. 1 pick, so long as he stayed healthy and kept reminding scouts of a young Kevin Garnett, capable of contributing in every way imaginable on both ends of the floor.
Instead, he played just 11.5 minutes per game and consistently filled a limited role.
That's the attitude Sacramento should have, especially because Giles can reasonably sit behind Skal Labissiere, Kosta Koufos, Georgios Papagiannis and Willie Cauley-Stein on the depth chart. There's competition for minutes whether he's lining up as a power forward or center, and that's a good thing. Keeping Giles on the bench, letting him take a year to get back to full strength and developing him all along the way is the best strategy to promote a future breakout.
First-round picks don't typically replicate their collegiate stats during their rookie seasons, but this is a unique situation.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 3.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 assists, 0.5 blocks
19. John Collins, PF, Atlanta Hawks
School: Wake Forest
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.6 blocks
So much depends on Paul Millsap.
For now, let's assume the Atlanta Hawks are intent on bringing him back and offer him a max deal to dissuade him from chasing a ring elsewhere. After all, new general manager Travis Schlenk responded to the team's Dwight Howard trade by saying, per Peachtree Hoops' Brad Rowland, "Our goal is still to be competitive. Being competitive and increasing our flexibility. That's still where we are. But we're not in a rebuild phase."
If that's the case, John Collins will be taken along slowly. He'll be allowed to develop his mid-range jumper and work on extending his range out to the three-point arc. He'll become more disciplined as a defender, rather than over-pursuing blocks from the weak side and leaving his assignments with open jumpers after the ball is kicked out to them.
Otherwise, Collins might have to play a more significant role. The Hawks wouldn't have many options with which they could replace Millsap, and that would place far more importance on Ersan Ilyasova and the first-round acquisition.
But for now, expect sparse minutes for the young man from Wake Forest. And ultimately, that would be for the best.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 6.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.6 blocks
18. T.J. Leaf, PF, Indiana Pacers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.1 blocks
Playing alongside Lonzo Ball was both the best and worst thing for T.J. Leaf.
It helped him grow as a player, since the point guard's feeds created so many easy opportunities for the freshman counterpart. But he was also massively overshadowed by the Ball family, to the point that far too few realized just how advanced his game had become by the end of the year. Just consider that only 28 players in the entire NCAA managed to top his score in NBA Math's total points added (TPA) metric, only three of whom were fellow first-year players.
Now, Leaf is ready for the next level. And though he won't immediately supplant Thaddeus Young and start alongside Myles Turner, he's not too far from earning that type of spot in the lineup.
The 20-year-old is a tremendous athlete, and that ability manifests itself in so many different ways. Whether he's cutting to the hoop for a thunderous finish, spotting up on the perimeter or showing off his passing skills from the elbows, he can always make the right decisions and find a way to contribute positively.
Don't be surprised when Leaf sneaks his way onto the All-Rookie Second Team, even if he won't be granted enough opportunities to make a run at a first-team spot.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 8.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.6 blocks
17. D.J. Wilson, PF, Milwaukee Bucks
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.5 blocks
The Milwaukee Bucks love getting creative with their rotations, and that's great news for D.J. Wilson.
He can get on the floor if head coach Jason Kidd slides Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker down to the 2 and 3, respectively. He'll also get some action in small-ball lineups, which will ask him to protect the rim more frequently than he ever did at Michigan.
Regardless, Wilson should play. Having Michael Beasley, Mirza Teletovic and Steve Novak keeping him pinned to the pine would be nonsensical, as the 21-year-old can contribute in so many different areas and increase the ceiling of this up-and-coming organization.
Just don't expect massive numbers.
Even if Wilson plays a lot, he'll contribute in ways that aren't necessarily recorded on the box score. He'll contest shots around the hoop that don't result in blocks. He'll set screens to free his teammates, then space the floor with the threat of a triple as they burst toward the basket. He'll swing the ball around to find an open man. These are all valuable traits; they just won't be as easy to recognize without watching the games.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 4.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.9 blocks
16. Justin Patton, C, Minnesota Timberwolves
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.4 blocks
Justin Patton was acquired solely for depth purposes. And frankly, it's amazing the Minnesota Timberwolves had this pick at all, considering the extent to which they swindled the Chicago Bulls in the deal for Jimmy Butler. For quite some time, it'll remain astounding they were able to get the bona fide superstar and the Bulls' original first-round pick while giving up Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and a selection that came only nine slots earlier.
