This year’s rookie class is widely considered to be stacked with talent, and after almost an entire season, we’re starting to get a sense of how each of them is performing. So this week we’re asking, if the season ended ended today, who would be on your NBA 1st and 2nd All-Rookie Teams? Whether Dennis Smith Jr. makes your list or not, please explain your reasons why.
Jordan (@Jbrodess): I think it all probably comes down to the fifth spot because Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, Lauri Markkanen and Jayson Tatum are givens. Simmons and Mitchell have been playing at a high level, and are helping lead their teams to playoff contention, and Markkanen is on a garbage team but managing to rise above it and produce (more than most expected). And yes, Tatum is playing on a top-tier team, so there is less pressure on him, but he’s playing like a vet and his shooting is elite. That last spot is probably between DSJ and Kyle Kuzma. Advanced stats aren’t too kind to Dennis Smith Jr., but my heart wants to give it to him. Still, I won’t be surprised if the coaches pick Kuzma. Heck, I won’t be surprised if it goes to Lonzo Ball, depending on how all these guys finish the last month of the year.
So depending on how the last spot shakes out (but I’ll give the nod to DSJ), give me Kuzma, Ball, John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Bam Adebayo for that second team. Although OG Anunoby, Jarrett Allen, and Josh Jackson deserve consideration.
Dalton (@dalton_trigg): This has been one of the most talented draft classes in recent NBA history. They’ve definitely lived up to the hype so far. Some of the top picks, for different reasons (injuries being the main one though), haven’t really taken off as expected. But that’s been made up for by the surprise emergences of Donovan Mitchell in Utah and Kyle Kuzma in L.A.
If the season ended today, this is how my ballot would look for the all-rookie teams:
1st team — Dennis Smith Jr., Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons, Lauri Markkanen
2nd team — Lonzo Ball, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Josh Jackson, Kyle Kuzma, Bam Adebayo
My reasoning for Smith being on the first team is pretty simple. He’s fourth among all rookies in scoring this season. He’s third in assists, and at only 6’3, he’s currently 11th in rebounds. He’s also fifth in steals.
To be fair, Smith also has the second-highest usage percentage among rookies (Mitchell is first), so you’d expect him to be high on all those lists. He’s had his bumps in the road like every rookie does, especially when it comes to his efficiency, but I think Smith’s total body of work will be enough to get him on that 1st team. Smith’s had five games this year where he’s put up at least 20 points, five assists and five rebounds, including 21/10/10 in New Orleans and 22/8/8 in Washington. He’s also had five points/assists double-double games, which ranks third among rookies (again, Simmons is labeled as a PG).
If Smith is not on the 1st team, he’s definitely a lock for the 2nd team.
Nick (@NickVanExit): Simmons, Mitchell, and Tatum are givens for 1st Team. That leaves two spots for Kyle Kuzma, Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball, and Dennis Smith Jr.
At this point, can we just stop and remember that last year’s 1st Team All-Rookie consisted of Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Malcolm Brogdon, Buddy Hield, and Willy Hernangomez? This year’s class provides a welcome argument. Ball, Kuzma, Markkanen, and Smith Jr. have all had good rookie years and might beat out everyone but Embiid from last year’s 1st Team All-Rookie. But since there’s only two spots left, it’s time to split some hairs.
Ball has played between 15-21 fewer games than the other three. That’s probably enough to knock him down to 2nd Team despite averaging 10 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, averages that are only being put up by Lebron James, Russell Westbrook, Ben Simmons, and Draymond Green.
Neither of the three remaining are giving you much on the defensive end, at least not enough to create separation from the others.
Like Ball, Smith Jr. is averaging numbers that only a few players (18) in the league are putting up—and 12 of them were All-Stars this year. The big knock on DSJ will be his shooting (47.3 percent true shooting) and the fact that he eats up more possessions than all but 19 players in the NBA (28.7 perent usage rate). But those aren’t big enough to convince me to drop him to 2nd Team, so DSJ makes the cut.
The leaves the impossible task of choosing between Kuzma and Marakkenen, whose numbers are eerily similar offensively down to their shared 54.3 percent true shooting percentage. Kuzma had been a lock to make 1st Team, but since the turn of the calenda,r the rookie wall Super Smashed the bro right in the face. In 2017 Kuz was averaging 17.9 points and 6.7 rebounds in 32.5min while shooting 47/39/76. Now in 2018 he’s averaging 12 points and five rebounds in 26.5min while shooting 41/33/54. Yikes.
Markkanen has remained relatively consistent over the course of the year, so if Kuzma keeps trending in this downward direction he might have to join his fellow Laker in the 2nd Team.
The rest of the 2nd Team should include O.G. Anunoby, who’s starting on the best team in the East, Rising Stars MVP Bogdan Bogdanovic, and one of De’Aaron Fox, John Collins, and Josh Jackson. Right now, I’d say it’s De’Aaron Fox but could be convinced otherwise.
1st Team: Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Dennis Smith Jr., Lauri Markkanen
2nd Team: Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, O.G. Anunoby, Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Aaron Fox
Ian (@SmitheeMMB): First team: Lonzo Ball, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons, Lauri Markannen
Second team: Dennis Smith Jr., Bogdan Bogdanovic, O.G. Anunoby, Kyle Kuzma, Bam Adebayo
I have Dennis on the second team because I can’t rightly make an argument for him over the guys on the first team. For all the negative attention Lonzo has received, he’s actually been a bright spot for the Lakers, showing off the diverse skillset stat-fiends swooned over, all while defending much better than I personally expected. He may never ever develop an in-between game, and it might not matter. He does everything else so well that I still think he has superstar upside.
As others have mentioned, this is a really really good rookie class. Simmons just makes it unfair. When you consider that the guy picked first overall isn’t even playing this season, I’d wager this turns out to be the best class of the decade, in terms of depth.