• Xavier Clyburn

5 Rookies in the Best Position to Contribute Next Season

With the NBA Summer League finished and rosters beginning to finalize, we need to evaluate the rookies who have the best chance of contributing and making an impact on their respective teams. We have chosen five rookies who are in the best position to succeed during the 2017-2018 season, based on roster construction and team goals. So without further delay, here are the five rookies primed to make an impact next season.

5. Caleb Swanigan , 26th Pick , Portland Trail Blazers

Coming into the draft I was very high on Caleb Swanigan. At Purdue he showed great touch around the rim, a knack for rebounding, and leadership on both ends of the floor. If not for his stout but short 6’8 frame Swanigan would have been a sure fire lottery pick. Many teams are kicking themselves because during Summer League Swanigan bullied the competition on his way to averaging a double- double of 16 points and 10 rebounds a game while leading the Trail Blazers to the Summer League championship game. What also helps him is the fact that the Trail Blazers actual lottery pick, Zach Collins, vastly underperformed and at times looked severely overmatched by less than NBA caliber big men. Look for Swanigan to get minutes based off his ability to rebound and play off the ball while also being able to defend opposing big men and some wings in spot minutes.

4. Kyle Kuzma, 27th Pick, Los Angeles Lakers

Speaking of teams kicking themselves for not drafting a player, look no further than the pick after Swanigan in Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers. Most people do not put stock in Summer League, , but sometimes players look so dominant in Summer League that you just can’t see a situation in which they do not contribute to the team; Kyle Kuzma is a perfect example. Kuzma and Lonzo Ball seemed like a natural 1-2 punch and for anyone thinking that all of his early Summer League success was due to Lonzo Ball, look no further than the championship game that saw Kuzma score 30 points. During Summer League he averaged an impressive 21.9 points and 6.4 assists per game. He is a bona fide stretch 4 and I would be shocked if Lakers coach Luke Walton could not find minutes for him as a stretch 4 or even a stretch 5 in this age of position-less basketball. Worst case scenario, we could see him be given 10-15 minutes a game and see a couple of games where he catches fire for 14 points in 15 minutes.

3. John Collins, 19th Pick, Atlanta Hawks

Now to head south to a team in an immediate rebuild where expectations will be low. With the departure of Paul Milsap the Atlanta Hawks will be looking to rebuild and let youth be served. John Collins showed an impressive mix of athleticism and skill during Summer League on his way to averaging 15.4 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. As the Hawks’ first round pick I expect him to see major minutes at the four where he and Dennis Schroder will attempt to create a deadly 1-2 punch in the pick and roll and pick and pop situations. At 6’10 Collins should also see time at the 5 where he can use his explosiveness to blow by slower big men. With expectations low, Atlanta can afford to be patient and should allow John Collins to get all the minutes he can handle.

2. Dennis Smith, 9th Pick, Dallas Mavericks

What a time to be alive. Most times rookies go to teams where they are forced into a team that has bad culture, poor leadership, and a roster that is barren with talent and must figure out how to be a pro. Dennis Smith won the lottery and ended up in the perfect situation where he can learn to be a pro while taking over the reins of leadership from an all-time great. With the Dallas Mavericks there is a culture of winning and professionalism that comes from the coach Rick Carlisle and Dirk Nowitzki, who voted teammate of the year by his peers. The roster is primed with talent in the form of Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, and talented backcourt players in Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry, but neither Ferrell or Curry will threaten Smith for minutes. With Summer League averages of 17.3 points 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game, the takeaway was Smith played like a guard that has been in the league for 10 years. Smith also showed maturity that we did not see while he was at NC State. I look for Dennis Smith to be a Rookie of the Year candidate as well as see upwards of 30 minutes a game for a Dallas team that could be a dark horse to make the playoffs.

1. Lonzo Ball, 2nd Pick , Los Angeles Lakers

Finally, the number one choice for a rookie in the best situation who will have the most impact is an easy one. Lonzo Ball showed a lot during the Summer League: the ability to bounce back from bad games, create headlines (the shoe saga), and create an unselfish culture of ball movement and man movement with less talented players than those he will be playing with during the season. Barring injury, hometown kids have historically played well for their home teams ( Lebron James, Derrick Rose, Bernard King).That, and the support he is receiving from Magic Johnson, shows me that Ball will be given all the resources that will allow him to be the new face of the Lakers. Point blank everyone under the sun knew Lonzo was going to LA because this fit felt to perfect for Magic Johnson to pass on. He is my pick for Rookie of the Year and I look for him to attract free agents in the future with his unselfish style of play.

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