But that's beside the point.
What's important here is that Patton has no conceivable path into the starting lineup. Both he and Karl-Anthony Towns are true centers, and neither one should displace Gorgui Dieng from the spot in which he's been entrenched for the last few years. Ricky Rubio, Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Dieng and Towns should start every game of the 2017-18 campaign, so long as they're all healthy.
Of course, this doesn't mean Patton can't contribute. He'll quickly settle in as the primary backup—a role that would be more important if head coach Tom Thibodeau didn't insist on running his starters into the ground and often refusing to hand major minutes to inexperienced rotation members.
Most of Patton's contributions will come in transition and on the glass during his rookie season, but thriving in those areas is the first step toward earning Thibodeau's unmitigated trust.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 6.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.8 blocks
15. Justin Jackson, SF, Sacramento Kings
School: North Carolina
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 18.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks
With Tyreke Evans hitting the open market as an unrestricted free agent, there's no one standing between Justin Jackson and a starting role for the Sacramento Kings. It may well be in the team's best interest to keep it that way, since the North Carolina product would be a nice steadying presence alongside the other youngsters who figure to join him on the court.
Jackson just doesn't make mistakes. He rarely turns the ball over in spite of passing more frequently than many small forwards who fill similar roles. He doesn't take bad shots, which allows him to remain efficient from all areas of the floor. He's even an opportunistic defender who chooses to position himself well rather than chase after blocks and steals.
Quite simply, he's ready to contribute.
The 22-year-old obviously won't average 18.3 points, as he did during his final season with the Tar Heels, for the Kings. If anything, he'll defer more than ever to the talented teammates joining him in Sacramento and trying to expedite the city's perpetual rebuild.
But consider him another one of those players who doesn't need stellar per-game stats in order to make a positive impact. It would be shocking if the basic numbers are more impressive than the advanced metrics at the end of 2017-18.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 10.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.1 blocks
14. Bam Adebayo, PF/C, Miami Heat
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.5 blocks
As Ryan DiPentima wrote for the Palm Beach Post while doling out a "B" for this selection, "One of the best rebounders and shot-blockers in the draft, [Bam] Adebayo and Hassan Whiteside will create a formidable frontcourt in Miami. That said, drafting a player with the same skill set as Whiteside doesn't make a ton of sense."
I was a bit more harsh.
The Adebayo selection earned a "C" in my own grades, though that wasn't a reflection of the big man's talent. The fit is just so questionable alongside Whiteside, especially in 2017-18, when the Kentucky product won't have expanded his range enough to complement his center counterpart. Sure, they'll be terrifying together on defense, but they may well negate that work by irreparably clogging up the spacing for the drive-and-kick offense that led to last year's second-half surge.
As a result, Adebayo might spend too much time stuck on the pine—and that's assuming Willie Reed doesn't return now that the young center is an unrestricted free agent. He'll thrive on the glass and block plenty of shots when he does earn minutes, but those won't come as frequently as he might like.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 6.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.9 blocks
13. Donovan Mitchell, PG/SG, Utah Jazz
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.5 blocks
Donovan Mitchell was one of this year's fastest risers, surging up draft boards until he landed at No. 13 and was traded to the Utah Jazz. He profiles as a deadly combo guard who can contribute on both ends of the floor, and he should immediately make the most of his athletic ability by locking down opposing wings on every possession.
But do the Jazz have space for him to play a big role?
Right now, it's impossible to tell. George Hill, Gordon Hayward and Joe Ingles could all leave in free agency. They could all return, which would make minutes almost impossible to come by in an over-crowded rotation—until the pesky injury imp strikes again, because, you know, Utah.
