Second Tier Rooks, Markkanen, Fox and Brooks, Are Trending Up

Was the 2017 draft a strong draft?

The lazy way to evaluate it is to make a judgement on players drafted at the top of the draft and label them as representatives and spokesmen for the draft at large. The high profile picks and their achievement are often funneled through a bubble to determine if the draft as a whole was a weak draft or a strong one. Young players on rebuilding teams, or second round picks, are often overlooked, even as they are getting minutes, making shots, are efficient and important for their team’s success, despite their inexperience. Here are three that have kicked off their NBA careers in style.

Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls

It’s not easy to enter the NBA with one of the worst teams in the league and still keep your head held high. Lauri Markkanen’s ticket to the Bulls starting lineup was nothing short of luck. Nikola Mirotic had his face broken after a  training camp fight.

Since his debut, Markkanen has shown pose and professionalism. Markkanen has made the most three-pointers thus far out of all rookies, and is second in player efficiency rating among this group. His seven foot height makes all his stats even more mind blowing.

Markkanen has shown an ability to make the players around him better. Coupled with Robin Lopez, the Finnish recruit has been able to roll away from high screens and knock down the three-pointer exceedingly well, ranking in the 91st percentile in points per possession coming off screens. While initial scouting reports were wary of his defense, Markkanen has thus far demonstrated above-par defensive displays, which will undoubtedly improve as his career progresses.

The comparisons to Kristaps Porzingis are never-ending, and give us a reason as to why the Bulls were so desperate to jump to the seventh pick in the draft this year. Keep in mind though – Markkanen’s stats this season have exceeded Porzingis rookie stats in nearly every category. The Bulls look like they have a raw diamond in their mix.

Rookie Year Points FG% 3-Pt% Rebounds Defensive Rating
Kristaps Porzingis (2015) 14.3 42.1% 33.3% 7.3 103
Lauri Markkanen (2017) 14.8 43.7% 36.4% 7.6 107

De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings

You don’t usually see a rookie hit a game-winner just eleven games into his NBA career. However, that’s just what this year’s 5th pick  did. That isn’t the entire story for his season so far. Fox is shooting 40% from the field, including just 22% from three-point range. While he hasn’t been a consistent starter, Fox has shown signs of regular rookie transition issues in his dipping shooting numbers.

Even if Fox’s jumper never fully develops, his speed and athleticism have and will continue to set him apart from the rest of the league. There is still space for his playing style in the league today – John Wall embodies it. He thrives on elbow jumpers and drives to the basket, using his quickness to beat his opponent on the first step and lead fast breaks. Should Fox develop a game similar to this, he could emerge as an All-Star in years to come.

Rookie Year Points FG% 3-Point % Assists Offensive Rating
John Wall (2010) 16.4 40.9% 29.6% 8.3 100
De’Aaron Fox (2017) 10.9 40.6% 22.7% 4.7 93

In the case of  De’Aaron Fox, or as the Kings tweeted after his game-winner, ‘De’AarWIN Fox’, it’ll take time for this development to happen, considering the state of the franchise that he’s been placed in. However, given his ability to handle the pressure of late game scenarios, don’t be surprised if you see Fox sneak in more crucial shots in coming years as he blossoms into a deadly two-way guard.

Dillon Brooks, Memphis Grizzlies

If there’s a single rookie who’s most suited to the Grizzlies, it has to be Dillon Brooks. His competitiveness, hard work and style of playing with his heart on his shoulder suits Coach Dave Fitzdale’s system perfectly. Despite being drafted at the 45th spot, he’s already established himself as an adept starter for the Grizz, and looks like he could develop into a solid two-way player in a few years.

Brooks may not be the best shooter from deep, though he makes up for it on the defensive end. Not only does he lead his team in steals, he’s given some of the league’s best players a run for their money with commanding stopping skills, and recently held his own in an impressive battle against Giannis Antetokounmpo. He isn’t the kind of player who simply puts up gaudy stats too. Memphis net rating drops 11.7 points when Brooks steps off the floor, a difference comparable to that of the biggest stars in the league. Furthermore, Brooks has shown flashes of the ‘clutch’ gene – he’s shooting 66% in the last five minutes of games, and ranks just behind Jayson Tatum in clutch points among rookies.

Rookie Year Minutes Points FG% 3Pt% PER
Jordan Clarkson, (46th pick, 2014) 25.0 11.9 44.8% 31.4% 16.9
Dillon Brooks (45th pick, 2017) 29.3 9.3 45.4% 25.0% 9.4

You know you’re worth something when, of all people, Mike Conley praises you for playing with heart.