Welcome, Rook: Ball, Tatum, Fultz and more making NBA debuts
By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Basketball Writer
MIAMI (AP) — If there was one takeaway from Lonzo Ball’s first training camp and preseason, it was this: He doesn’t sound like his dad.
There’s no humility in Ball’s game. The confidence of the Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie point guard is through the roof when he’s on the floor and with a ball in his hand. But when he speaks, when microphones are thrust near his face and the lights of cameras shine in his eyes and reporters pepper him with questions, there’s no bluster or bravado emanating.
Yes, even the most ballyhooed player in this highly regarded NBA rookie class knows that a learning process awaits over the next few months.
“The grind of the season, 82 games, I’ve never played that before,” Ball said. “It is my first year, so I don’t know what really to expect. But I’m going in there with an open mind, ready to learn, ready to get better and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
His dad, LaVar Ball, has made plenty of headlines with his sometimes over-the-top thoughts, plus has faced tons of criticism for things like slapping a $495 price tag on the infamous Big Baller Brand shoe that was released months before his son made his NBA debut. But Lonzo Ball speaks with humility, a calmness that helped convince the Lakers that he indeed was the right pick to be the rebuilding team’s point guard of the present and future.
“I’d like to just play,” Lonzo Ball said.
No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz will be part of Philadelphia’s young core that the 76ers hope get them back in the Eastern Conference playoff mix, No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum should be a big part of a Boston team that believes it can compete for a title, and No. 9 pick Dennis Smith Jr. — an absolute freak of an athlete, even by NBA standards — is already being mentioned as a star of the future in Dallas and a legitimate rookie of the year candidate this season.
They won’t be asked to be great right away. But this rookie class might have as much potential as any in years. Here’s some of what to know from the rookie perspective going into the season:
Don’t expect to see many freshmen on the floor in Los Angeles for the All-Star Game in February.
Here’s the last three rookies to make an All-Star team — Blake Griffin in 2011 (which was his second year in the NBA), Yao Ming in 2002 (after he was a pro in China before coming to the NBA) and Tim Duncan in 1998.
The odds are stacked even higher against the guards. The last rookie guard to make the game was Michael Jordan in 1985, the last rookie point guard was Isiah Thomas in 1982.
SCORING COMES LATER
Since 2000, only seven rookies have averaged 20 points per game. They were Blake Griffin (22.5), Carmelo Anthony (21.0), LeBron James (20.9), Kevin Durant (20.3), Joel Embiid (20.2 last year, after he missed his first two seasons), Elton Brand (20.1) and Tyreke Evans (20.1).
The learning curve can be steep, when considering that stars of now like Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Love, Marc Gasol and Al Horford all averaged less than 12 points as rookies. James Harden averaged 9.9, Mike Conley 9.4, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were just under 8 points per game, Giannis Antetokounmpo was at 6.8, Kyle Lowry and Gordon Hayward didn’t even average 6 points and CJ McCollum barely averaged 5.
THEN AGAIN …
Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon showed last year that scoring isn’t exactly a prerequisite for rookie awards.
He averaged 10.2 points per game last season, the lowest for any NBA rookie of the year in the 68-year history of the award. Brogdon started only 28 games, by far the lowest for a ROY winner since the NBA started charting that statistic. Of Brogdon’s four most recent predecessors as top rookie, three — Damian Lillard, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns — started all 82 games.
Having 30somethings as NBA rookies isn’t unheard of, although the vast majority of those examples came in the league’s infancy during the 1940s.
Milos Teodosic is about to join that club.
The 30-year-old Serbian is a rookie for the Los Angeles Clippers this season, and yes, he’s eligible for rookie of the year honors. He’s starred in pro leagues in Russia and Greece, and Clippers coach Doc Rivers — not a bad passer in his day — says Teodosic is one of the best distributors of the basketball that he’s ever seen.
Other 30-and-uppers in recent years that have joined the NBA after foreign careers and made a quick impact include Pablo Prigioni and Marcelo Huertas. The most notable player to pull off such a move might be Basketball Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, who entered the NBA a decade after first being drafted and was a 31-year-old All-Rookie Team member for Portland in 1995-96.
No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz of Philadelphia said he is setting high personal goals.
Rookie of the year is on the list.
He doesn’t turn 20 until May, but could be the third teenager to win the award — potentially joining LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins were 19 in their ROY seasons, but turned 20 before those campaigns ended.
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