For now, we'll play it safe and assume the whole crew returns and decides to run it back with a more expensive roster. That pushes Mitchell behind far too many players to earn consistent action, though he could certainly work his way into the rotation as he continues to improve his shot selection and focus. The numbers just aren't going to be there yet.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 4.1 points, 1.3 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks
12. Luke Kennard, SG, Detroit Pistons
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 19.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks
Rarely is there such a perfect intersection between a team's need and a prospect.
The Detroit Pistons tried to fix their shooting woes throughout the 2016-17 season, but they still finished No. 28 in three-point percentage (33.0 percent) and No. 26 in three-point attempts per game (23.4). That doesn't work in the modern-day NBA, which is one of many reasons they floundered throughout the campaign and failed to make good on their promise.
Luke Kennard can certainly help. He's coming off a season in which he took 5.4 three-pointers per contest and connected on 43.8 percent of them. Even if those marks decline as he adjusts to the rigors of the NBA and the extra distance at which the arc is placed, he'll still provide plenty of floor spacing for a team that so desperately needs it.
The 20-year-old won't do much else. Especially once the Pistons inevitably match an offer sheet to retain Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, he'll be pushed to the bench and asked to play the part of sniper for the second unit. Perhaps he'll be on the floor for crunch time if the squad needs points in bunches of three.
But until he becomes comfortable in the NBA and starts to show off his underrated passing and athleticism, a specialist role is most likely.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 9.6 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks
11. Malik Monk, SG, Charlotte Hornets
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 19.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.5 blocks
The Charlotte Hornets needed another scoring option alongside Kemba Walker, who they ran into the ground midway through the 2016-17 campaign. The point guard was tasked with far too much responsibility, and he wore down around the All-Star break before recovering to lead a second-half playoff push that was ultimately too little, too late.
Malik Monk could help, since he possesses as much scoring potential as anyone in this draft class. His athleticism, handles and touch from the outside give him a diverse array of scoring methods, and he's able to thrive both on the ball and off it, regardless of what position he's filling.
The 19-year-old will be streaky. That much is inevitable. But the scoring outbursts should negate the dry spells as Monk tries to assert himself at the next level, and the Hornets should show patience as he shoots them out of a few games.
Monk won't start for the Hornets; those backcourt roles are reserved for Walker and Nicolas Batum. But he can capably back up both of them, thereby giving Charlotte the depth and scoring spark off the pine it was sorely missing throughout this past season.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 10.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.2 blocks
10. Zach Collins, PF/C, Portland Trail Blazers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 10.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.8 blocks
Let's turn things over to Tim Cato, who explained how exciting Zach Collins' offensive upside is for SB Nation in the immediate aftermath of the draft:
"Right now, Collins is solid offensively. He can finish athletically rolling to the rim, including dunking off lobs. He used his jump shot sparingly, only attempting 0.5 threes per game, but he hit 48 percent of them. He occasionally showed off a face-up mid-range shot, or used the threat of that shot to hit an up-and-under around the rim.
"It's really hard to predict how a player’s jump shot will develop, but Collins seems like the perfect candidate to keep improving. His mechanics are simple and sound, a simple right-handed release that doesn’t waste any motion. Collins needs to add muscle and play more physically, but that’s something that applies to every rookie. He's not a finished product right now, but Collins could be a real offensive force if his skills keep developing."
The Portland Trail Blazers would be wise to read that blurb and act accordingly. Asking Collins to fill too large a role during his rookie season could force him into bad habits that hinder his long-term growth, but they also have to play him enough that he can improve his flaws and make good on the enormous potential.
It's a balancing act.
Collins' numbers at Gonzaga weren't particularly impressive, but it's important to remember he only played 17.3 minutes per game. That's about what he should do in 2017-18 while serving as a primary backup in Rip City's crowded frontcourt rotation, though it'll be a bit tougher to maintain his per-minute efficiency against NBA-caliber opposition.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 8.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.3 blocks
9. Dennis Smith Jr., PG, Dallas Mavericks
School: N.C. State
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.4 blocks
If Dennis Smith Jr. isn't the opening-day starter for the Dallas Mavericks, it'll be downright shocking.
