With the 2018 NBA regular season nearing an end, it is time to start talking playoffs, and of course the yearly awards. As card collectors, we are always looking at these awards, because they have significant impact on players hobby value. I will give my prediction on Rookie of the Year right now, since rookies are always a hot topic for card collectors. This could be one of the best rookie classes of all time, so we will also talk briefly about the other rookies that belong in the conversation. Hopefully some of you were lucky enough to pull some of these players cards in Contenders and Prestige. Make sure to check our website at cardsawaysports.com for all of the NBA Rookie cards. Comment with your Rookie of the Year choice!
Rookie of the Year Winner: Ben Simmons - PG - Philadelphia 76ers
Stats: 16.6 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.9 BPG
After missing last year due to a foot injury, Ben Simmons had a lot to prove in his first NBA season. Now that we are 59 games into his rookie campaign, it is obvious why Philadelphia used the #1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft on him. He is one of the most unique players to ever come through the NBA with his size and skill set. The only two comparisons I can come up with are LeBron James and Magic Johnson. At 6’10” 230 lbs, the Australian point guard is nearly unstoppable once he gets in the paint. He has shown an array of shots in the post; making it easy to score over the top of shorter defenders. If opposing teams use a big man to match his size, Simmons has the handles and speed to go right by them on the perimeter. With him being ambidextrous, he has the ability dribble and finish with either hand. The only weakness to his game right now is his jumper. He has been taking more mid range jumpers as the season goes on, but his range only extends to about 15 feet. If he gets a consistent outside jumper, it would make him nearly impossible to guard.
All this praise so far, and I have yet to mention his two biggest strengths: defense and passing. The defensive versatility that Ben Simmons has is extremely impressive, and the only player in the league that matches it is LeBron James. I know it is hard to compare a rookie to one of the all time greats, but this is literally the only comparison I can come up with. Simmons can guard the 1-4 positions on the court, and he can switch on all ball screens. With the pick and roll being the main source of offense in the NBA, the ability to switch screens is at a premium. Simmons length and lateral quickness has allowed him to stay in front of the best point guards in the league, including Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving. As of today, he is #8 in the NBA in steals per game (1.8), and #11 in deflections per game (3.1), making him one of the elite perimeter defenders as a rookie. He also has the size and strength to cover power forwards and some centers in the post. The fact that Ben Simmons is this good defensively, at age 21, shows he has the potential to be the most versatile defensive player in the league. Here are a few clips of his perimeter defense.
Simmons passing ability for a rookie is off the charts. He leads all rookies in assists per game, at 7.4, which also puts him at #6 overall in the NBA. This is also where the LeBron and Magic comparisons come in. Simmons is able to pick teams apart in the half court, due to his ability to see over the defense, but he is most dangerous after grabbing a defensive rebound and pushing the ball in transition. He is able to race up the floor and find teammates cutting to the hoop or leaking out to the 3 point line. Here is a video to show how he is able to set up his All-Star teammate, Joel Embiid.
Ben Simmons is leading all rookies in most most major statistical categories. Here is where is ranks among the 2018 rookie class:
- 1st in Assists per Game (7.4)
- 1st in Rebounds per Game (7.7)
- 1st in Steals per Game (1.8)
- 1st in Triple Doubles (6)
- 1st in Double Doubles (23)
- 2nd in Points per Game (16.6)
This class is loaded with talent, but I think Ben Simmons runs away with this award. If you have seen him play this season, it is hard to argue that he is not the best rookie. He is already one of the best players in the league. His immediate impact on the court has the 76ers in the playoff hunt for the first time in 6 seasons. Ben Simmons is the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year, and could potentially be an MVP some day soon. Start investing in his cards, if you have not already!
