The NBA season is now sadly over, but it allows us time for reflection. We can look back on the season as a whole, starting from draft day, to free agency, to trades, to summer league, to preseason, regular season, and the inevitable Finals that was very predictable yet somehow was still not predicted by everyone (@ me). As I have looked back on everything that happened in the 2017-2018 season, there is one thing that stood out to me above all others. This may be the deepest NBA Rookie class we have ever seen.
Ok, now before you guys get all crazy let me clarify that I said deepest not best or most talented. This draft contained a steady level of talent from the first pick to deep into the second round. Yes, the 1984 rookie class had 4 Hall of Famers in Akeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton.
And yes, 2003 may be the best challenger to this debate with the deep level of talent it brought to the NBA including 4 future Hall of Famers in Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony. That rookie class also had Mo Williams, Kirk Hinrich, TJ Ford, Mickael Pietrus, Luke Ridnour, David West, Boris Diaw, Kendrick Perkins, Leandro Barbosa, Josh Howard, Steve Blake, Willie Green, Zaza Pachulia, Matt Bonner, Kyle Korver, and Mr. I'm Always in the NBA Finals James Jones. *Takes deep breath* WHEW! Ok 2003 was crazy, but this year will also go down as one of the greatest we've ever seen.
The First Team
By now, I'm sure all of you have seen the votes for First and Second Team All-Rookie for this season. The First Team not only had five great players, but five guys who are looking to change the game completely.
Lauri Markkanen [Chicago Bulls] is a 7-foot center from Finland who broke the NBA record for fastest player to make 100 three-pointers and shot 85% from the free throw line.
Kyle Kuzma [Los Angeles Lakers] was the second leading scorer amongst rookies and put up numbers that no Lakers rookie has since the Black Mamba.
Donovan Mitchell [Utah Jazz] led all rookies in scoring, led his team to 48 wins, went toe-to-toe with Russel Westbrook in round one and won, and broke the record for most three pointers made by a rookie with 187.
Ben Simmons [Philadelphia 76ers] (the redshirt rookie) dominated the floor in every way possible, putting up numbers that have not been reached by a rookie since Oscar Robertson.
And the guy who had the best rookie season from day one all the way until Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals was Jayson Tatum. He stepped up and went shot for shot with Lebron James when his Celtics team was decimated with injuries.
The Second Team
The Second Team could've easily been the First Team for most other seasons.
Dennis Smith Jr. [Dallas Mavericks] was the wild card of this year's rookie class, as he showed flashes of unbelievable athleticism for a point guard, making every night his living highlight reel.
John Collins may be the least sexy name on here, but this guy did all the little things right on a Hawks team that couldn't do anything right.
Lonzo Ball [Los Angeles Lakers] didn't live up to the incredibly high expectations, but he has shown his relentlessness and durability as he played more minutes per game than any other rookie.
Josh Jackson made the Suns fun to watch, which is a very hard thing to do. His strong play towards the end of the season gave us a taste of what we might see next year.
Bogdan Bogdanovic [Sacramento Kings] probably has the best name in the NBA right now. But seriously, this guy was letting it fly from three all season, he is learning how to create his own shot off the dribble, and he won the Rising Stars Challenge MVP.
For all of the occasional NBA watchers out there, you may not know a lot of these names now, but this talented group of guys is built to be franchise players, champions, and journeymen for the rest of their careers. We can't talk about the rookie class without talking about the number one pick in Markelle Fultz. The somewhat disappointing season turned into a not so disappointing one when he finally got to play. He put in some good minutes off the bench, even turning in a triple-double in one of his few games. His upside is still incredibly high, and it'll be interesting to see how he responds after a full NBA offseason.
De'Aaron Fox [Sacramento Kings] is a guy that I got to see in person a few times this year. His explosiveness and ability to get to the rim for a point guard made him hard to guard but fun to watch.
Frank Ntilikina was just picked by the wrong team at the wrong time. The New York Knicks have not done anything for this kid's development so far, but with his size and his ability to shoot the ball efficiently, he can definitely improve under the right coaching.
Zach Collins [Portland Trailblazers] helped lead Gonzaga to their first National Championship game as a freshman. The 7' center has the potential to be Damian Lillard's main big man if he is given more responsibility next season.
Malik Monk [Charlotte Hornets] finished off the season with a strong month of April where he shot 48% from the field. He has the opportunity to be one of the league's most versatile wingmen if he can continue to improve his jump shot.
Bam Adebayo [Miami Heat] came in and took Hassan Whiteside's job for a big portion of the season. His size and strength made it incredibly hard for opposing teams to keep him off the boards, and his nose for the ball made it even more difficult for guys to shoot over him.
Justin Jackson [Sacramento Kings] showed flashes of athleticism when he actually got to play. Just a quarter of his shots came in the form of dunks or lay-ups. At 6'8" if he can improve his driving ability, it will only make it that much harder to guard him.
Terrance Ferguson [Oklahoma City Thunder] is a high flyer from Australia. He made some incredible dunks throughout the season that put him on House of Highlights. If he steps in a couple feet from the three-point line, he could have a very effective mid-range game that could change his career.
Jarret Allen [Brooklyn Nets] came into the league and did exactly what he did in college, rebound and defend. Every team needs a guy like him, and he will find himself on an NBA squad for a very long time.
OG Anunoby [Toronto Raptors] was given a lot of responsibility this season and he delivered all year long. He had the tallest task of them all when he was asked to guard Lebron James in the playoffs, but that will only help him for the future.
Josh Hart [Los Angeles Lakers] was a name that was brought up when discussing Rookie team snubs. He was an extremely efficient shooter all season, as he shot over 43% in 6 out of the 7 months in the season.
Dillon Brooks [Memphis Grizzlies] was the clutchest late game scorer in college when he was at Oregon. With the injury to Mike Conley, he was able to log big minutes and shot 44% from the field and 35% from three-point range.
Sterling Brown [Milwaukee Bucks] isn't just Shannon Brown's brother, he's much more. At 6'5" he was able to get more than half of his shots up from within 16 feet of the basket. And he also was a victim of police brutality, but we'll get into that another day.
Jordan Bell [Golden State Warriors] was a steal, as he was by far the best defender in the draft last season. He showed what he could do on the biggest stage of them all, showcasing the depth of this draft.
That was a lot, huh
This isn't just another rookie class. This isn't just a list of NBA players who played good and even great at times. This is a group of guys that are going to change the game of basketball. Look, I know the Finals sucked, but don't let that distract you from the fact that the season was still incredible and that the NBA is the best league in the world. When it's all said and done, this will be the best rookie class in NBA history, and you are all witnesses to it.
Just a man trying to make the most of his time on this planet.