Projecting the Top 2017-18 NBA Rookie at Every Position

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterSeptember 13, 2017

Projecting the Top 2017-18 NBA Rookie at Every Position

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Forget about the long term. This season's NBA rookies are ready to step in and make an impact right away.

    We're projecting the top newcomer at point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center for the upcoming season.

    Making predictions is about more than assessing talent. Fit and opportunity are also taken into account.

    To determine the top rookie at every position, we picked the player expected to have the best balance of production, efficiency and impact.

Center: Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat)

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    It's a thin center group from the 2017 class. Plus, unlike guards or forwards, only one 5 plays at a time in the NBA, and some teams aren't starting any at all.

    Bam Adebayo should still have a defined role coming off the Miami Heat bench. He possesses the tools, athleticism and motor required to own that simplified role right away.

    Run the floor, crash the glass, roll and finish around the hoop—he'll play to his strengths, tapping into an overwhelming mix of power, length, speed and explosiveness. Even without post touches or shooting range, Adebayo can get himself easy baskets and rebounds.

    But he'll surprise every so often with back-to-the-basket footwork and mid-range touch. Adebayo had an incredibly bright green light at NBA Summer League, which led to some poor shots. He still flashed developing scoring ability, averaging 16.7 points and even going for 29 against the Indiana Pacers. His 79.1 percent mark on 67 free-throw attempts was another encouraging number regarding his offensive growth.


    Honorable mentions

    Zach Collins, the only other center taken in the lottery, could also see time behind Jusuf Nurkic in Portland. He's skilled and light on his feet. Collins just played 17.3 minutes per game during one season at Gonzaga and will need a year before he can be consistently relied on.

    Jarrett Allen should see extended time as a Brooklyn Nets rookie. He'll impress with elbow and baseline jumpers and a hook shot, but questions about his toughness, motor and suspect college rebounding/shot-blocking rates cloud his short-term outlook.

Power Forward: Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)

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    Ben Simmons isn't a traditional power forward, but assuming the Philadelphia 76ers start two guards in Markelle Fultz and JJ Redick, 2016's No. 1 pick will line up next to Joel Embiid at the 4.

    Listed at 6'10", 240 pounds, Simmons will cause problems with his unique mix of size, strength, foot speed and coordination. Opposing bigs are going to struggle against his ball-handling and face-up play. His vision and passing acumen will naturally translate to assists.

    Simmons is also looking at a featured role with the offense expected to run through him as the primary playmaker.

    Given his broad shoulders, good hands and instincts, his college rebounding success (18.2 REB percentage) should carry over as well. Though not advanced around the perimeter or in the post, he'll score enough off transition and improvisation in the lane using signature righty and lefty runners.

    Simmons looks poised to produce in three key categories while staying relatively efficient. He'll likely deserve more credit than Philadelphia's 2017 No. 1 pick should the Sixers make the playoffs.


    Honorable mentions

    The first power forward taken in 2017, Jonathan Isaac will need time to approach his ceiling. He's flashed upside at both ends of the floor, but without polish, strength or supporting talent in Orlando, he won't match Simmons' impact this season.

    Lauri Markkanen will intrigue with flashes of three-point shooting and perimeter scoring. He just needs time to build his body and presence around the basket. Playing in one of the weakest lineups in the league in Chicago, Markkanen could struggle inside the arc as a finisher, rebounder and defender.

    No. 19 pick John Collins is a sleeper given the available minutes in Atlanta, his explosive athleticism and budding skills. Questions over his shooting and defense suggest he's a better bet to break out in year No. 2.

Small Forward: Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics)

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Jayson Tatum appears to meet the NBA-ready criteria with plenty of size, length, college production and an obvious skill level that sets him apart. A simplified role alongside stars and veterans in Boston should help Tatum rise to the top of the small forward rookie list in 2017-18.

    His ability to hit tough shots will always come in handy, but he shouldn't have to take as many when given the chance to play with Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. Tatum can play to his strengths as a scorer without an overwhelming workload. Hayward or even Jaylen Brown should draw opposing teams' top wing defenders.

    Tatum made a ton of noise in summer league, not just by averaging 18.2 points, but by schooling opponents with next-level moves, footwork and execution. Advanced offensively, in a good spot and able to ease his way in, Tatum should finish the season with a balanced mix of production, efficiency and impact stretches.


    Honorable mentions

    Josh Jackson has a clearer path to regular minutes with the Phoenix Suns than Tatum. He'll earn them with athleticism, secondary playmaking and defensive versatility. But a weaker perimeter game will make him easier to guard and lead to offensive inefficiency.

    Justin Jackson should have some promising moments this year in Sacramento. The Kings are thin on the wing, and Jackson comes in with three years of college experience and a North Carolina-record 105 made threes last season. But playing for a weak team, he's also likely to struggle with inefficiency, limited as both an athlete and shot-creator.

Shooting Guard: Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz)

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    Donovan Mitchell will have the best season among rookie shooting guards after seeing two go right before him in the draft.

    With a tremendous mix of strength, length and athleticism, Mitchell offers both offensive firepower and defensive pressure. He's going to force Jazz coach Quin Snyder to play him, even if it means moving Rodney Hood to the 3 and other wings up to the 4.

    Mitchell transformed himself at Louisville in 2016-17, becoming a much-improved shot-creator and dangerous shooter (80 threes) while leading the ACC in steals per game (2.1). Everything then came together at summer league, where he averaged 20.4 points and racked up 22 steals in just five games.

    He brings a different element of explosiveness and intensity than any of Utah's guards, something that should help him earn minutes, even through inevitable stretches of streaky offense and decision-making.


    Honorable mentions

    Malik Monk is still bothered by the ankle injury that cost him summer league, Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford told the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell. Though Monk is one of the top rookie athletes and shot-makers, being limited during his first NBA offseason puts him behind the eight ball.

    Skilled with size and elite shooting ability, Luke Kennard could sneak up on teams, and the Detroit Pistons don't have trustworthy backups behind Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris. Kennard will rank behind Mitchell due to questions about his lack of strength, athleticism, length and speed.

Point Guard: Dennis Smith Jr. (Dallas Mavericks)

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    Dennis Smith Jr. is a threat to outperform each of the four point guards drafted before him.

    He has everything going for him to build a Rookie of the Year case, from his athleticism and skill level to a perfect opportunity in Dallas.

    Smith will put pressure on defenses with his first step, change of speed, explosive leaping and pull-up jumper. He should have a green light as the Mavericks' lead guard during a rebuilding year.

    Oozing with confidence, Smith is built to score, but he's also flashed enough playmaking over the years and should be capable of getting teammates involved, especially with support he didn't have at North Carolina State.

    The Mavericks won't be playoff-bound, but Smith should still have a beneficial balance of weapons around him and minutes to produce.

    He looked steps ahead of the summer league competition and jumps out as an early NBA Rookie of the Year favorite.


    Honorable mentions

    Lonzo Ball will be Smith's toughest competitor, given the likelihood that his unmatched IQ and passing translates to assists and easier shots for Los Angeles Lakers teammates. The question is how much he'll score as a rookie without next-level burst or a mid-range game.

    Markelle Fultz remains the pick as the top long-term prospect in the draft, and he'll still score plenty this season. But with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid ahead in the pecking order and JJ Redick now there to steal shots, fewer touches and a major role adjustment should lead to rookie inconsistency and a reduced assist rate.


    Stats courtesy of and