Kris Dunn didn’t come off the board until the fifth pick in June’s 2016 NBA draft, but to hear the rest of his rookie peers tell it, the former Providence star and newly minted Minnesota Timberwolves guard is poised to be No. 1 with a bullet among this year’s freshman class.
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As he does every year, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann had the first-year players in attendance at this year’s Rookie Photo Shoot at the New York Knicks’ practice facility in Greenburgh, N.Y., answer 10 questions about their fellow newbies. The top question in this year’s Rookie Survey: Who’s going to win Rookie of the Year? The top answer: Dunn, who topped 29 percent of ballots among the 38 players polled. Second on the list? The No. 2 overall pick, Brandon Ingram of the Los Angeles Lakers, who received 25.8 percent of votes. The No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers, finished third, receiving less than 20 percent of votes.
Simmons’ showing seems somewhat surprising, considering both the estimable playmaking talents he showed as a point forward at LSU and the likelihood that he’ll see both major minutes and major opportunities to facilitate offense with the ball in his hands for the still-offense-starved Sixers. Perhaps even more surprising, though, is where Simmons’ tied-for-fourth-place finish on the question of which rook will have the best NBA career, behind Ingram (26.7 percent of votes), Dunn (16.7 percent) and New Orleans Pelicans guard Buddy Hield (13.3 percent), and tied with Phoenix Suns big man Dragan Bender, Boston Celtics wing Jaylen Brown and Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, all of whom received 6.7 percent of votes.
Maybe the rest of the rookie class has an abundance of respect for the potential of their other peers … or maybe, as Kyle Neubeck of Sixers blog Liberty Ballers suggests, “Simmons’ role on a [LSU] team that didn’t make the NCAA Tournament […] played a large part in his diminished stature among his peers.” (It’s also possible that they’ve spent a lot of time watching DraftExpress’ scouting breakdown of Simmons’ weaknesses, and that they’re not sure why he’s shooting lefty, either.)
It’s worth noting, of course, that incoming rookies haven’t exactly proven to be the world’s most accurate prognosticators in years past. Since correctly tapping Kevin Durant as the eventual Rookie of the Year back in the summer of 2007, the freshmen have been incorrect in the last six surveys:
• They picked Blake Griffin in 2009, only to watch Tyreke Evans snare the crown as Griffin missed the entire season with a fractured patella;
• They picked John Wall in 2010, but Griffin — still eligible after missing his entire first season — took the award after putting up rookie per-game averages matched only by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Elgin Baylor;
• They picked Anthony Davis in 2012, but Damian Lillard took the trophy after leading the NBA in minutes for the Portland Trail Blazers;
• C.J. McCollum and Victor Oladipo split the top spot in 2013, but the wide-open opportunity to amass counting stats on the woeful 76ers helped Michael Carter-Williams run away with the award;
• They picked Jabari Parker in 2014, but injuries limited him to just 25 games as Andrew Wiggins rose above the pack;
So, congratulations on your Rookie of the Year award, Ben! A word of advice: if Joel Embiid asks to arm-wrestle you for it, politely decline and exit the room.
There’s plenty of reason to believe that the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Dunn — a four-year star at Providence who twice won Big East Player of the Year and conference Defensive Player of the Year honors — has the tools to make a significant impact at the next level. But if he’s able to break the by-now-totally-established-and-very-real Rookie Survey Curse and join Wiggins and Towns as the third straight Wolf to take home RoY honors, it likely means things have unfolded a bit differently for new head coach Tom Thibodeau’s club than many might have expected, as laid out by John Meyer at Wolves blog Canis Hoopus:
The way it’s currently set up is for Dunn to be one of the first players off the bench and it seems unlikely that he’s going to see more than 25 minutes per game with Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine in the picture as well. Simmons is going to have the rock in his hands more than any rookie, period. Brett Brown is going to let him do whatever he wants in transition and lean on him heavily right away to stuff the stat line.
The same cannot be said about Dunn. This isn’t meant to put him down in any way—he’s clearly one of the best players in his class and he’s more NBA ready than most—but if we’re legitimately talking about who is going to win Rookie of the Year, than the conversation needs to center around situation, opportunity, and role. Simmons has the edge in all of those areas, though the rest of the rookies felt a little bit differently.
It might just be, though, that the other rooks love Dunn that much. After all, they didn’t just vote him the favorite for Rookie of the Year; they also made him the top choice for best defender, best playmaker and, most importantly, funniest rookie. You heard it here first, sports fans: department-store goofs go a long way with millennials. Someone tell Brian Shaw to update his files.
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