Sure, the franchise could go after a big-name point guard in free agency, but there are two issues with that strategy. First, those attempts have been fruitless in previous offseasons, since the top acquisition was a past-his-prime Deron Williams. Second, doing so would hinder the growth of the new prized prospect, about whom the Mavs had to be thrilled after he fell into their lap at No. 9.
Yogi Ferrell and J.J. Barea are quality players, but they don't have nearly as much upside. Seth Curry and Devin Harris are better suited for the 2. And that leaves Smith in the driver's seat, ready to rack up minutes and show the comparisons to Eric Bledsoe aren't all for naught.
Fortunately for Dallas, Smith displays no fear in his game. He'll begin attacking the hoop from Day 1, which will allow him to showcase the smooth athleticism and quick stop-and-go ability that will eventually turn him into one of the league's premier scoring threats.
Smith may not be terribly efficient while learning on the job, but he's going to put up massive numbers—for a rookie, at least.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 12.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks
8. Frank Ntilikina, PG, New York Knicks
Last Team: Strasbourg IG
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 5.7 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks
2016-17 Advanced Metrics: 11.4 PER, 53.6 TS%
Frank Ntilikina may be an ideal fit for the triangle offense, but he's a raw prospect who isn't yet ready to be thrown into the fire. Of course, that may not stop the New York Knicks if Derrick Rose signs elsewhere and leaves them in the lurch.
Patience will be key for the struggling franchise, even if that's not a trait that comes naturally to large swaths of the fanbase and front office alike. Ntilikina has plenty of length and athleticism, but he's still learning how to mesh those together and create quality production. His shot is shaky, his handle isn't always clean and he has trouble creating his own looks that aren't heavily contested by defenders.
The French floor general will be a serious threat to lead this rookie class in steals per game as he makes the most of his ridiculous 7'1" wingspan. But he won't be too competitive in other categories, regardless of whether the Knicks attempt to force the issue by prematurely anointing him the starter.
If they do that, they can't judge him on an expedited time table. The refrain must be repeated early and often: He's a few years away from becoming a star, and playing heavy minutes won't accelerate the learning curve.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 8.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.4 blocks
7. Lauri Markkanen, PF, Chicago Bulls
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 15.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.5 blocks
If Lauri Markkannen averaged only 9.3 rebounds per 40 minutes while playing out his freshman season in the Pac-12, he's not going to come close to double digits in the NBA, regardless of how much time he spends on the floor. That already correlates to just 8.4 per 36 minutes—a number matched or exceeded by a whopping 66 qualified players in 2016-17, even before factoring in the increased difficulty that comes with the territory.
The 7-footer from Finland will be a liability on the glass. He won't contribute with his passing or defense, either.
But he can shoot the hell out of the ball.
With his quick release that's let go of from a rather high point, his shot is unblockable. Even better contests from professional defenders might not hinder him, allowing him to maintain something close to the scoring rate posted during his freshman year at Arizona: 18.2 points per 36 minutes.
The Chicago Bulls have now plunged fully into a rebuild by trading Jimmy Butler, so there's no reason to keep Markkanen on the bench for too long. He should settle in at around 24 minutes per game during his rookie season, which would make him a near lock to average double-figure points.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 11.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.4 blocks
6. Jonathan Isaac, SF/PF, Orlando Magic
School: Florida State
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 12.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.5 blocks
Jonathan Isaac will come along a bit more slowly than the other elite prospects in this year's draft. He's a raw small forward still just 19 years old, and his frame isn't developed enough to handle the rigors of a full NBA season while filling a major role.
Plus, the Orlando Magic's rotation is still crowded. Whether he's playing small forward or power forward, Isaac will be contending with a horde of players for minutes, and many of them are young enough to boast untapped potential that the coaching staff must keep trying to tease out.
While on the floor, he should thrive as a rebounding forward and defensive ace. He just won't do much on offense as he comes off a season in which he connected on just 34.8 percent of his triples for the Florida State Seminoles. That will come with time, and his free-throw percentage (78 percent) continues to offer hope that he'll develop into a floor-spacing threat who also plays tremendous defense.
