Way Too Early ROTY
The 2017-2018 NBA season probably hosted the most dramatic Rookie of the Year race since Steve Francis and Elton Brand shared the award in the 1999-2000 season. The entire season NBA Execs, coaches, players, and media all debated who should win the award. It was between Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons (and if he deserved the award after sitting out his first season with injury) or Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, a true rookie. The race was filled with clothing saying “Rookie?” and petty comments made to certain media members. At the end of the season, the NBA awards show finally announced that Ben Simmons was the winner of the award.
With this being one of the most dramatic and fun Rookie of the Year races to date and Summer League starting right around the corner, I’ve decided to do a Way Too Early ROTY for the incoming 2018-2019 NBA Rookie class. I will outline five players from this rookie class who I think will be strong candidates to win the award next season.
5.) Michael Porter Jr. (Denver Nuggets)
MPJ is kind of my dark horse but not really my dark horse for ROY. Drafted 14th overall by the Denver Nuggets, in the last spot of the lottery, Porter Jr. could easily be the sleeper of this draft class. MPJ played just 2 minutes at Missouri as a freshman before suffering a lower back injury that required surgery and was expected to keep him out for the entire 2017-18 college season. Porter Jr. ended up playing 3 total games for the Tigers, including a game in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball tournament. In those 3 games, MPJ averaged 10.0 PPG and 6.7 Rebs on 33% shooting. While in high school and before the injury, MPJ was projected to go top 2 in this year’s draft behind Luka Doncic. In his senior season, he averaged a massive 36.2 points and 13.6 rebounds, while leading his team to a perfect record and state title. I have Michael Porter Jr. here as my dark horse because, as previously stated, he would have gone in the top 2 of the draft if not for his lower back injury. Sure, Porter has some injury concerns going into a full NBA season. He has even said if the team that drafts him wants him to redshirt his rookie season to get healthy, then he will do it. If Porter does play this season and is healthy, he could shock a lot of teams that passed on him.Porter might have been drafted in the perfect position to win the ROTY race. The Denver Nuggets desperately need size and solid wing play to push them over the top and become a consistent playoff team. MPJ is just that, standing at 6’10” with a 7 foot wingspan, with the handling ability of a guard and a sweet jump shot. He has already drawn NBA comparisons to Kevin Durant because of his length and ability to create his own shot. Porter Jr. could be the perfect fit with Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Paul Milsap. He will be able to stretch the floor and essentially play positonless basketball because of his height and length. While defenses are concentrated on the outside shooting ability of Murray, Milsap, and Harris, MPJ will have tons of opportunity for wide open 3’s on the wing and the ability to get to his spots with little to no resistance. Also with the Nuggets fast paced offense, MPJ will have plenty of looks in the open court, where he is at his best. He will have to get better at facilitating the ball, as he can become a black hole at times and get tunnel vision. He will also have to get better on the defensive side of the ball, as he will be called on to guard the opposing teams’ best player at times simply because of his size and the fact that the NBA switches so much in today’s game. Porter Jr. is also an elite rebounder, as he averaged 7 rebounds in 17 minutes in his 3 games at Missouri.If Michael Porter Jr. can stay healthy, he could easily be the steal of the draft by the Denver Nuggets. He has the ability to be an elite scorer and rebounder for a team that desperately needs size on the wing. If healthy, I project Porter Jr. to become Denver’s go-to scorer and to average 17PPG, 9RPG, and 3APG.
