Lauri Markkanen and Dennis Smith might duke it out for All-Rookie honors

Lauri Markkanen and Dennis Smith might duke it out for All-Rookie honors

There's no real value given to players who make the All-Rookie Team. And, as the tweet below shows, it's not an end-all. be-all to who the best players in the class are and who projects as the best players down the line.

But it's still nice rookies to hang their respective hats on, which makes it interesting that Lauri Markkanen and Dennis Smith Jr. might be battling for the final two spots on the list. Here's a look at the realistic six players battling it out for five spots on the All-Rookie Team. (Note: We didn't include Sacramento's De'Aaron Fox or Bogdan Bogdanovic, who are playing well lately but likely don't have the full-year credentials to make the team).

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia: Apologies to the man following him on this list, but Ben Simmons is your Rookie of the Year. And it shouldn’t really be close. Simmons, who missed his entire first year with a broken foot, has averaged 16.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.4 assists on 53 percent shooting. Six other players have ever reached those thresholds: Larry Bird (once), Michael Jordan (once), Oscar Robertson (once), Wilt Chamberlain (twice), LeBron James (five times) and Magic Johnson (six times). That would be 6-for-6 on Hall-of-Famers, if you’re counting at home. Simmons, also with Joel Embiid, also has the Sixers in position to make their first postseason since 2012. He’s your Rookie of the Year. There’s no argument.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah: Two years ago Karl-Anthony Towns was named Rookie of the Year despite a fantastic season from Kristaps Porzingis. 2018 has a similar feel to it, in that Mitchell would be a frontrunner for the award most seasons, but likely won’t win it. Mitchell has all the makings of a superstar at the NBA level and has been remarkable in Year 1, leading the Jazz back from the dead and into playoff contention. He’s averaging 19.6 points, and that’s after a relatively slow start. Since Nov. 1 he’s averaged 21.0 points on 44.6 percent shooting, 2.5 3-pointers and has the Jazz back in playoff contention. He’s going to be the face of the Jazz for a long time.

Jayson Tatum, Boston: His numbers won’t jump off the page, but that’s how it goes for a guy who’s the third or fourth option, at best, in an offense. But simply put, Tatum has been incredible. Thrust into a much larger role when Gordon Hayward suffered that gruesome ankle injury on Opening Night, Tatum has averaged 13.3 points on 47 percent shooting, 43 percent from deep (sixth in the NBA) and has started all 63 games for the No. 2 seed in the East. He just looks the part, making plays and defending veterans like he’s been in the league 10 years himself. The only other rookie to average 13 points on 47/43 percent shooting was Steph Curry. Solid company for Tatum.

Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers: OK, so he’s probably not a lock to make the All-Rookie Team, but for the sake of tonight’s Bulls-Mavericks game just go with it. Kuzma has been this class’ biggest surprise, averaging 15.4 points and 5.8 rebounds after being the No. 27 pick in the first round. Kuzma has hit a serious wall since the calendar flipped to 2018, which coincided with teammates Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram thriving. But Kuzma’s numbers are still impressive for a guy who joined the Lakers with the loudest rookie in some time in Lonzo Ball. Instead, Kuzma has been the talk of the Lakers rookie class and has a solid shot to earn All-Rookie honors.

Lauri Markkanen, Chicago: Thrust into a starting role after one power forward in front of him on the depth chart punched the other in front of him in the face, Markkanen has exceeded expectations. He hasn’t simply been a 3-point threat, and he’s shown some flashes of being a plus defender. Markkanen is solid off the dribble, is improving in the past and has shown he’s an able passer. He’s got some kinks to work out, and he had an atrocious February after a stellar January, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can work past the rookie wall (and the becoming-a-father wall). Regardless of how he finishes, he’s proven to be a versatile scorer who rebounds well and is capable of depending. The Bulls couldn’t be happier with his rookie season to date.

Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas: The Las Vegas Summer League first teamer came to Dallas with sky-high expectations, and he’s met most of them – albeit in wildly inefficient form. His raw averages look solid on the surface: 14.6 points, 4.8 assists, 1.0 steals in 29.4 minutes. But he’s also shooting 38.8 percent on 14.4 attempts (the worst percentage of anyone shooting that often; Zach LaVine is second), 30.6 percent from deep, 69.0 percent from the free throw line (nice) and 2.9 turnovers. But his flashes of greatness – usually in transition or well above the rim – have made him a fan favorite and show just how good he can be down the line. He just turned 20 years old. The Mavs are giving him the keys to the car down the stretch of his rookie season, meaning he might put up some big volume numbers that earn him a spot on the All-Rookie Team, potentially over Markkanen.

Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history


Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history

We're trying to figure out the best season in Bulls franchise history, and we want your help in deciding.

Because the Bulls tout the greatest player in basketball history, who could have made up this list by himself, we're giving Michael Jordan his own side of the bracket. But the other side of the bracket is also filled with some pretty memorable and remarkable campaigns.