1. Donovan Mitchell - SG - Utah Jazz
Stats: 19.6 PPG, 3.5 APG, 3.5 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Donovan Mitchell was a bit of an unknown coming into the Draft. Some thought the Jazz were reaching when they took him at #13 overall. Turns out they were getting a steal in the late lottery. Mitchell is making a case that he is the top player in the 2017 draft so far. Everyone knew he would be a great perimeter defender in the league, but he has shocked everyone with his ability to score at the NBA level. Mitchell is the leader among rookies in scoring (19.5), and dropped a career high 41 points on the Pelicans in December. His biggest strengths offensively are his ball handling and athleticism. This makes it easy for him to create his own shot off the dribble against almost any defender. He came in the league as a “3-and-D” type player, but he has turned into much more than that. Although his 3-point FG% is not the best right now (35.2%), he has made 137 three pointers, which is tied for 20th in the league with Kyle Korver. If Mitchell can develop a more consistent 3-point shot, he will be a nightmare for opposing defenses.
With his offense exceeding all expectations, it is easy to forget how good of a defensive player Mitchell is. His athletic ability really shines on this side of the ball. He uses his speed and lateral quickness to stay with opponents on the perimeter, and will occasionally use his leaping ability to contest shots. Mitchell’s height is something scouts worried about coming into the draft, because he is only 6’3”, but he also has a 6’10” wingspan. This allows him to cover either guard position. That kind of defensive versatility is coveted in the NBA, especially with the abundance of talent at the guard position around the league. The fact that he is already this good defensively shows me that Mitchell will be a 2-way star in this league.
We are in March now, and Mitchell has the Utah Jazz in the playoff hunt, after losing star Gordon Hayward in free agency to the Celtics. If this were any other year, I would say he runs away with the ROY award. Ben Simmons is just that good right now. Mitchell is a great player for card collectors to invest in. He will be a perennial all star soon, so make sure you can get his cards while they are still affordable.
2. Kyle Kuzma - SF/PF - Los Angeles Lakers
Stats: 15.4 PPG, 1.8 APG, 5.9 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Kyle Kuzma will go down as the steal of the 2017 NBA Draft. He was selected at #27 by the Los Angeles Lakers, but he is showing the potential of an early lottery pick. Even with Lonzo Ball getting all the hype in LA, Kuzma has become the best rookie on this Lakers team. He really entered the national conversation after his 31 point Christmas day performance against the Timberwolves. Kuzma has been a pleasant surprise on the offensive end, averaging 15.4 points per game, and shooting just over 36% from three-point range. The last Laker rookie to average over 15 points per game was Magic Johnson. Although Kuzma seems to be hitting the proverbial “rookie wall”, I think he will stay over that 15 PPG mark. His confidence is always sky high, so I expect to see him continue shooting at a high rate.
The one thing that Kuzma will have to work on is his defense. In order to become an impactful superstar, you have to put in effort on both sides of the ball. With Kuzma playing the small forward position most nights, he will have to cover some of the best players in league, including: LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and even Ben Simmons. With a lot of those players being involved in the pick-and-roll, it is important to make smart and quick decisions. His defensive IQ needs to improve, especially when it comes to switching and off-ball defense. Kuzma has the skill and athletic ability to be a good defender, but it will require some serious film study and practice.
Overall I really like Kuzma’s game. He has the potential to be a number one option on offense, but he will need to work on his defense in order to reach that all star level. His season has been phenomenal, but as I mentioned with Donovan Mitchell, iy’d judt not enought to surpass Simmons. Kuzma’s hobby value will continue to go up, especially because he plays for a big market team like the Lakers. This is a smart player to invest in right now. He is the best rookie on the Lakers, and he could help turn their fortunes around with teammate Brandon Ingram. I’m all in on Kyle Kuzma!
3. Lauri Markkanen - PF/C - Chicago Bulls
Stats: 14.8 PPG, 1.2 APG, 7.6 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 0.6 BPG
Lauri Markkanen always had high upside, but no one expected him to be this good already. He is struggling lately, and is still averaging 14.8 points per game. That is usually enough to warrant Rookie of the Year talk. At 7’0”, Markkanen is a smooth athlete, and has an advanced offensive skill set for a Power Forward. His jumper has translated to the next level, as he became the fastest rookie in NBA history to reach 100 three-point field goals. The 7 footer reached this milestone faster than one of the best shooter of all time, Steph Curry. It only took Markkanen 41 career games to reach this mark. He is a prototypical stretch 4, so a lot of his shots come off pick-and-pop plays. Markkanen thrives off catch-and-shoot situations right now, but he is also a fluid ball handler for a big man. If he can develop a consistent pull up jumper off the dribble, it will be hard to stop him on the perimeter for other big men.
