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#pounditSunday, December 4, 2022

Top 10 NBA Rookie of the Year candidates

Ben Simmons

5. Malik Monk, Charlotte Hornets

I think Monk is still mad he didn’t get picked until No. 11. In the fall, back when he was dropping 47 on the eventual national champions, he was looked at as a can’t-miss top-five pick, and it’s hard to comprehend how scouts’ opinion on him shifted so heavily during the pre-draft process.

Though this year’s ROY (Brogdon) got there with defense, leadership, and a balanced game, the award typically goes to a guy who can hang big offensive numbers. Have a look at the last nine rookies of the year before Brogdon:

2015-16
Karl-Anthony Towns
2014-15
Andrew Wiggins
2013-14
Michael Carter-Williams
2012-13
Damian Lillard
2011-12
Kyrie Irving
2010-11
Blake Griffin
2009-10
Tyreke Evans
2008-09
Derrick Rose
2007-08
Kevin Durant

Those are all offense-minded guys who love to get buckets. Monk fits that mold. The five-star recruit from Arkansas averaged 19.8 points per game in his lone year at Kentucky. He shot 40 percent from downtown and attempted 6.9 threes a game.

Though I’m not fully convinced of his fit in Charlotte, Monk will likely hang some big numbers this year. Don’t be surprised if he goes on a vendetta to stick it to the NBA and average 17 a game.

4. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

In the week leading up to the draft, several NBA insiders told me Mitchell was the player who was being most slept-on. The 20-year-old from New Hampshire, who played two years for Rick Pitino at Louisville, went 13th overall.

He’s another guy who improved tremendously during his two years in college and benefitted from the decision to come back to school. He improved his per-game averages for points (from 7.4 to 15.6), assists (1.7 to 2.7), and rebounds (3.4 to 4.9). Additionally, he shot an impressive 35.4 percent from beyond the arc.

There are a few things in particular about Mitchell that have enticed NBA personnel. One is his unusual maturity. Another is his off-the-dribble shooting and skill in the pick-and-roll. And then there’s his 6-foot-10 wingspan.

That’s right. The 6-foot-1 guard has a 6-foot-10 wingspan.

Mitchell played in only two games but led the Summer League in average scoring with 28.0 points per game. He should be a valuable addition to Utah’s fascinating backcourt of Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum, and Rodney Hood.

3. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

Simmons is the curveball of this group. He didn’t play in Summer League this year, and we still don’t really know what kind of player he’ll turn into. Remember, at one time he was touted as the next LeBron James.

Simmons recently turned 21, and though we haven’t seen him in a regular season game yet (he missed the season due to a foot injury), hopes for him remain high. There’s even a rumor that Simmons has grown 2 inches since he was drafted and now stands just under 7 feet tall.

Simmons presents an intriguing all-around skillset. During his tumultuous year at LSU — which I think we can all now say was not the right place for him — Simmons filled up the stat sheet, averaging 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists.

Simmons is a world-class caliber basketball player and potential All-NBA guy. Basketball fans are hoping he stays healthy this year, because it should be plain fun to watch him play.

2. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers

Ball, the No. 2 pick in the draft, is the favorite to take the rookie crown, and he showed why in Vegas. The former UCLA Bruin was named Summer League MVP and he posted impressive numbers, averaging 16.3 points, 9.3 assists, 7.7 rebounds, 2.5 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game.

His showing in Vegas was a message to the sports world: now we can stop talking about his dad and just focus on how great this kid is going to be. (OK, maybe we’ll keep talking about his dad, too.)

Lonzo has sky-high potential. He makes everyone on his team better. His outlet passes are so beautiful they might make a tear run down your cheek. And though there are concerns about his effort (“he just wants to look cool too badly”), Ball has enough talent to eclipse any emotional shortcomings, be they real or perceived.

And here’s something to consider: Magic Johnson, who’s known to value competitiveness above all else, loves Ball. He looks at him as the future of the organization. He’s given the reins of his team to the 19-year-old. And based on what we’ve seen to date, the young Big Baller seems up to the task.

1. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks

John Collins had the best dunk of Summer League, but Smith had the best almost dunk. Feast your eyes on the near devastation:

Smith had some moments at NC State, such as the Wolfpack’s win over Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, in which he posted 32 points, when he looked like the best player in the draft. Smith was named Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year and second-team All-ACC.

Averaging 18.1 points per game as a freshman in the ACC is quite an accomplishment. He even set the conference’s career triple double record.

So, why’d he fall? For one, he has a torn ACL in his past. Secondly, some had concerns about his defensive effort and ball-dominant playing style.

The assumption heading into the draft was: if Smith ends up with a team that’s the right fit, he could far outplay his draft position. And it seems like he will, as Dallas, which needed an explosive scorer, appears perfectly suited for Smith.

If the Mavs unleash the young guard and just let him be himself, Smith — the ninth pick in the draft — could very well lead all rookies in scoring.

Bettors are counting on it. Smith has the second-highest odds of taking ROY, per Oddshark, and he’s my early favorite.

Aaron Mansfield is a freelance sports writer. His work has appeared in Complex, USA Today, and the New York Times. You can reach him via email at aaroncmansfield@gmail.com.

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