The 2018 NBA Draft is over, early grades are in, and the league is set for free agency and Summer League to kick off over the next few weeks. However, it is never too soon to look ahead to the start of the 2018-19 campaign and, given the emphasis on what is an intriguing rookie class, there should be plenty of chatter about this year’s pursuit of Rookie of the Year honors.
It might be difficult to replicate the plain madness of the 2017-2018 battle between Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons but here are five players that have clear paths to contention, at least in the traditional sense of what the voting rewards.
In the least surprising outcome of the draft, Ayton led things off by landing in Phoenix and he’ll be in a fantastic Rookie of the Year situation, to the point where betting markets see him as the favorite. Questions about Ayton’s defensive projection are real but he is a player that seems destined to put up a ton of counting numbers at the next level. Beyond that, the Suns have every incentive to give him a ton of minutes and opportunities from the first game of his NBA career and, with the Rookie of the Year award, per-game numbers often play a significant role.
Ayton may not average 20 and 10 as rookie because, well, basically no one other than Tim Duncan actually does that. He can, however, produce at a high level on the offensive end and that puts him in a fantastic position as arguably the front-runner for the hardware.
Much like Ayton, Bagley has legitimate defensive question marks but, to put it plainly, that has little to do with Rookie of the Year evaluations for the vast majority of the voting body. The former Duke big man does, however, bring a ton of offensive skill and potential value to the table, with a motor that runs quite hot on that end of the floor. In the future, Bagley profiles as a potential 20-10 player with high-end finishing ability around the rim, athletic burst that is off the charts, and the ability to get off the ground multiple times on the offensive and defensive glass.
Perhaps more importantly, there is no one on the Kings current roster that should stand in the way of Bagley receiving every opportunity to do damage. It is easy to see some growing pains with the pick-and-roll (and pick-and-pop) combination of Bagley and De’Aaron Fox but, when things are rolling, it could be a lot of fun, plus the duo of Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic should provide floor spacing. At least some of Bagley’s rookie-year performance might be dictated by how his jump shot develops but, even if it fails him, there is enough here to see a ton of counting stats and production.
Whether he landed in Dallas or Atlanta, Doncic was always destined for this list, simply because both situations would have provided him with ample opportunity. The Mavericks are probably a better spot, at least in the short-term, because Dallas is actually trying to win next season and Dennis Smith Jr. provides a backcourt partner in crime for the Slovenian wunderkind.