We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. Today:
Which rookies will impress? Which will disappoint?
There may be no trickier bit of NBA prognostication than predicting rookies — seeing what they did in college and Summer League is like predicting the results of a horse race after the first 100 yards. We don’t know what they can do when they settle in and get to run over a course of ground.
The PBT staff is going to give it a shot anyway. We are going to name the players we expect to impress us as rookies this season, then to disappoint us. First the good news:
Which rookies will impress?
Kurt Helin: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers. This is the obvious call — predicting the No. 1 pick will be good is boring. But after watching Simmons at Summer League I had to pick him here — he has a gift for seeing the floor and passing that only a few other NBA players possess (Ricky Rubio, LeBron James, etc.). His teammates will play hard alongside him because of that. Plus, Brett Brown and the Sixers are going to give Simmons the opportunity to play 30+ minutes a night and a chunk of that time as the defacto point guard. He’s going to get the opportunity. If you want a good darkhorse in the impressive rookies category, take Denzel Valentine with the Bulls, who was probably the most NBA-ready player in the draft and will get run behind Dwyane Wade.
Dan Feldman: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers. I overthought it last year when picking Emmanuel Mudiay over Karl-Anthony Towns for Rookie of the Year. Simmons was the best player in the draft. The 76ers, without an impressive true point guard, will give him every opportunity to succeed as a point power forward.
Sean Highkin: Kris Dunn, Minnesota Timberwolves. Tom Thibodeau doesn’t usually give rookies a lot of playing time, but Dunn is a four-year college player who Thibodeau loved and targeted aggressively in his first draft as president of the Timberwolves. Dunn’s shooting ability and defensive mentality are a perfect fit for both Thibodeau’s well-established style and attitude, and for the roster he joins in Minnesota. He’s ready to contribute right away, and he could become the full-time starter at point guard if Ricky Rubio gets moved at some point.
Which will rookies disappoint?
Kurt Helin: Thon Maker, Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, I know Maker averaged 14.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game at Summer League, and that included a 17 and 17 game (which I was at). I think it was a mirage. He may develop into a good player in a few years, but it is going to take time. A lot of time. What he has going for him is a good motor and a nice shooting touch when left open, but he’s going to find that the defenders in the NBA are longer, more athletic, and close out much faster than in Vegas in the Summer. He will not have the strength to battle and pull down a ton of rebounds yet, nor to establish good post position. On what should be a good Bucks team with Jabari Parker and Mirza Teletovic at the four, I’m not sure Maker gets much run. Maybe he develops into a good player (I’m far from sold on that outcome, either), but as a rookie he’s not going to impact the Bucks.
Dan Feldman: Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics. Brown will show flashes of elite play, but the gap between his athleticism and production was so wide at Cal. I doubt he’ll be ready to reliably contribute to the very-good Celtics, though his long-term potential remains high.
Sean Highkin: Joel Embiid, Philadephia 76ers. The hype around Embiid has never been higher, with a steady stream of impressive workout videos hitting Instagram and Sixers head coach Brett Brown calling him the “crown jewel” of their new defense. He’s one of three highly anticipated rookies expected to debut for the Sixers, with the other two being Ben Simmons and Dario Saric, and he’s seen as an integral part of the team’s future after three infamous years of losing. But it’s worth tempering these high expectations by remembering that Embiid hasn’t played basketball competitively against other people in almost three years, and even if his foot is healthy, it’s going to take some time for his conditioning to reach the point where he can take on the kind of workload the Sixers envisioned for him. If he can stay on the floor, he’s going to be very good eventually. It’s just not going to happen as quickly as fans are hoping.