4.) Collin Sexton (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Well, well, well this seems eerily familiar. The Cavaliers draft a highly touted point guard as Lebron James leaves to another team. Where have we seen this before? Oh right, Kyrie Irving was in the same situation. While ninth overall pick Colin Sexton might not be on the same level as Kyrie Irving, he is still in somewhat of the same situation that Irving was thrust into. With the departure of Lebron James to the Lakers and reports that the Cavs are now looking to trade Kevin Love, Sexton could be in the perfect position to show off his talents on his own team right out of the gate – assuming, of course, the Cavs let Sexton run the team over George Hill.Sexton is mostly known for his 40 point game against the University of Minnesota, in which Alabama played 3 on 5 for most of the 2nd half. Sexton is a great scoring guard who came alive towards the end of the college season, where he scored 27 points and nailed a game winner in the opening game of the SEC Tournament against Texas A&M. He then scored 31 points in the quarterfinal over #1 seeded Auburn, and then 21 points against Kentucky in the semifinal game. Sexton averaged 19.2 PPG in his lone season at Alabama, and his scoring ability should help him contribute to the Cavaliers.Sexton will be able to play freely next season since there will be no expectations for the Cavs to win anytime soon, and he will be able to work on all aspects of his game during the season. Sure, Sexton will struggle at times due to his very streaky shooting and ability to only guard one, maybe two positions, but every rookie struggles at some point. Due to the Cavs having little-to-no expectations for next season, Sexton will have free reign to do what he wants on the court. This might lead to some inflated empty numbers, but they will be inflated numbers nonetheless. Look for the Cavaliers to run a lot next season and get out on the break, where Sexton is best. He might be in the perfect position to run away with ROY.If the Cavs trade away Kevin Love and keep this current roster in tact, look for Sexton to have a good rookie season with inflated numbers. I project Collin Sexton to average 19 PPG, 5 APG, & 6 RPG. All because there will be no one else to do it.
3.) Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks)
With no real corner stones on the roster, you would have to think the Hawks went best player available here because they have Dennis Schroder at point guard already. But wait…they traded for this player. With no real direction of where the Hawks are going or what they are trying to do, you would have to expect that, at some point this season, we will see a back court of Trae Young and Dennis Schroder, right?Trae Young was drafted fifth overall by the Dallas Mavericks and then traded to the Atlanta Hawks for Luka Doncic. I don’t see a situation here where Young comes off of the bench and is Schroder’s back up. Young’s ability to score is just too great to keep on the bench. Trae Young averaged 27.4 PPG (led NCAA) & 8.7 APG (led NCCA) in his freshman season at Oklahoma. Young was a living highlight reel while in college, drawing NBA comparisons to Steph Curry because of his ability to shoot the ball from virtually anywhere on the floor and his quick release. Both attributes should translate well in the NBA and help Young out tremendously. I have Trae Young here simply on what he could turn out to be and his ability to score the basketball, as well as get teammates involved. He had virtually no one to pass the ball to and still led the NCAA in assists – and even tied the NCAA assists record for a single game with 22.Young could either have one of the better rookie seasons out of this class or be a complete bust. His size and frame doesn’t give him the ability to guard multiple positions – or even just the average NBA guard standing at 6’3-6’4. His shot selection is sometimes questionable, as he shoots early in the shot clock and from beyond 30 feet at times. Also a major problem of his in college was his turnovers, as he averaged 5.2 TOV. Even with all those question marks, they can be sometimes overlooked because of Young’s ability to score off of the dribble and set teammates up – because who really knows what he could do with NBA talent and defenses not solely focused on him.The Hawks have no prolific scorers on the roster at the moment, so he will get the touches he needs, and he could be just what the Hawks need. He also has the ability to play off the ball next to Schroder, which could be a matchup nightmare for some opposing teams’ back courts. If Young can keep his turnovers down and take smart shots, he could easily be one of the top players to come out of this draft class and a future All-Star. I project Trae Young to average 19-20 PPG & APG because I am looking at what Young could become in the future if the Hawks feel Schroder is not the answer at the lead guard.
