Building the Perfect NBA Rookie from This Year's Draft Class

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterAugust 15, 2017

Building the Perfect NBA Rookie from This Year's Draft Class

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    David Dow/Getty Images

    The perfect NBA rookie doesn't exist, so we created one to help illuminate the elite strengths of the top prospects from the 2017 class.

    Athleticism, physical attributes/defense, intelligence, ball skills, footwork and motor were all considered in the lab. 

    We are looking to build the toughest mismatch who can fly, score, pass, defend, play hard and make teammates better. And it wasn't difficult, given how much ground this group covers and its number of unique, talented prospects.

Dennis Smith's Athleticism

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    Athleticism fuels upside, and Dennis Smith Jr. packs both.

    The perfect rookie would have his first and last step. Smith's blow-by burst creates opportunities and keeps all five defenders on high alert. Meanwhile, his ability to explode above the rim leads to easy baskets, free throws and the hang time to adjust and finish through shot-blockers.  

    "Dennis Smith is like the young Derrick Rose with a jumper," BballBreakdown's Coach Nick tweeted.

    Like John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and Russell Westbrook, he's the rare point guard who can drive into a dunk against a set halfcourt defense.

OG Anunoby's Physical Attributes and Defense

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    Athleticism: Dennis Smith Jr.
    Attributes/Defense: OG Anunoby

    Picture Smith, but at 6'8", 235 pounds with a 7'2" wingspan. 

    Measurement-wise, he mirrors Trevor Ariza, only Anunoby checked in 31 pounds stronger pre-draft.

    His tools are tough to beat. They mix size, strength and length that could allow our ideal rookie to play guard, wing, forward or small-ball center, but also defend those positions. 

    "With the league moving toward positionless lineups that switch screens at every opportunity, a player with Anunoby’s physical tools is the gold standard," The Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks wrote. "He could be the biggest player on the floor in a small lineup, or one of the smallest players on the floor in a big one."

    Anunoby may wind up being the draft's most versatile defender, capable of covering 1 through 5, locking down and making exciting plays on the ball as a thief and shot-blocker (2.1 steals, 2.1 blocks per 40 minutes).

    Just imagine if he had possessed the No. 1 overall pick's offensive ball skills.

Markelle Fultz's Ball Skills

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    Athleticism: Dennis Smith Jr.
    Attributes/Defense: OG Anunoby
    Ball skills: Markelle Fultz

    Markelle Fultz separates himself from the pack with ball skills that translate to high-level scoring and playmaking.

    His handle and off-the-dribble game incorporate nasty change of speed and direction to freeze defenders. He finds ways to shake his man in isolation or split screens, which sets up opportunities for both himself and teammates.

    Having converted 41.3 percent from three (126 attempts) and 43.8 percent on two-point jumpers, Fultz also offers versatile, accurate shot-making from all three levels. 

    The ability to put the ball in the hole will always remain Fultz's signature strength, but he can pass as well, both in the pick-and-roll and drive-and-dish games. His assist percentage (35.5 percent) at Washington was higher than Lonzo Ball's (31.4), De'Aaron Fox's (28.6) and Smith's (34.2).

Jayson Tatum's Footwork

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    Athleticism: Dennis Smith Jr.
    Attributes/Defense: OG Anunoby
    Ball skills: Markelle Fultz
    Footwork: Jayson Tatum

    The perfect rookie so far blends Smith's bounce, Anunoby's tools and Fultz's ball skills. Adding the third overall pick's feet would enhance our rookie monster even further.

    Sharp footwork is behind Jayson Tatum's advanced shot-creativity. ESPN's Fran Fraschilla called it "10-year vet stuff."

    Off the dribble, Tatum separates with timely, balanced step-backs. Out of triple-threat position, without even bouncing the ball, he'll create just enough room to rise and shoot by jab-stepping into his man and rocking him backward.

    He's put on shows in the post playing with his back to the basket, shaking free from defenders off up-and-under moves or unpredictable pivots into fallaways.

    Tatum happens to be a terrific shot-maker as well, but it's his footwork that deserves credit for his ability to create scoring opportunities. 

Lonzo Ball's Brain

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    Athleticism: Dennis Smith Jr.
    Attributes/Defense: OG Anunoby
    Ball skills: Markelle Fultz
    Footwork: Jayson Tatum
    Brain: Lonzo Ball

    Lonzo Ball isn't the best athlete, ball-handler or scorer. He was drafted second mostly because of what's between his ears.

    Ball's basketball IQ drives his value. His decision-making and vision lead to higher-quality shots for teammates. He led the country and Las Vegas Summer League in assists, while Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley predicts he'll average 7.7 per game as a rookie.

    Ball just has a knack for pushing the right buttons (transition pushes, full-court passes, crosscourt skips, hit the trailer, over-the-top post entry) at the right times. 

    He makes quick decisions, a tendency that's tied to his unselfishness and court awareness in terms of knowing where everyone is. 

    Our perfect rookie can jump like Smith, create and score like Fultz and Tatum and guard at least four positions with Anunoboy's size, length and strength. Now, he can lead a team and run an offense like Ball, whose floor game makes everyone else's job easier.

Jordan Bell's Motor

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    Athleticism: Dennis Smith Jr.
    Attributes/Defense: OG Anunoby
    Ball skills: Markelle Fultz
    Footwork: Jayson Tatum
    Brain: Lonzo Ball
    Motor: Jordan Bell

    A relentless motor completes our perfect rookie who's already explosive, long, skilled and bright.

    He'll borrow Jordan Bell's. He plays hard and impacts games without taking dribbles or shots. 

    "Everyone loves Jordan Bell's athleticism, but what separates him is his motor," Fox Sports' Doug Gottlieb tweeted.

    Despite playing center, he led Oregon in made field goals at the rim in transition, where he beats defenses down the floor. Bell crashes the offensive glass (4.0 per 40 minutes) and flies out of nowhere to block shots (3.1 per 40 minutes) from the weak side.

    Bell's motor gives our athletic, smart and versatile two-way rookie a spark of energy and competitiveness.

The Results

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Our rookie creation mixes Smith's athleticism, Anunoby's tools/defensive potential, Fultz's ball skills, Tatum's footwork, Ball's basketball IQ and Bell's motor. 

    We've essentially cooked up another LeBron James, an athletic, two-way scoring point forward who plays with effort and basketball IQ.

    It wasn't the plan going in, but the similarities between the perfect 2018 rookie and James are apparent and point to just how unique Cleveland's leader truly is. 


    Stats courtesy of, Wingspans courtesy of