Who Were the 10 Best Rookies in the NBA This Season?

In part 4 of GSC’s year-end awards, we select the All-Rookie First and Second Teams.

Webster defines a rookie as “a first-year participant in a major professional sport.” But Webster probably got to sit on the bench a year and watch Roget work his magic with the thesaurus, so that’s hardly fair.

In 2018, everything is dumb and we can’t even decide who’s eligible to win Rookie of the Year anymore. Last year, NBA media collectively decided 31 games of trusting the process to perfection wasn’t enough to win Rookie of the Year, so they gave it to Malcolm “Barely Scored 10ppg” “6th Best Player on a .500 East Team” “Likable Kirk Hinrich” Brogdon. This year they’re attacking another process truster because he was sidelined last season instead of spending the year developing his game like every other rookie. Makes sense.

The NBA defines a rookie as any player that’s never played a game in the NBA until that year. Vince Carter, not a rookie. Danuel House played one minute for Washington last year. Not a 2018 rookie. Ben Simmons didn’t play last year. That makes him a rookie.

serge and I have been handing out NBA regular season awards left and right. We already drafted our All-NBA teams, so let’s double down and pick First and Second All-Rookie teams too. Ten picks, back and forth, top 10 best rookie seasons. Let’s do this.

First Team All Rookie

1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia (Brandon)

Simmons is the Rookie of the Year. He’s also worthy of all-Defense recognition, and he might make All-NBA too. He made ours. What else is there to say about the guy? How about this:

2. Donovan Mitchell, Utah (Serge)

I could just be a contrarian and insert like three other names here to make sure the rest of the internet joins Celtics Twitter in their hatred of yours truly. Mitchell’s had what is undoubtedly one of the best rookie seasons of the last decade, shattering expectations and providing material for future re-draft articles in droves. He also became the go-to option for a Utah team coping with the loss of their star, got them right back into the playoffs and has them playing out of their collective mind. Rookies just don’t do that.

Any other year Mitchell would be the one and only option for ROY and the undisputed first selection for All-Rookie team. Unfortunately this isn’t any other year because we have a literal magician in Ben Simmons. So Spida has to settle for all the consolation prizes.

3. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Sacramento (Brandon)

The NBA does All-Rookie right, and by that I mean they let us just pick the best five guys for First Team and the next five for Second Team, positions be damned. Well this is a draft, and I’m using some draft strategy. There’s four pretty clear First Team rookie selections, so I’m waiting on the other two and staking my claim to the fifth, a man so nice they named him twice.

Bogdan Bogdanovic is the best player on the Sacramento Kings. I realize that’s kind of like being the best ice fisherman from South Sudan, but there are only 30 best-player-on-an-NBA-franchise guys in the world, and Bogdanovic is one as a rookie. He is the one Kings player every NBA playoff team would benefit from rostering.

Bogdanovic averaged 15/4/4 per 36 minutes and shot a tidy 39% from deep. He is a jackknife that can do a bit of everything, moving the ball along quickly, taking a quality shot if it’s there, acting as a secondary handler and creator, and playing decently switchable defense on the wing. Bogdanovic is 25 years old and was the All-Europe Player of the Year last year, so he’s cheating even more than Ben Simmons, but I don’t care.

4. OG Anunoby, Toronto (Serge)

We’re about to get a very angry email from LaVar Ball, because no matter how much you try to be a contrarian, I can’t see you pick anyone else other than Tatum here. Besides, it’s my job to piss off Boston. Stay in yo lane.

OG is the unsung hero of this year’s draft class. Even now, he is very often an important factor in the Raptors success. If he doesn’t tweak his ankle Game 4, we probably win it with him on the floor. OG has been the plug-and-play 3-and-D forward we thought Norm was going to be when we gave him all that money. He is the Bruno that was promised, capable of amazing defense and able to knock down shots when necessary. Easily a top-5 rookie this year.

5. Jayson Tatum, Boston (Brandon)

Color me stunned. I don’t have OG on my First Team, nor Second, and he would’ve been a close call on my hypothetical Third. I mean… OG scored 6ppg and played 20 minutes a game, and he lost playing time down the stretch. He was like… the 8th or 9th most important Raptor? Look, I love OG. I had him top ten on my draft board, and I practically begged my Timberwolves to take him (RIP Justin Patton). He’s super fun and useful. But his inclusion here means we now have to leave the leading scorer of the Los Angeles Lakers (your favorite team, by the way!!) off First Team. And Lonzo, who’s barely even First Team All Lakers rookies.

