The 2017-18 NBA season is essentially half over, which is crazy in and of itself. However, what’s truly insane when it comes to this season is the phenomenal performances from this year’s rookie class. You’ve got a guy stepping up to make up for the abrupt loss of a star veteran, a guard emerging as the unexpected leader of his team in the West, and a virtually unknown athlete outplaying the number two pick.

For all the good that this rookie class has brought to the league, there have still been some not-so-good rookies that have a lot more to prove to their teams and basketball fans in general. Let’s take a look at some of the NBA’s hottest – as well as a few, um, nottest – first-year players.


Ben Simmons

The hype around Australian forward Ben Simmons was building for much longer than most were expecting, as Simmons was actually slated to make his NBA debut in October of 2016. Unfortunately, a broken foot 26 days before opening night kept him out of the entire 16-17 campaign. However, he didn’t miss a beat when he took the court at the start of the current season. His unique ability to run the point as a 6’10”, 230 lb player is something that you must watch for yourself. Thanks to Simmons and the help of Joel “The Process” Embiid, the Sixers have emerged as a potential playoff contender.

Ben Simmons Statistics

Points per Game: 16.9
Assists per Game: 7.5
Rebounds per Game: 8.4
Steals per Game: 1.9
Blocks per Game: 0.9

Donovan Mitchell

In his rookie season with the Utah Jazz, Donovan Mitchell has emerged as a team leader, filling a scoring hole that Gordon Hayward left when he signed with the Boston Celtics in the offseason. Despite a wonderful career at Louisville as well as being taken with the 13th pick, few expected Mitchell to pick up the NBA game as quickly as he has. He likely won’t take them to the playoffs on his own this year, but look for the Jazz to build a team around him in the next couple of seasons.

Donovan Mitchell Statistics

Points per Game: 18.4
Assists per Game: 3.4
Rebounds per Game: 3.3
Steals per Game: 1.5
Blocks per Game: 0.5

Jayson Tatum

When Gordon Hayward went down with a gruesome and likely season-ending injury on opening night, the general consensus was that Boston probably wasn’t a playoff team this year. Despite having Kyrie Irving and some promising young players, Hayward’s absence would prove to be too big of an obstacle to overcome. Yeah, none of that turned out to be true, as the Celtics are currently 32-10. A lot of credit should go to young guys like Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum.

Tatum has thrived in coach Brad Stevens’ system and makes the absolute most of his 31 minutes per game. As the third pick in the 2017 draft, Tatum has certainly lived up to his potential and should see even more growth before season’s end.

Jayson Tatum Statistics

Points per Game: 13.9
Assists per Game: 1.3
Rebounds per Game: 5.5
Steals per Game: 1.0
Blocks per Game: 0.9

Dennis Smith Jr.

Playing on a poor Dallas Mavericks team, guard Dennis Smith Jr. has made the most of his rookie season and the opportunity to play big-time minutes almost immediately. Hailing from North Carolina State, the 9th pick in this year’s draft has been solid running the point and should only improve shooting the ball. He was a wonderful addition to this Dallas franchise.

Dennis Smith Jr. Statistics

Points per Game: 14.0
Assists per Game: 4.5
Rebounds per Game: 4.0
Steals per Game: 0.9
Blocks per Game: 0.3

Kyle Kuzma

The highlight of 2017’s Summer League was the Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma. While Lonzo Ball was the team’s first pick (2nd pick overall), the decision to take Kuzma at 27th overall was a brilliant one. In his 39 games this season, he’s often looked much more comfortable and confident on the court when you compare him to Lonzo. He’s shooting the ball well and has been solid rebounding the ball.

Kyle Kuzma Statistics

Points per Game: 16.9
Assists per Game: 1.8
Rebounds per Game: 6.3
Steals per Game: 0.5
Blocks per Game: 0.5


Lonzo Ball

Earlier in the season, you heard our take on Lonzo and his shooting woes. While he has slightly improved his shooting percentage (34.9%), he’s still awful from the free throw line and behind the arc. He hasn’t figure out how to be a scorer and he probably won’t be in the Lakers current offense. His play as a distributor has been high-level, but you’d like to see him shoot the ball a bit better considering he averages 11 field goal attempts per game.

Oh yeah, and his father has caused all kinds of strife, going as far as to attack coach Luke Walton and posit that he has lost the Lakers’ locker room. Ball comes with baggage, that we knew. But his boisterous father clearly isn’t helping an already struggling Lonzo.

Lonzo Ball Statistics

Points per Game: 10.0
Assists per Game: 7.1
Rebounds per Game: 7.1
Steals per Game: 1.5
Blocks per Game: 0.9

Markelle Fultz

We won’t dwell too much on the number one overall pick. The Sixers guard has played in just four games this season due to a shoulder injury that, frankly, it seems like he and the organization tried to downplay during those first few games. With no timetable for return, it’s possible Philly’s rookie injury curse has struck again. Hopefully, we’ll see him in the second half of the year and get a true idea of what he can do on the court.

Markelle Fultz Statistics

Points per Game: 6.0
Assists per Game: 1.8
Rebounds per Game: 2.3
Steals per Game: 0.5
Blocks per Game: 0.3

Jonathan Isaac

As the 6th overall pick, you’d expect a bit more from Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac. Sure, he was clearly a project piece for the Magic, but he definitely hasn’t proven himself as an NBA players that’ll have a long, storied career. Most of the issues stem from his injuries. He missed 17 games in November and December and has missed three more since. Currently, he’s out indefinitely while the team works to get his ankle healthy and better his conditioning.

Jonathan Isaac Statistics

Points per Game: 5.3
Assists per Game: 0.7
Rebounds per Game: 3.7
Steals per Game: 0.7
Blocks per Game: 1.0

(Image courtesy of Eric Wong via Flickr.)