Isaac shouldn't factor into this Rookie of the Year race. Just don't make the mistake of thinking that pushes him toward bust status, because it was always going to take time for him to fully catch his stride.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 6.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.1 blocks
5. De'Aaron Fox, PG, Sacramento Kings
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.2 blocks
No one is standing in De'Aaron Fox's way.
He should be the odds-on favorite to begin the 2017-18 campaign as the Sacramento Kings' starting point guard, and it's a role he won't relinquish for many years. His quickness getting to the basket will immediately play well, though it remains troubling that he's so ineffective while shooting from beyond the arc.
Right off the bat, defenses will handle Fox by sagging off and forcing him to launch jumpers. It won't work at the beginning, which will in turn curtail his scoring acumen and force him to become a more willing distributor. Though he averaged 3.6 points for every assist he generated with the Kentucky Wildcats, that ratio should shrink as he learns how to attack NBA defenses and overcome his limitations.
Still, what might be even more impressive is his thievery. Fox's quickness translates to his hands, and he won't hesitate to poke away at the rock and rack up more steals than your typical rookie floor general.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 12.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.1 blocks
4. Josh Jackson, SF, Phoenix Suns
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.1 blocks
Even if Josh Jackson doesn't start, he's going to play heavy minutes.
Devin Booker is brimming over with offensive upside, especially after exploding for 70 points in a single game during his sophomore season. Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss could both develop into new-age bigs capable of competing for All-Star appearances. And yet, Josh Jackson now has the most potential of anyone on the roster.
He's already arguably the best all-around defender in this draft class, and he can show off a diverse array of scoring moves when not falling into passive habits. That'll be the biggest pitfall for him to avoid as a rookie, since it's far too easy for him to conserve energy while hiding in the corner and watching as Booker and Eric Bledsoe do the heavy lifting.
But even if Jackson doesn't thrive as a scoring wing, he's such a well-rounded player that he should still factor into the Rookie of the Year race. Phoenix is just a perfect fit for him, which only increases the potency of his all-around game.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 11.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.0 blocks
3. Jayson Tatum, SF, Boston Celtics
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.1 blocks
In 2003-04, Carmelo Anthony averaged 21.0 points and 6.1 rebounds as a rookie for the Denver Nuggets. But don't get excited yet, because even though that may be the best comparison for Jayson Tatum's offensive game, he won't be getting nearly as many touches.
Anthony went to a Denver squad basically starting from scratch; Andre Miller, Voshon Lenard and a 21-year-old Nene were the team's other leading scorers. But Tatum isn't walking into a similar situation, since he'll be joining a roster that already boasts the services of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Al Horford.
Though he's primarily a scorer, Tatum will have to find other areas in which he can contribute. He'll need to work on his facilitating chops so he can set up his talented teammates, and he'll have to focus more energy on defense than he ever did while going to work at Duke.
The 19-year-old should factor into the rotation, just not in the manner he might have expected—and maybe not as often either, given the plethora of talents in Beantown and another high-upside guy named Jaylen Brown operating at a similar position.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 9.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.6 blocks
2. Lonzo Ball, PG, Los Angeles Lakers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.8 blocks
Will Lonzo Ball's jumper translate to the NBA?
Though it's by no means a consensus opinion, I tend to think it will. Even though he drags the ball across his face to complete his sidewinding motion, he has a consistent release point that's allowing him to launch from a fairly advantageous spot. Plus, his comfort with the step-back jumper allows him to create the extra space he needs against NBA defenders.
What's not up for debate? That would be Ball's finishing ability at the hoop, impressive rebounding for a point guard and remarkable vision that should enable him to make life easier for the many youngsters surrounding him in the revamped Los Angeles Lakers lineup.
Much to his father's chagrin, Ball won't lead Los Angeles into the promised land as a rookie. He will, however, factor strongly into the award races while posting impressive numbers across the board. Everything about his game should translate.
Even that funky jumper.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.6 blocks
1. Markelle Fultz, PG, Philadelphia 76ers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.2 blocks
Markelle Fultz checks all the boxes.
