By Connor Pignatello
This year’s inaugural crop of rookies is billed as one of the best classes in years, and it’s highlighted by a plethora of freshman, 16 of which were chosen in the first round, and 11 in the lottery, both NBA records. Also, just 2 seniors were picked in round 1, Derrick White and Josh Hart, the last two picks of the round. This shows that the one-and-done train is moving along at breakneck pace, and there is nothing that the NBA can do to stop it, short of changing the eligibility rules.
Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, and the rest of the new draft class will provide fans with an exciting rookie of year race that is sure to be more interesting than this year’s race between Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and Malcolm Brogdon. This new rookie class is young, athletic, and primed for stardom. And who knows? Maybe we’ll even get the first rookie All-Star since Blake Griffin in 2011.
- Josh Jackson: Suns Sf/Sg
2016-17 stats: 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.1 blocks with 51.3/37.8/56.6 shooting splits
Josh Jackson will enter the NBA looking to shut down opposing wings, drive to the rim, and throw down alley-oops. He will join one of the youngest teams in the league and look to start immediately alongside Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss, Phoenix’s first round picks in the last two years, who will both be just 20 when the 2017-18 season rolls around.
Jackson brings loads of versatility to Phoenix. He can guard point guards, power forwards, and everything in between. Jackson uses his springy athleticism and 6’10” wingspan to terrorize his opponents on the wing, and he has tremendous defensive potential. Although he may not be a great shooter at the NBA level (In his only year at Kansas he was just a 56.6% free throw shooter), he has great potential thanks to his high motor, defensive versatility, and world-class athleticism.
My 2017-18 NBA stat predictions: 14.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.7 blocks
- Jayson Tatum: Celtics Sf
2016-17 stats: 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.1 blocks with 45.2/34.2/84.9 shooting splits
Jayson Tatum, one of the more polished prospects of the draft, will head into an interesting situation in Boston.
Normally, highly selected rookies are drafted to bad teams and given ample playing time, to adjust to the league and improve on their mistakes. However, as last year’s third overall pick Jaylen Brown learned, the Celtics don’t have time for their rookies to make mistakes. Last year, it took Brown until February to receive 20 minutes per game, and as his play improved, he rose in the rotation, ultimately earning several starts as the year went on.
Tatum should follow the same course, but Boston is a team contending for the number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, and only time will tell how consistent Tatum will be with inconsistent minutes.
Tatum has tools to succeed in the NBA, such as a refined midrange and post-up game, an advanced arsenal of isolation moves, and a pretty fadeaway, but he will need to be efficient in order to steal minutes away from Brown and Jae Crowder and supplant himself in the rotation.
My 2017-18 NBA stat predictions: 7.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.7 blocks
- Lonzo Ball: Lakers Pg
2016-17 stats: 14.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.8 blocks with 55.1/41.2/67.3 shooting splits
On June 20th, Johnson traded 2014 #2 pick D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets (he played the same position as Ball). Then, at Ball’s introductory press conference on June 23rd, the newly appointed GM said that Ball is “the new face of the Lakers” and “We expect a Ball jersey up there [in the rafters]”.
Ball will face immense pressure in his rookie season, ranging from his outspoken father, to the win-starved fans, to all of the nostalgic old Laker heroes of the past. Ball is expected to dazzle from the opening tip off of the year and bring Showtime back to Los Angeles, no matter how impossible that is.
However, Ball is a terrific talent, a genius of a passer who will immediately make the lives of his young teammates easier. Ball also is an excellent shooter, with an extremely analytic-friendly shot selection–92.5% of his shots this year were either at the rim or the three point line–even though his shot mechanics are very unorthodox.
Ball’s surprisingly good shooting and elite passing instincts should improve the Lakers win-loss record and make the Lakers more unified than ever before.
My 2017-18 stat predictions: 11.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks
- Markelle Fultz: 76ers Pg/Sg
2016-17 stats: 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.2 blocks with 47.6/41.3/64.9 shooting splits
Markelle Fultz, a can’t-miss prospect, was drafted first overall after the 76ers traded up to select him. The Freshman from Washington was incredible during his only year in college, and he showed a game that is well-rounded, NBA-ready, and promising.
Fultz is a good driver who can hurt defenses with a sweet midrange jumper or a soft layup. He is also an effective ball handler, a good passer (5.9 assists per game in college), a good three-point shooter (41.3% at Washington), and has terrific defensive potential thanks to an abnormally large 6’10” wingspan for a 6’4” frame. This year, Fultz did a little bit of everything for the Huskies, and this showed off his enormous skillset.
Fultz is also as flexible as they come, content to be an on-the-ball alpha dog who does most of the scoring, and available to be an off-the-ball wizard, who shoots threes, defends both guard spots, and finishes with finesse at the rim.
He’ll team up with the 2016 #1 overall pick Ben Simmons and the 2014 #3 pick Joel Embiid to create a formidable trio who, with Embiid the veteran of the bunch at 23 (!), should light up the league for years to come. Fultz seems to have very few flaws and should start from the get-go, hopefully transforming Philadelphia into a winning basketball city once again.
My 2017-18 NBA stat predictions: 16.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.6 blocks