The only glaring weakness for Markkanen is his post defense. For a 7 footer, he does lack the length needed to be an elite shot blocker in the NBA. He has a small frame, so it is hard for him to hold his ground in the post against stronger Power Forwards, and centers. He does have solid footwork on defense, which is key in closing out and guarding players on the perimeter. This makes his defensive upside tremendous, because not many big men have that ability. His weakness is something that can be fixed with time in the weight room and and watching film. Hopefully Markkanen can be a 2 way superstar for the Bulls.
Markkanen may not have a lot of hobby value right now, but he will be an intriguing player to look at when talking about long-term card investments. I think he has the potential to be the next Kristaps Porzingis. Like Kuzma, he has recently hit the “rookie wall,” but his early season resume proves Markkanen has an extremely high ceiling. I say hop on the Lauri train early, and start investing in his rookie cards while they are affordable. Don’t expect to see a return on investment for a few years, though.
4. Jayson Tatum - SF - Boston Celtics
Stats: 13.3 PPG, 1.4 APG, 5.0 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Jayson Tatum was a highly rated prospect coming in, but like the rookies mentioned in this post, he is playing way beyond expectations. I saw the offensive potential at Duke, and when he was in High School, but Tatum has shown me things this year that I didn’t think he could do. His 3-point shot has been elite for most of the season. He is currently at 43.2 % from three, which is way above the league average. Right now he is tied for 6th in the league for 3-point field goal percentage. No one would have guessed his shot would be this good already, not even Danny Ainge. Tatum has dropped off a bit lately, but he is still putting up solid numbers for the second best team in the East. Tatum has also proved this year that he is one of the best ball handling wings in this draft. His ability to create his own shot off the dribble has been surprising. Tatum didn’t show much of that at Duke.
I think Tatum has a lot of talent and will probably go on to have a long NBA career, but I am hesitant to recommend investing heavily in his cards. Right now he is probably the 3rd scoring option on that Celtics team. That is without their star free agent signing Gordon Hayward. Once next year comes around, Tatum will be the fourth scoring option on a great basketball team. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Tatum’s career, but awful for his hobby value. I would be selling his rookies now while his stock is high. There is a chance Boston uses him in a trade this offseason to land another superstar. Hopefully Tatum lands on a team where he can become the first or second scoring option
The five guys I talked about all deserve to be on the 1st Team All-NBA Rookie team. It is a great year for collecting basketball cards. There are still guys I did not mention that are having solid seasons, like:
- Dennis Smith Jr. - PG - Dallas Mavericks
- Lonzo Ball - PG - Los Angeles Lakers
- De’Aaron Fox - PG - Sacramento Kings
- Frank Ntilikina - PG - New York Knicks
- Josh Jackson - SG/SF - Phoenix Suns
- Bam Adebayo - PF/C - Miami Heat
- OG Anunoby - SF - Toronto Raptors
- Jordan Bell - C - Golden State Warriors
- Josh Hart - SG - Los Angeles Lakers
- Semi Ojeleye - SF - Boston Celtics
- Dillon Brooks - SF - Memphis Grizzlies
All these names have played well at some point this season. That is unheard of in any sport. Like I said earlier, this may go down as one of the deepest drafts of all time. We haven’t even talked about the #1 overall pick this year, Markelle Fultz of the Philadelphia 76ers. He has been battling a shoulder injury all season, but I still think Fultz can be a top 5 player in this class. Hopefully he comes back full strength next year and has a breakout year like his teammate. My advice to all card collectors is get in on this years basketball product while you can!
2017-18 Basketball Card Release Dates
- 2017-18 Panini Contenders Basketball (2/21)
- 2017-18 Panini Prestige Basketball (2/21)
- 2017-18 Panini Select Basketball (3/7)
- 2018 Upper Deck Authenticated NBA Supreme Hardcourt Basketball (3/?)
- 2017-18 Donruss Optic Basketball (4/4)
-Andre Taylor, Cardsaway Sports