NBA rookie power rankings: Dennis Smith Jr. cracks top five

USA TODAY Sports spotlights one rookie each week as part of our weekly Rookie Power Rankings.

Lonzo Ball isn’t a good NBA shooter, and that’s clouded the entire conversation around the Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie.  

It’s never encouraging when a player admits he’s in his own head as Ball did, but it’s easy to see why.

“It’s just in my head to be honest,” he told reporters after a loss to the Boston Celtics last week. “I know I can shoot the ball.”

His two most frequent shots this season have come from inside of five feet and outside the three-point line. Amongst starting guards from close range, Ball’s 39.4% is last by a long shot. His three-point percentage amongst starting guards with at least 50 attempts is dead last as well at 21.4%.

Defiantly, he’s going to keep shooting.

Who knows how much his father’s spotlight has magnified his struggles and whether he might be thinking less if he was allowed to go about his business without the weight of comparisons or expectations. But this is Ball’s reality, as he admitted.

Outside of the shooting struggles, he’s still doing things for the Lakers that have kept them competitive. The Lakers are third in pace, ahead of the Golden State Warriors, and they’re scoring the second most points in transition among all teams. That’s largely Ball’s doing. His 7.2 assists per game are also the second most of all rookies.

Week 4 power rankings: Celtics make history; Warriors, Rockets stay hot

MSG drama: Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina makes a statement, but LeBron wins the night

Durant: ‘Tremendous honor’ to share GQ cover with Colin Kaepernick

He’s excellent at pushing the ball in transition and is quickly learning the habits of frontcourt players Brandon Ingram, Brook Lopez and Julius Randle. The Lakers are built to run, especially with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the emergence of fellow rookie forward Kyle Kuzma.

Despite the noise about Ball’s shooting, there are still plenty of things to like.

Below are this week’s rookie rankings, as voted on by Sam Amick, Jeff Zillgitt, AJ Neuharth-Keusch and Michael Singer. 

1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers: 17.8 ppg, 7.5 apg, 9.2 rpg

Aside from the job of facilitating the 76ers’ offense, at which Simmons has exceeded any reasonable expectations, he’s also contributing on the other end. Simmons ranks among the top-15 NBA players with 1.75 steals per game.

2. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics: 13.6 ppg, 1.6 apg, 5.8 rpg

Tatum’s been an integral part of the Celtics’ 12-game winning streak, offering 16 points as a co-leading scorer in last week’s win over the Hornets and scoring 13 more in Sunday’s win over the Raptors without Kyrie Irving. Not many 19-year-olds are as poised and crafty around the rim.

3. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers: 14.9 ppg, 1.4 apg, 6.8 rpg

Overshadowed by Ball becoming the youngest player in NBA history with a triple-double, Kuzma recorded his third double-double in five games with 21 points and 11 rebounds vs. the Bucks on Saturday. Chosen at No. 27, he’s probably the steal of the draft.

T-4. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz: 14.6 ppg, 2.4 apg, 2.5 rpg

Last week we wrote Mitchell had shown no hesitation from the field, and then he proceeded to shoot 3- for-21 in a loss to the 76ers. Two games later, with Rudy Gobert out due to a bone bruise, he led the Jazz with 26 points in a win over the Nets. He followed that up with 24 points in a loss to the Timberwolves.

T-4. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks: 14.8 ppg, 4.9 apg, 4.0 rpg

“He should have been a Knick,” was how LeBron James praised the Mavericks rookie, suggesting the Knicks will regret passing on the talented point guard at No. 8. Known for his aerial exploits, Smith Jr. is more than comfortable breaking down his defender or knocking down an outside three. Expect him to move up these rankings.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Michael Singer on Twitter @msinger

Autoplay

Show Thumbnails

Show Captions

Last SlideNext Slide

 

Source link