Now that the 2017 NBA Draft is in the rear-view mirror, it is time to take a look at the class and figure out who stands the best chance to excel as rookies.
The Phoenix suns stayed true to their need of a wing player to team up with Devin Booker by adding former Kansas forward Josh Jackson at No. 4 overall. Potentially already pegged as a starter out of the gate, Jackson should have himself a tremendous rookie season.
The same can be said for a certain shooting guard from Kentucky that finds himself in a perfect situation with the Charlotte Hornets. These are among the six NBA rookies set to dominate this upcoming season.
Josh Jackson, forward, Phoenix Suns
Phoenix surely has some decisions to make in the backcourt. Devin Booker is the unquestioned starting two-guard and will vie for an All-Star appearance this season. But the point guard position is completely unsettled.
The Suns shut down second-leading scorer Eric Bledsoe for the final month of the season. It was a way to keep him healthy and his trade value high. Fellow veteran Brandon Knight dealt with injuries throughout the season and didn’t perform up to previous levels. Meanwhile, former second-round pick Tyler Ulis gave the Suns hope that he could be the point guard of the future in the desert.
All of this will have an impact on what Jackson does as a rookie. Depending on who Phoenix acquires for Bledsoe (should he be traded), there’s a darn good chance the rookie No. 4 pick from Kansas could be the team’s starting small forward out of the gate.
As a freshman for the Jayhawks last season, Jackson averaged 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds while shooting at a tremendous 38 percent clip from distance. He has the range to be a prolific scorer at this level. And with the presence of Booker out on the perimeter, we envision Jackson seeing a lot of open shots in 2017-18. If so, there’s absolutely no reason he can’t vie for Rookie of the Year honors.
Dennis Smith Jr., guard, Dallas Mavericks
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 23, 2017
An athletic freak. That’s the term many have used to describe this former North Carolina State standout. He proved this over and over again as the ACC Rookie of the Year for the Wolfpack last season, averaging 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game. Smith Jr. also shot at a 51 percent clip from inside the three-point range, proving he can be a solid two-way player on offense.
Sure Smith Jr. will have to improve his perimeter game from being streaky to consistent. He’s also not one of the best on-ball defenders. But his ability to create off the dribble and run an offense is something the Mavericks have been searching for over the past several seasons.
As a top-10 pick at a position of utmost need, there’s really no reason to believe Smith Jr. can’t start out of the gate. Seth Curry has shown well in spurts. In fact, he shot 43 percent from three-point range last season. Though, the former Duke standout projects as a two-guard moving forward.
Meanwhile, Yogi Ferrell jumped on to the scene early after being brought on from Brooklyn last season. It didn’t last, as he struggled shooting with the season progressing.
Needless to say, the starting point guard job is Smith’s to have. He’ll have to earn it in camp, but all suggestions remain that he will play a huge role for the Mavericks as a rookie.
Malik Monk, guard, Charlotte Bobcats
Charlotte’s primary goal heading into the offseason was to find a true running partner for All-Star point guard Kemba Walker. After surprisingly falling on to their laps at No. 11 overall, Monk should be able to provide that immediately.
Here’s a guy that averaged 19.8 points and shot at a 40 percent mark from distance en route to earning SEC Player of the Year honors as a freshman for Kentucky last season. That’s the type of production we simply cannot look past.
“Definitely buying into a shot-maker like that,” one NBA scout said of Monk prior to the draft, via Bleacher Report. “If he was 6’5″, everyone would say he’s the potential top pick.”
This is exactly what the Hornets need to go with Walker. That is to say, someone who can consistently drain the open shot. Too often over the past several seasons, Walker has seen double teams thrown his way.
Opponents simply didn’t want him to beat them off the dribble. With one of the best perimeter shooters from the 2017 NBA Draft class working with him moving forward, this definitely won’t be an issue.
It should also lead to open shots for Monk, which could easily push him into the ROY conversations. That’s only magnified by what is expected to be a huge usage rate out of the gate.
The idea of Charlotte going with a one-through-three of Walker, Monk and Nicolas Batum bodes well for the team’s wing game. That’s why this pick was so darn sexy.
De’Aaron Fox, guard, Sacramento Kings
Speed kills in the NBA. Just look at how Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry continue to dominate in that aspect of the game. While nowhere near those two in terms of shooting and on-court presence, Fox is about as athletic as they come.
Dude can beat pretty much anyone in today’s NBA off the dribble. And with an ability to finish in the lane, excitement has finally been brought to California’s capital city.
It’s not that Fox can’t shoot, either. He put up a 52 percent mark from two-point range in his only season with Kentucky. The issue here is that his shooting ability doesn’t extend beyond the mid-range game. Last season saw Fox shoot just 25 percent from distance.
This likely won’t be a huge deal considering Sacramento has an elite-level three-point shooter in the form of Buddy Hield on the roster.
In reality, Fox and Hield make up a tremendous one-two-punch in the backcourt. They should complement one another extremely well. Fox’s ability to drive and dish will lead to open shots for Hield. Meanwhile, Hield’s ability from distance should give Fox a ton of opportunities to do what he does best. Drive to the lane.
Jordan Bell, forward, Golden State Warriors
After trading with the Bulls…
Warriors get Oregon PF Jordan Bell with the No. 38 pick pic.twitter.com/GqazwCxPS9
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 23, 2017
Like clockwork, the defending champion Warriors somewhat made themselves the talk of the second round. The team sent $3.5 million in cold hard cash to the Chicago Bulls to select Bell early in the second round.
The reigning Pac 12 defensive player of the year was absolutely tremendous this past season in Eugene. He averaged 10.9 points and 8.8 rebounds while shooting at an absurd 64 percent from the field.
In the mold of a Draymond Green, Bell will immediately make the Warriors’ rotation and should be a defensive stopper on the second team. Remember, here’s a dude that put up 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks against Kansas in the Elite 8 this past March.
This is where Bell will make his mark. He still has not found a consistent jump shot. But he’s as athletic as they come and can dominate on the defensive end. It’s something the Warriors will need with the vast amount of free agents they have on the second team. Hence, why Golden State exhausted a huge financial capital to acquire Bell in a trade on draft night.
Markelle Fultz, guard, Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia’s roster is definitely front-court heavy. The likes of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Jahlil Okafor make up a strong group in that area. This is one of the reasons the Sixers went out there and traded up to the top spot to select the reigning Pac 12 Player of the Year.
Fultz, who can play both guard positions, was absolutely dominant in his only season with Washington. He averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists while shooting at a 48 percent clip from the field. The youngster also added a 41 percent mark from distance.
With tremendous penetration ability and an elite-level mid-range jumper, Fultz will definitely be a dynamic performer early in his career. Add in a range most point guards don’t possess, and that’s magnified even further. With an expected usage rate of a starter as a rookie, it would not be an absolute shock to see Fultz average 20-plus points per game in Philly. If so, he’ll be looked to as a dominant early-career performer.