The Rookie of the Year race is always exciting in the NBA, and the 2017-18 season has been no exception with budding stars like Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell dropping jaws with their play at an early age. But don't forget that recent Rookies of the Year include players like Michael Carter-Williams and Tyreke Evans, who quickly fell off after strong rookie seasons and gave way to more talented members of their draft classes. As great as Simmons and Mitchell have been, the NBA's best long-term rookie may be a player who's flying under the radar at the moment. Let's take a look at some of the best rookies you may not have known have been having strong debut seasons.
MINS: 23.4 — PTS: 10.4 — RBS: 7.1 — BLKS: 1.1 — FG%: 55.8
This is somewhat of an obvious selection, as Collins generated a ton of hype during Summer League (All-Summer League First Team) and preseason action, and he has kept the momentum rolling through the games that matter. Collins suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him in early December, but he has mostly been a reliable option in the frontcourt and has played 67 of a possible 73 games. The postseason was out of reach early for the 21-54 Hawks, so the development of their young players quickly became a priority this season. The 20-year-old has responded by leading the team in blocked shots, field-goal percentage, and—perhaps most impressively—Player Efficiency Rating.
MINS: 19.6 — PTS: 8.1 — RBS: 5.4 — BLKS: 1.0 — FG%: 58.4
Like the Hawks, the 24-51 Nets haven't had a whole lot to be happy about this season, but Allen—Brooklyn's leader in PER—provides a glimmer of hope for the future. The 19-year-old has seen an increase in action over the past couple of months, and he's responded with per-game averages of 10.9 points (63.4 field-goal percentage), 6.7 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks over his past 27 games, 24 of which have been starts. Perhaps most encouraging has been his 81.6 free-throw percentage over that stretch (78.9 percent on the season), as he shot 56.4 percent from the line during his one year in college. Allen has mentioned that he is “probably a little mentally fatigued,” per Bryan Fonseca of Nets Daily, which has shown up on the stat sheet, as he's posted seven or fewer points in eight of his past 11 games. Allen has still managed a 55.2 field-goal percentage and 1.6 blocks per game over that span, however, and continues to look like a potential stud down low. If he can add some muscle over the offseason, Allen could be in for a big 2018-19 campaign.
MINS: 28.5 — PTS: 10.2 — RBS: 3.0 — ASTS: 1.5 — FG%: 43.8
With how unwatchable the 21-54 Grizzlies have been this season, it's forgivable if you didn't realize that Brooks has started 67 games, playing in all 75. His numbers certainly don't pop off the page, but the 22-year-old has gotten better and better as the season has progressed. Brooks has scored in double figures in 26 of his past 34 games with a few 20-plus-point outings mixed in. He hasn't been particularly efficient, and his age is working against him, but he's been a bright spot on a Memphis team with very few of them. He's the youngest Grizzly averaging double figures in points by five years.
MINS: 14.8 — PTS: 4.8 — RBS: 3.8 — ASTS: 1.9 — BLKS: 1.1 — FG%: 63.0
Somehow, the rich got richer in last year's NBA draft. The Chicago Bulls landed Bell with the 38th pick but promptly traded him to the Warriors for $3.5 million. The Bulls have plenty of exciting young talent, but they nevertheless probably wish they held on to Bell. Bell is the 2017 draft's leader in wins shares per 48 minutes among players who have played more than three games and is seventh in total win shares, and he has given the Warriors a surprisingly strong inside presence on a team loaded with perimeter stars. He doesn't need the ball to make an impact, which is perfect for a team with so many electrifying scorers. Bell only has five games with double-digit points in 49 appearances, but he has 10 multi-block games and nine four-plus-assist games. Like Brooks, Bell's age (23) theoretically caps his upside, but he is nevertheless a useful asset for one of the NBA's elite teams in just his first season.
MINS: 20.2 — PTS: 7.0 — RBS: 5.6 — FG%: 51.4
Simmons and Mitchell have gotten most of the headlines among rookies this season, but the 2017 draft, as you can tell by looking at this list, was clearly loaded with frontcourt talent. Adebayo was one of the highest-drafted big men in the class, going 14th overall. While his numbers don't seem like much to get excited about, the 20-year-old is fifth on the Heat in PER and defensive rating, and he's fourth in offensive rating. Hassan Whiteside is a stud at the center position, and given that neither he nor Adebayo is particularly good at hitting shots away from the basket, it may be difficult for Bam to truly flourish in Miami as an imposing inside presence—his natural role—but he is certainly showing early signs of being the big man Miami hoped he would be.