Voting for Rookie of the Year last season was as difficult as it has been since I became a voter in 2009.
The most electric candidate, Joel Embiid, didn’t even play half the season. The rest of the class was hardly spectacular, and I voted for Malcolm Brogdon, the steadiest of the bunch who played a key role on a playoff team in Milwaukee. Filling out the All-Rookie team ballots was even tougher.
I don’t imagine voting will be as hard next spring.
This rookie class appears to be as deep as any in recent years, so there should be no shortage of candidates for Rookie of the Year.
At least three teams (Philadelphia, Los Angeles Lakers, Kings) have two or more players who figure to garner consideration at some point.
How might my ballot look by the end of the season is any guess, but here are my early favorites:
1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia: The No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft missed last season with an injury. A point guard in a power forward’s body, Simmons is surrounded with young talent that will allow him to showcase his skills.
2. Lonzo Ball, L.A. Lakers: The most gifted passer in the 2017 class should flourish in the Lakers’ offense. He’s the favorite to lead rookies in assists.
3. Dennis Smith, Dallas: A superb athlete who is a highlight waiting to happen. Playing on a bad team where he’ll have a lot of chances to score always helps garner votes.
4. Josh Jackson, Phoenix: The Suns’ up-and-down style will give him the opportunity to put up big numbers.
5. De’Aaron Fox, Kings: Playing with a veteran like George Hill might cut into Fox’s playing time, but Fox will have his time to shine.
6. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia: The first overall pick in June was the most talented scorer in college last season. He’ll have to find his place in the pecking order in Philadelphia, which is stacked with young talent.
7. Kyle Kuzma, L.A. Lakers: Since summer league this forward has looked like the potential steal of the draft. The 27th pick is not afraid to attack from anywhere on the floor.
8. Jayson Tatum, Boston: A big-time talent that landed on a loaded playoff team. That could limit his chances at winning the award, but some voters will reward him for contributing on a winner.
9. Malik Monk, Charlotte: The Hornets need offense and scoring is what Monk does best. Should he fill that role and help Charlotte return to the playoffs, he’s certain to receive plenty of accolades.
10. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kings: Has the advantage of being a first-year player with a lot of professional experience from Europe. If he can adjust to the NBA style of play, he could be a factor in Sacramento.
11. Donovan Mitchell, Utah: Dante Exum’s injury opens up more opportunities for Mitchell, who could emerge as a talented scorer and defender.