Josh Jackson on McDonough, Ayton, looking for a new home, and starting 1-0

Josh Jackson on McDonough, Ayton, looking for a new home, and starting 1-0

Phoenix Suns have chance at multiple All-Rookie team selections

Whats more Shiny and New than a raw, talented class of rookie class ready to show off what its got?

The beauty of the NBA is that every season brings a fresh crop of young talent, many of whom are able to step in and contribute in big ways right away.

2018 Fantasy Basketball Rookie Rankings

So which of this years rookies will shine brightest? Heres a look at five leading candidates for Kia Rookie of the Year (and a few others to keep an eye on).

All eyes will be on the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 Draft immediately, and not just because of his size. The chiseled center will be the focus of the offense immediately with current star Devin Booker still rusty to start the season coming off a hand injury. Ayton, at 7-foot-1, has the size and athletic ability to make an instant impact on a franchise that doesnt have a long list of dominant centers. Through the Suns first three preseason games, Ayton is averaging 21.3 points and 12.7 rebounds in 30 minutes per game. Hes finished several alley-oops off pick and rolls and shown the ability to knock down the mid-range jumper. He likely wont approach those numbers – especially when Booker returns — but about 15 points and 10 rebounds a night isnt hard to imagine. The Suns are still far off from challenging in the crowded West, but Ayton should at least be in the running for Kia Rookie of the Year.

OAKLAND, Calif. — As veteran Phoenix Suns players undress and get ready to shower after a preseason win over the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena, prized No. 1 NBA Draft pick Deandre Ayton sits next to his locker in full uniform looking at his phone. After a few minutes, he gets up, glances around and notices a gaggle of reporters waiting for him. Ayton, looking and acting like a mischievous, 7-foot 12-year-old, finds a large white board and wheels it over in front of his locker to shield himself from prying eyes while he disrobes. After showering and getting dressed, Ayton is told that the reporters are still waiting to speak with him.

Doncic is just 19 years old, but thanks to his experience playing in Spain, many see him as the favorite to take home Kia Rookie of the Year honors. And its not hard to see why. The Slovenian playmaker comes to the league with a reputation as a ballhandling floor general in the mold of Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, but with outside range to match. So far in the preseason, that range and passing ability has been on display. At 6-foot-7, Doncic is a tough matchup for opponents. Slower defenders cant handle his ballhandling or 3-point range, and he has the size to bully smaller defenders. The Mavs are starting him as a forward, but his versatility allows him to do a little bit of everything based on the matchups. With the Mavericks likely to be out of the playoff mix in the loaded West, Doncic should have every opportunity to put up big numbers. Hell definitely be a must-see on NBA League Pass all season.

Some felt it was a bit arcane to select Ayton, a traditional NBA center by most measures, first overall in a league where 3-point shooting and defensive versatility are at a premium. But those criticisms will be thrown out the window if (when?) Ayton starts consistently making 3s and improves his footspeed and technique to be able to switch onto smaller players defensively without being completely exposed. In the meantime, however — even if those things never happen — Ayton is already an exquisitely polished scorer, rebounder and shot blocker.

Thanks to the Hawks Draft night trade with the Mavericks, Young will forever be tied to Doncic and enters the season facing immediate pressure. Did Atlanta make the wrong move? Should they have stuck with Doncic? Only time will tell, but Hawks fans will be constantly checking box scores to compare the pair. Young will have every chance to prove his worth right away as the starter for a team lacking a superstar but filled with unsung young, athletic talent. John Collins has breakout potential, giving Young a big man to connect with — Young is averaging five assists per game in the preseason — but theres not much else to get excited about. It ultimately will be Youngs ability to knock down shots that will determine his future. So far, the results have been underwhelming for the 6-foot-2 guard, who struggled in NBA Summer League and is hitting at a 35.9 percent clip (25 percent on 3s) through three preseason games. Until he can figure out how to score in the NBA as an undersized guard, those shooting numbers will likely continue. However, scoring and playmaking should be there and keep Young in the spotlight and in consideration for the Kia ROY.

“Well, I finally believe that there is a Steph Curry, Kevin Durant — havent seen Klay [Thompson] really, but that was insane,” Ayton said after the Suns 117-109 win. “Just seeing how Curry can really score the ball and how efficient he is, its insane. When I seen that four-point play Im like, what the heck? It was just like Im watching it on TV but Im actually in the game, so I was like, alright Dre, lets lock in — lock in. You know, K.D., he was guarding me and I was guarding him — it was just like, a dream come true.”

The Bulls are expected to be at the bottom of the Eastern Conference this season, which means they will likely turn more and more to their big man from Duke. Hell start the season coming off the bench to spell Robin Lopez at center (Fred Hoiberg says Carter will play exclusively at center), but he could see more time — including crunch-time minutes — as he continues to grow. With Lauri Markkanen out to start the season, Carter will be able to contribute right away. His numbers from NBA Summer League — 14.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2.6 bpg, 55.1 FG pct. — have Bulls fans excited to see whats next for the 19-year-old. Carter has already won over his fellow rookies, as they tabbed him in NBA.coms Rookie Survey as the player who will have the best NBA career. Well have to see how that plays out, but its likely Carter could end up being a steal as the Drafts No. 7 pick.

