Could Markelle Fultz have a bigger rookie impact than Lonzo Ball?
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball is the marquee attraction of the NBA’s 2017 rookie class. Part of it is the marquee franchise, part of it is his college career, and part of it is definitely his outspoken father, but it’s safe to say we will be hearing about the former UCLA guard more than any other rookie this season.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Ball will be at the top of his class, though he may be favored to be. He’s well-equipped to find instant success at the NBA level, but here are five other young studs that have a chance to outshine him.
5) Jonathan Isaac, Orlando
Isaac flies under the radar a bit because he’s not an off-the-charts flashy player and played his one year of college basketball at Florida State — not a particularly flashy basketball school. He is, however, expected to be an immediate contributor to an Orlando team that will need it.
Isaac is a versatile forward who, while not yet an elite scorer, can impact the game in many ways. He’s a solid defender who can score when needed, with a growing shot from outside. He has strong potential as a rebounder, and he has the type of length and athleticism that makes scouts drool.
The odds are low that Isaac outdoes Ball in terms of scoring and assists right away. However, he may offer a more complete game than his counterpart, stuff a few stat sheets, and prove more impactful off the bat.
4) Josh Jackson, Phoenix
The Suns have wholeheartedly embraced a youth movement, meaning Jackson should see plenty of action right away. He should provide Phoenix with an athletic freak who can impact a game both offensively and defensively.
A hard worker, Jackson showed at Kansas that he can score and rebound, and he has shown the ability to be a quality passer as well. As a playmaker, he isn’t Ball, but he can set up teammates very nicely in his own right. Surrounded by shooters like Devin Booker, Jackson will have options around him and will be able to share the load offensively enough that his own jump shot being a work in progress won’t be a killer. He could put up big numbers.
3) Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas
Let’s let an NBA coach tell you just how highly Smith is thought of.
A 6-foot-2 guard who plays like he’s a lot bigger than that, Smith will get the keys to a Dallas offense that still features Dirk Nowitzki. He can score, he can get to the basket, he can pass, and he can basically do everything Ball can, which means these two will make for an intriguing comparison as they begin playing actual games. He brings with him a swagger that would make LaVar Ball proud, too — don’t expect him to be overawed by the NBA. He’s been a Summer League standout and may really open some eyes this season.
2) De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento
Fox will certainly be super motivated about being better than Ball, his Pacific Division rival. He’s admitted before that he wants to get the better of him and hasn’t stopped saying it, even in Summer League.
Fox’s mid-range jumper is still being polished but, hey, so is Ball’s, and Fox does so much else well. He’s quick, elusive, and exceptional at driving to the basket. He has good passing ability, though he’s still learning how to make the most of it. Perhaps most importantly, the rebuilding Kings will give him every opportunity they can to get on the court and learn the NBA game, meaning Fox will have plenty of opportunities to score and assist this season. He’ll be motivated, too — he does want to get the best of Ball, make no mistake.
1) Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia
Well, he is, after all, the No. 1 overall pick. The latest part of The Process is the one figure on this list with arguably the best chance of making the playoffs this season, and that alone gives him a leg up on Ball. Fultz will be surrounded by Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and J.J. Redick, and that should give him no shortage of opportunities to both score and assist for the Sixers.
Fultz can well and truly do it all. A potentially elite scorer, skilled dribbler, and quality passer, there’s a strong argument to be made that he is a better all-around guard than Ball is due to his more pronounced scoring ability. He will, as mentioned, have a better supporting cast than Ball, provided his teammates stay healthy.
One might argue that, with all this taken into account, Fultz will post a more successful rookie campaign than Ball will. Some fellow rookies feel the same way. Don’t sleep on Ball, though — he may not be the pure scorer Fultz is, but he’s a better passer at this stage. Fultz is definitely the biggest threat to Ball’s status as Rookie of the Year favorite, though, and the two should be fun to watch once the NBA’s regular season gets underway.