So read up on each matchup and then have your voice heard by voting on our Twitter page here. Check out the entire bracket in the graphic above.

The Jordan Region

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96) vs. No. 8 Michael Jordan (1990-91)

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96): Jordan was on a mission in his first full season back from retirement. He led the Bulls to a then-record 72 wins with a regular-season MVP award, All-Star MVP and romp through the NBA playoffs, where the Bulls went 15-3 en route to their fourth NBA title. Jordan won his eighth straight scoring title at 30.4 points a game, with nine games where he put up 40 or more. He saved his best for Detroit, scoring 53 with 11 rebounds and six steals in early March. To prove Jordan was getting better as he aged, he shot a career-high 43 percent from 3-point range at age 33.

No. 2 Michael Jordan (1990-91): 1990-91: Jordan's second MVP came with his first NBA title, as he was at the peak of his powers physically combined with the ultimate team success, with the Bulls finally getting past Detroit before defeating the Lakers in the Finals. He shot a career-high 54 percent from the field while averaging 31.5 points, six rebounds and 5.5 assists as he began to fully embrace the triangle offense in Phil Jackson's second season. Jordan had 57 games where he shot better than 50 percent from the field, and was among the league leaders in steals at 2.7 per game while earning his fourth straight All-Defensive First Team honor.

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11) vs. No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94)

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11): Where to begin? The youngest MVP in league history took the league by storm, averaging 25.0 points and 7.7 assists while leading the Bulls to a league-best 62 wins. Rose had been named an All-Star the previous season but took his game to new heights in Year 3, appearing in 81 games, making 128 3-pointers (after making a combined 32 his first two seasons) while helping the Bulls rank first in defensive efficiency under first year head coach Tom Thibodeau. Rose and the Bulls lost in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, with Rose shooting a paltry 35 percent on 24 attempts per game. But his historic season will always go down as one of the franchise’s best, and the only non-Jordan MVP.

No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94): Yeah, well what would Scottie be without MJ? We found out that answer in 1993-94, when Pippen took the reins of the franchise as Jordan rode the Birmingham bus as a minor-league baseball player. Pippen responded with a sensational season, averaging 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists. He averaged 2.9 steals, shot 49 percent from the field and became a 3-point threat for the first time in his career. He was named First Team All-NBA and All-NBA Defensive First Team, and finished third to Hakeem and The Admiral in MVP voting. He averaged 22.8/8.3/4.6 in the postseason but ultimately proved it was easier to win in the spring with MJ by his side. Still, this individual season was one of the franchise’s best, if not the best. Hardware isn’t everything.

NBA Draft Tracker: Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander


NBA Draft Tracker: Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

For most of the college basketball season, John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats ranked among the nation’s biggest underachievers. Calipari had perfected the one-and-done route in Lexington, recruiting classes full of McDonald’s All-Americans every year, making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, and then sending those talented freshmen off to the NBA. Matter of fact, Coach Cal’s ability to get players ready to play professionally is the foundation of his recruiting success.

However, this season the tried and true formula ran into a bit of a speed bump. Injuries and inconsistency led to double digit losses for the Wildcats during the regular season, and an uncertain tournament outlook. That’s when freshman point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander emerged as the leader of this young team, and sparked Kentucky to a Southeastern Conference tournament championship.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been even better in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 19 points with 8 rebounds and 7 assists in the Wildcats’ opening round win over Davidson, then coming back with 27 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in a victory over Buffalo.

At 6-6, Gilgeous-Alexander has the ability to shoot and pass over smaller defenders, while also possessing the quickness that is so crucial at the point guard position. Yes, he is very thin at 180 pounds, but has the frame to put on weight once he’s introduced to an NBA strength training program.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been Kentucky’s most efficient player throughout the season, shooting 49% from the field and nearly 42% from the 3 point line. He has the quickness and ball-handling ability to break down defenses and get in the paint for easy scores or assists. As the season progressed, Gilgeous-Alexander took on the role of go-to scorer late in games, sparking Kentucky’s runs in the S.E.C. AND NCAA tournaments.

So, by now I’m sure you’re asking, where does he fit with the Bulls? 3 weeks ago I was hoping Gilgeous-Alexander might be available in the 16-22 range where the Bulls might be able to get him with the Pelicans’ 1st round pick acquired in the Niko Mirotic trade. Unfortunately, his outstanding post-season play has him rocketing into the late lottery in the most recent mock drafts, and he could move up even higher if Kentucky advances to the Final 4.

The Bulls are happy with Kris Dunn as their starting point guard, and both Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne are under contract for next season. But if somehow the Pelicans fall out of the playoff field in the West (which seems very unlikely right now), adding an athletic combo guard like Gilgeous-Alexander would be an outstanding pick at 13 or 14.

So, when you’re watching Kentucky play in the NCAA Tournament, keep an eye on the tall, skinny guard wearing #22 and try to project just how good he might be on the professional level.