Every Top NBA Rookie's Rookie of the Year Case for 2017-18
The 2018 NBA Rookie of the Year race is going to be wildly competitive.
Every top-10 pick possesses the talent to win the award, so the race may come down to those who have big roles to fill or contribute meaningful production to a winning team. Some will build their case around stats, while others will earn votes with impact play that shows in the standings.
We'll assume De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Donovan Mitchell and Luke Kennard are long shots, as each are projected to begin the year as backups. Meanwhile, Jonathan Isaac, Lauri Markkanen and Frank Ntilikina should struggle with inefficiency for weaker teams.
Based on their college production, first-year roles and raw talent, the following six players appear to be the most viable Rookie of the Year candidates heading into the 2017-18 season.
Lonzo Ball (Los Angeles Lakers, PG)
Ball's case built around: Assists and impact
An instant threat to current NBA assist leaders, Lonzo Ball will build a Rookie of the Year case with passes and wins.
The award traditionally goes to a scorer, but Ball's case will have to revolve around impact. He'll receive substantial credit for the Lakers overachieving since he'll be their primary decision-maker and playmaker. He'll earn votes by propelling the team up the rankings in offensive efficiency (No. 24), just as he did for the UCLA Bruins (from No. 51 to No. 2).
He's also a bigger threat to routinely double-double than Markelle Fultz and Dennis Smith Jr., which should help make up for the likelihood that Ball won't outscore either.
Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers, PG/PF)
Simmons' case built around: Across-the-board production and wins
Joel Embiid will still be the Philadelphia 76ers' top option, but the team's offense could run through Ben Simmons.
A unique passer and strong rebounder, Simmons should be an immediate triple-double threat. He isn't known for one-on-one scoring or shooting, but he'll find ways to put up enough points using transition, drives and second chances on the offensive glass.
Across-the-board production will help his case, but so will wins. And the full-strength Sixers are poised to compete for a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Leading them there while playing the point-forward role should help Simmons earn Rookie of the Year votes.
Dennis Smith Jr. (Dallas Mavericks, PG)
Smith's case built around: Scoring and assist production
Dennis Smith Jr.'s explosiveness, college production and an exciting summer league suggest he's ready to make an immediate impact in the NBA. The Dallas Mavericks will give him a suitable platform to build a Rookie of the Year case.
He could be looking at around 30 minutes a game as the team's lead guard. Inefficiency and losses will work against him, but Smith should earn votes with impressive stats. Averages of at least 15 points, six assists and 1.5 steals—similar to his college numbers—aren't out of the question.
Between his athleticism, high skill level and opportunity, Smith has everything he needs to overtake Simmons, Ball and Markelle Fultz on the rookie ladder. Seeing four other guards get drafted before him could provide him with additional motivation, too.
Markelle Fultz (Philadelphia 76ers, PG/SG)
Fultz's case built around: Scoring and wins
Even with Simmons and Embiid expected to dominate touches, Markelle Fultz could still play a big role for the playoff-chasing 76ers. If he can help the Sixers reach the postseason and finishes second on the team behind Embiid in scoring, he'll have a realistic shot at taking home Rookie of the Year.
Athletic, long and exceptionally skilled, the draft's No. 1 pick just averaged 23.2 points per game at Washington despite being its only player defenses had to game-plan for. That won't be the case this year, given all the attention Embiid and Simmons will draw and JJ Redick's shooting in the backcourt.
Fultz will have to adjust from being a ball-dominator to a secondary option, but more supporting weapons could also mean fewer tough shots.
With the Dallas Mavericks (Smith) and Los Angeles Lakers (Ball) in jeopardy of struggling in the West and Jayson Tatum likely coming off the bench in Boston, Fultz could steal some Rookie of the Year votes if the 76ers improve substantially. His teammate, Simmons, could ultimately be his biggest threat.
Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics, SF)
Tatum's case built around: Scoring and wins
Jayson Tatum would be one of the Rookie of the Year favorites had he gone to just about any other lottery team than the loaded Boston Celtics. Regardless, he'll still have a shot.
Highly skilled with next-level footwork and NBA physical tools, Tatum enters the league ready to score. The trade that sent Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving created more room in Boston's wing rotation, too.
For Tatum to take home the award, he'll likely have to beat out Marcus Morris for minutes and occasionally play out of position. Head coach Brad Stevens' willingness to use non-traditional lineups helps his chances of finding time.
Emerging as a double-digit scorer for a top-two team in the East should ultimately help Tatum earn votes.
Josh Jackson (Phoenix Suns, SF)
Jackson's case built around: Two-way impact
A Rookie of the Year long shot, Josh Jackson will first have to win the starting job over TJ Warren. He'll have a chance to do so with athleticism and versatility at both ends of the floor.
Jackson must start building his Rookie of the Year case on defense, where he's flashed the quickness and intensity to lock down and the ability to guard up to four positions.
Though he isn't as polished offensively as Tatum or any top rookie guard, he can still score and pass. In fact, he has improved significantly over the years as a ball-handler and shot-maker.
The next step for Jackson is becoming more consistent from three-point range, which should also give him the edge over Warren for minutes.
Jackson, who turns 21 in February, is significantly older than the other one-and-done freshmen from 2017. He should be physically ready to compete, and he has enough skill and opportunity to make a name for himself right away.