He can thrive as a go-to scorer, whether he's creating his own shots off the bounce or working as an off-ball cutter and spot-up sniper. He can rebound with aplomb. He can create for his teammates, both in the drive-and-kick game and when he's running pick-and-roll action. He can defend a number of positions, allowing him to rack up steals and blocks while getting stops.
And best of all, he's malleable enough to fit with almost any lineup. He should have no trouble blending in with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, which gives him the ability to spend more time on the floor and continue to produce in every situation.
At this stage, everything points toward Fultz winning Rookie of the Year. That's by no means a guarantee, but he's the best prospect in the class, landed in an advantageous spot with talents who complement him nicely and should have no trouble earning minutes from the start. Who's going to get in his way? T.J. McConnell, Sergio Rodriguez or Jerryd Bayless?
Expect big things from Fultz. And expect them right away.
Predicted Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.0 blocks
- Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia 76ers: 18.5
- Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers: 12.9
- Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks: 12.5
- De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings: 12.1
- Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls: 11.9
- Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns: 6.2
- Zach Collins, Portland Trail Blazers: 5.0
- Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls: 4.8
- Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets: 4.5
- Justin Patton, Minnesota Timberwolves: 4.4
- Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers: 8.2
- Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia 76ers: 5.8
- De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings: 5.3
- Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks: 4.5
- Frank Ntilikina, New York Knicks: 4.1
- Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers: 1.5
- Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia 76ers: 1.5
- De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings: 1.5
- Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns: 1.5
- Frank Ntilikina, New York Knicks: 1.4
- Zach Collins, Portland Trail Blazers: 1.3
- Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic: 1.1
- Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns: 1.0
- Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia 76ers: 1.0
- D.J. Wilson, Milwaukee Bucks: 0.9
Points Per Game
Rebounds Per Game
Assists Per Game
Steals Per Game
Blocks Per Game
Rookie of the Year Favorites
What is this not?
It's not a truly scientific look at this year's first-round picks, as we're not running any regressions or factoring efficiency into the rankings. Plus, no second-round selections are included, which is a flaw in and of itself.
It's also not a peek into the long-term futures of these players. Some will develop in more expeditious fashion than others, and expected playing time in 2017-18 alone is heavily factored into these scores.
So, what is this?
Below, you can see a quick look at how all 28 first-round picks expected to log NBA minutes in 2017-18 should stack up as rookies.
Every selection was ranked from one through 28 in each of the five per-game stats we've been going over. The leader received the full 28 points, second place received 27 and so on, until the last-place finisher got only one. Because points, rebounds and assists are the more glamorous stats, we're tripling the scores in those categories, which makes the maximum possible points in any of those three categories 84.
The five scores were added up, such that a perfect overall grade would be 308. The worst would be 11, and projected points per game served as the tiebreaker.
With that, we can provide an initial, nonscientific look at how the first-round prospects will stack up:
1. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia 76ers: 281
2. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers: 272
3. Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns: 272
4. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks: 224
5. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings: 212
6. T.J. Leaf, Indiana Pacers: 193
7. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics: 192
8. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls: 190
9. OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors: 190
10. Zach Collins, Portland Trail Blazers: 187
11. Frank Ntilikina, New York Knicks: 181
12. Josh Hart, Los Angeles Lakers: 171
13. Justin Jackson, Sacramento Kings: 169
14. Justin Patton, Minnesota Timberwolves: 163
15. Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic: 153
16. Malik Monk, Charlotte Hornets: 148
17. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat: 142
18. Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets: 140
19. Luke Kennard, Detroit Pistons: 133
20. D.J. Wilson, Milwaukee Bucks: 112
21. John Collins, Atlanta Hawks: 109
22. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz: 90
23. Caleb Swanigan, Portland Trail Blazers: 89
24. Harry Giles, Sacramento Kings: 84
25. Derrick White, San Antonio Spurs: 76
26. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers: 58
27. Tyler Lydon, Denver Nuggets: 43
28. Tony Bradley, Utah Jazz: 41
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.