Part of the reason has to do with Doncic, who reached unprecedented levels of international success as a 19-year-old earlier this year. In the modern NBA, a player of Doncics skill set and resume has fans and analysts salivating. But part of it might be that the public (people who bet) simply dont yet know how good Ayton already is. The Suns zeroed in on the big man early in the draft process, which meant the mystery, debate and analysis were left for the rest of the prospects.

LeBron James is gone, and so are the Cavs hopes to come out of the East. Theyve still got veteran talent with Kevin Love, George Hill and Kyle Korver, but if things go south (as some expect), Sexton should find himself playing more of a central role. Already hes projected to play heavy minutes — whether starting alongside Hill or backing him up — and should put up decent numbers. Hes a scoring point guard more than a distributor, averaging 19.2 ppg (compared to 3.6 assists per game) in his lone season at Alabama. Sexton, of course, was the primary scoring option for the Crimson Tide, who relied on him to be a playmaker who could get to the rim — which is how he scored most of his points. The knock on him entering the Draft was his outside shooting, so if he can improve in that arena, he could find himself making a name for himself.

Kevin Knox, New York Knicks: With Kristaps Porzingis still out, Knox will have a chance to shine right away. Hes got the size and outside touch to make a mark at Madison Square Garden and become a starter and building block for the Knicks.

Just 20 years old, Ayton is considered one of the most NBA-ready players in the 2018 draft class — its not like hes some project whos two years away from being two years away (shout out Bruno Caboclo). He produced in college and has produced in the preseason, yet hes still playing second fiddle to Luka Doncic in the Rookie of the Year odds. Ayton has closed the gap since July, but the Slovenian is still ahead of him according to most gambling services.

Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings: The No. 2 pick should contribute right away, thanks to an NBA-ready body and a Kings team looking for a star. Bagley has the size and athleticism to compete in the post, with an outside shot that will only improve. He very easily could approach double-double averages.

On top of that, Ayton has been the best roll man in the NBA this preseason, converting 10 of 13 attempts, according to Synergy. He has the size, agility and athleticism to be a daunting lob threat, but has also shown the ability to finish through contact and use a quick bounce after the catch to dunk before the defense can recover. He also has a knack for knowing when to slip the screen, which will only improve with experience.

Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies: The No. 4 pick has the size (6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan) to give Memphis a rim protector on defense and the shooting touch to knock down the outside shot. He might not see as much playing time as other rookies right away, but he has the added bonus of being mentored by Marc Gasol, which should help his long-term prospects.

“Hes definitely one of our best playmakers,” Kokoskov said before Phoenixs win against the Warriors. “Were gonna run our offense through him, not just necessarily as a post presence, but hes capable of catching the ball at the high post and top of the key and playmake for us. So hell kind of give us good angles and a funnel to attack the paint and to shoot 3s. Hes gonna be a very, very important piece of our offense.”

Mo Bamba, Orlando Magic: Bamba will make his mark this season on the defensive end, which should please new coach Steve Clifford. Bamba has the size and athleticism — and wingspan — to give Orlando a true rim protector (alongside Jonathan Isaac) down low. He wont likely put up big offensive numbers, but he should be top five among rookies in rebounding and blocks.

Kokoskov sees Ayton as more than just a post-up player and roll man, however, as he expects his franchise center to do a lot more playmaking from various positions on the court. Ayton can not only help find shooters like Devin Booker, Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson, but he can also dump off passes to cutters like Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren to take advantage of their slashing skills.

Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets: Bridges will see plenty of playing time thanks to his ability to play multiple positions. New coach James Borrego is already raving about Bridges versatility and his quick learning curve. He should help anchor the second unit and could approach double-digits in scoring thanks to a high motor and ability to step out and hit from beyond the arc.

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The No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton is a clear candidate to win Rookie of the Year, but hes not the only Phoenix Sun to have a shot at making one of the All-Rookie teams.

Phoenixs rookie guard rotation of DeAnthony Melton and Elie Okobo provides an interesting dynamic for the coming season. Both players will fight for playing time on a Phoenix roster that is sorely lacking experience at the point guard position.

In addition to the backcourt, standout small forward Mikal Bridges has a solid chance to make an impact for the Suns. Itll take some time and effort, but Bridges could find himself in a meaningful role early in the season.

The skys the limit for the rookies of Phoenix. Opportunity is everywhere and roles are mostly undefined. Theres a solid chance that more than one Phoenix Sun will end up on the All-Rookie teams by the end of the year.

The last team with more than two All-Rookie selections was the Cleveland Cavaliers with four players making the cut in the 1997-98 season. No team in the current millennium has had more than two players selected to an All-Rookie team in a single season and Phoenix has four rookies lined up to play significant minutes this year.

Odds Shark listed Ayton as having the second-highest odds to win the Rookie of the Year award with some high praise.

The rookie has all the tools necessary to dominate the league and for a team desperate for rim protection and rebounding, Ayton fits the bill to help a Suns squad that ranked dead last in points allowed per game, was 25th in opponent field-goal percentage and lost 61 games last season. While the odds arent great at +375, its worth noting that the No. 1 overall pick has won this award in three of the last four years and six of the last 10.

Its no surprise that Ayton is the headliner of the group. Following a stellar freshman campaign as an Arizona Wildcat, Ayton was considered for the No. 1 pick coming out of college. Listed at 7-foot-1, Ayton is a physically daunting task for any team hoping to slow him. Combined with his great footwork, arsenal of post moves and soft touch on his jumper, Ayton was the ideal modern big man.


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