Alas. Future Hall of Fame lock (just ask Twitter) Jayson Tatum is definitely First Team. He’d have a case for Rookie of the Year most seasons, and he’s been far better than I ever would’ve expected. All hail President Stevens. What would it have looked like if Tatum and Kuzma swapped teams? Would Tatum still have shot 43% threes? Doubtful. Would he have led the Lakers in scoring? Probably. But I think we’d be hyping Kuzma a lot more. How is it possible that a rookie led the Lakers in scoring as the #27 pick and is somehow UNDER hyped? My head hurts.

Second Team All Rookie

6. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Serge)

OG’s impact is measured in less than points and how well he fit into the system. I also wanted a Raptor on there to piss off the maximum amount of people. He’s probably closer to fringe Second Team if we’re being honest, but this is draft, so you want your own All-Rookie team? Go draft it.

Here we go, we’re into MY Lakers now and Kyle Kuzma surprised pretty much everyone this year by being the best (?) Lakers rookie. I maintain that Lonzo wasn’t THAT bad and should probably make this list at some point. Kuz had to operate between Lonzo needing the ball a lot and Julius Randle having stretches where he was almost not a bust, and he carved out a nice scoring role once Jordan Clarkson got shipped off to serve as decorative wallpaper in LeBron’s depreciating apartment.

7. Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns (Brandon)

Everyone wrote Jackson off after a brutal start (including me), especially since we were all comparing him to Tatum and that looked pretty silly two months in. But while no one was watching — like literally no one, probably not even Devin Booker — Jackson put up numbers the second half, a solid 19/6/3 line post All-Star Break.

I respect the OG love, and it’s fun to see some of these rookies show up in the playoffs, but mostly All-Rookie teams are for numbers. So with respect to the Royce O’Neales and Daniel Theises of the world, it’s hard to ignore 19 points and six boards a game, no matter how atrocious (very) your shooting and ortg/drtg numbers are.

8. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls (Serge)

I’m not a huge fan of lanky European stretch fours being compared to legend of his time Dirk Nowitzki, so this is a tough pick for me. But I also want you to spare you the pain of picking a Bull, even as part of this exercise.

The last thing Chicago needed in the middle of an identity crisis was their young core getting better than expected and playing themselves out of useful draft positions, but that’s exactly what happened. Lauri came into his own while we were waiting for LaVine to return and Bobby Portis was contemplating following James Johnson into MMA. He was combative, scrappy, and better on the boards than expected.

9. Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn (Brandon)

I’m a Lauri agnostic. The Wolves fan in me has to ignore that we gave up the pick that turned into a sweet shooting stretch forward that could’ve played next to Towns, and the Bulls fan in me doesn’t believe we can have nice things and wonders what was so special about this season other than a shooter making a lot of shots.

These last few spots are tough. We’ve got 20-minute big men Jarrett Allen, Bam Adebayo, John Collins, and Jordan Bell. There’s useful rotation wings Dillon Brooks and Royce O’Neale. Dennis Smith put up 15/4/5… shooting under 40% with a 93 offensive rating. De’Aaron Fox was just as bad with a couple memorable fourth quarters. And of course there’s a certain Lakers rookie guard who had a great second half… Josh Hart.

I went with Allen because he improved most when he got a bigger role. Adebayo rocked off the bench but stunk as a starter. Collins was similar. But Allen got better as a starter, and he wasn’t exactly playing with a team of All Stars. Besides, how often do we get to say something nice about a Brooklyn player? Shouts to Sandy Mui.

And really… Anyone but Lonzo.

10. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas (Serge)

Poor Lonzo. I, for one, am glad the constant stream of LaVar Ball commentary has petered out as he focused on his other two sons. Maybe the internet infrastructure isn’t particularly great in Lithuania. Will any team bite on the LaVar threat of signing all three of his sons? Maybe this is just LaVar opening up a door to his own franchise in Seattle.

DSJ is my final pick, despite my Canadian heart whispering “Brooks” tenderly into my ear. He was my dark horse ROY, and I half-expected DSJ to be what Donovan Mitchell has become for Utah. He still put up decent numbers and gained the trust of a coach who notoriously doesn’t put a lot of trust in his rookies. There were flashes of genuine genius when you watch Smith Jr. play and I want more of them. Sorry Lonzo.

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