2.) Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)
Probably the most hyped player of this draft class and he’s not even from America, third overall pick Luka Doncic. Doncic first showed up on people’s radars when he was 13 years old and signed a five year deal with Real Madrid’s under 16 team. Dončić won the under-18 Ciutat de L’Hospitalet Tournament and was selected to the All-Tournament Team, despite being two years younger than the rest of the team. Doncic averaged 16 PPG, 4.3 APG, & 4.8 RPG, while playing in the EuroLeague, and then 12.5 PPG, 4.7 APG, and 5.7 RPG while playing in the Liga ACB.Dallas filled a huge need on the wing by trading for Doncic. He is the perfect asset to place aside Dennis Smith Jr and Harrison Barnes. The Mavericks also recently signed Deandre Jordan and will now have the paint presence and rebounding that they desperately needed. Doncic’s ability to play on and off the ball makes the Mavericks’ back court and Harrison Barnes lethal in the half court. Although he only shot 30% from deep, DSJ/Barnes will be able to drive and kick to Doncic for open 3’s, and Doncic will also be able to give DSJ a rest because he can handle the ball and run an offense. Doncic is also a tough cover because of his 6’7 size and wide frame. He will be able to shoot over most defenders, and if you try to put a big man on him, he has the dribbling ability to drive and finish. There will be a lot of space on the floor, especially if the Mavs decide to play small ball and place Doncic at power forward.Look for Doncic to get a lot of open shots, while defenses collapse on DSJ and Barnes when they drive and kick. He will also have times where he will be able to run the offense because of his good passing ability and vision. The one thing that could prevent Doncic from having a good rookie season is the amount of touches he will receive, and if he can stay on the floor against athletic NBA wings defensively. Doncic is not athletic, so he will need some time to adjust to the speed of the NBA. Other than that, Doncic has all the tools to become a star in the NBA and have a stellar rookie season. He played in the second toughest league in the world since 16 years old. I do not think the adjustment to the NBA will take long. I project Doncic to average 15PPG, 6RPG, 4APG.Before I announce the number one candidate to win the ROTY award, I do have some honorable mentions: Jaren Jackson, Deandre Ayton, Mohamed Bamba, and Miles Bridges. Now, the number one candidate I believe will win the ROTY is…
1.) Marvin Bagley (Sacramento Kings)
The Sacramento Kings have struggled acquiring talent since the days of Mike Bibby and Chris Webber. Even when the Kings had Demarcus Cousins, they somehow squandered his time with the organization. Hopefully they have it right the time, drafting Marvin Bagley with the second overall pick over Luka Doncic.Bagley is a 6’11” power forward from Duke with an elite and agile NBA-ready body. He also has a multifaceted skill set around the rim and has shown the ability to take defenders off the dribble at times. He has good ball handling ability for a big man and can pass out of the post. Bagley had an outstanding lone season at Duke, as he was named the National Freshman of the Year and the Pete Newell Big Man of the Year. He was also voted AP first team All American while at Duke. Bagley averaged 21.1 PPG and 11.1 RPG, while shooting 61% at Duke. Bagley has drawn NBA comparisons to a young Chris Bosh and a young Chris Webber, which is high praise for someone so young.Bagley will most likely slide into the Kings’ starting forward spot right away next to center WIllie Cauley-Stein. Look for Bagley to contribute right away as a go-to option for the Kings because basically…they have no one else that is a go-to scorer. De’Aaron Fox is more of a transition PG and Buddy Heild is a streaky shooter. The Kings have no one that will be able to give consistent points per game, and that is where Bagley will fill the role. While the Kings are still a season or two away from actually competing against top tier – hell, even mid level – teams, everything will flow through Bagley, and his numbers will be inflated, much like I project Collin Sexton’s numbers to be. Maybe the acquisition of Bagley will finally open some lanes up for De’Aaron Fox to show what he can do, and maybe Buddy Heild will have some more open looks on the perimeter with Bagley possibly commanding double teams down low. No matter what, Bagley will be the focal point of the Kings’ offense in his rookie season.While this all sounds like high praise, there are some flaws in Bagley’s game that can prevent him from having an outstanding rookie season. It does seem like Bagley can do everything, but he has to fully polish his skills. While he does have good ball handling for a big man, he can still tighten it up, as NBA guards will be swiping at the ball from every which way, especially when he puts it on the floor. He will need to improve his decision making if the offense will be run through him, like I expect it to be. Bagley sometimes has tunnel vision, so he will need to learn how to pass out of the post and reposition sometimes. He will also need to get a bigger frame, as he sometimes got pushed around in the paint during his freshman season. He may only have to worry about that for a couple of games a season because the NBA is transitioning to small ball, but nonetheless he will have to get bigger. Last but not least, the Kings will have to coach Bagley correctly for him to become what the Kings expect him to be. All in all, if Bagley can sure up his skills, get better on the defensive end, and not fall into the trap of the Sacramento Kings franchise but rather turn it around, we could be looking at the best player from this draft class. I project Bagley to average 20PPG, 10RPG, and 3APG. Again, these stats will be a little inflated because of the team he is on…but stats are stats.