SALT LAKE CITY – Malcolm Brogdon is in this Kia Rookie of the Year race too, prominent without being present, a consideration without being a candidate.
What Brogdon did in such unique fashion with the Bucks in 2016-17 – winning the award as a second-round pick – becomes cause to consider the possibilities as the 2017-18 competition takes early shape with the Orlando Summer League three days old and the Utah session one night into its run here. And not just going from pick 36 to easy victory at the ballot box. It’s also how he did it: a guard with experience, leadership and maturity after four seasons of college, a rarity that paid off for Brogdon and Milwaukee.
Josh Hart (Los Angeles Lakers), Frank Mason III (Sacramento Kings) and Monte Morris (Denver Nuggets) have the same career DNA, although Morris, as the 51st selection, has a much steeper climb than Brogdon faced when the realistic goal a year ago would just have been to make the Bucks' rotation. Davon Reed (Phoenix Suns), Wesley Iwundu (Orlando Magic), Damyean Dotson (New York Knicks), Sterling Brown (Bucks via reported Draft-night trade with Sixers), Sindarius Thornwell (LA Clippers), Kadeem Allen (Celtics) and Jabari Bird (Celtics) are in a similar category. All guards, all picked in the 30s or later, all arriving after finishing senior campaigns. Nigel Williams-Goss (Utah Jazz) fits as well, except as a junior but with enough pressure games on his resumé to make up for one less season.
None, barring unexpected developments, will be close to the Rookie of the Year conversation when the regular season opens in October … but Brogdon wasn’t either as 2016-17 dawned. A lot will spend long stretches in the minors … just as it was a fair prognosis for Brogdon a couple weeks after he went in the second round. Some will get cut.
Brogdon has made it possible for experienced, reliable, 20-something guards to dream, though, even the ones picked in the 30s and later. Especially the ones picked in the 30s and later, actually.
The very early rookie rankings of the moment, so very early that five-deep is enough until more games have been played, with the Salt Lake City crowd at a slight disadvantage for now with only one night of action:
1. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
The No. 14 pick has not shot well, at just 40.9 percent. But he is first among all players in Orlando, regardless of experience, in rebounding (10 per game), second in scoring (19) and fourth in blocks (2.30) while defending multiple positions. He's giving an early glimpse why his Kentucky coach, John Calipari, insisted all along Adebayo would be in the lottery. Adebayo opened with 10, nine and 11 boards the first three games and three, two and two blocks.
2. Dakari Johnson, Oklahoma City Thunder
Still a rookie after two consecutive seasons with the Thunder minor-league affiliate, Johnson had 18 points and 10 rebounds Saturday followed by 21 points and seven rebounds Monday while shooting a combined 48.4 percent. The 2015 second-rounder is having another strong Orlando as part of an ongoing audition to get his NBA break.
3. T.J. Leaf, Indiana Pacers
Leaf missed the opener Saturday in Orlando with family business, then made sure everyone noticed he was back. The No. 18 pick had 12 points on 5-for-9 shooting along with five rebounds in 24 minutes followed by 19 points while making nine of 17 attempts and adding 10 rebounds in 28 minutes.
4. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
OK, so somebody made a mistake by not including Mitchell on the post-Draft/pre-summer league Rookie Ladder. He started at shooting guard alongside Dante Exum, played point guard, defended and excelled on offense. Mitchell was, in the bottom line, the best player on the court with 23 points, five assists without a turnover, and three steals as the Jazz beat the Spurs.
5. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Twenty-one points on 8-for-17 shooting, seven rebounds and five steals in 34 minutes will more than do for a first game in Salt Lake City. Tatum looked smooth even while missing four of five behind the arc, as projected for the No. 3 choice, and worked well with second-year forward Jaylen Brown, the best player on the court. Coach Brad Stevens made the point before the game Tatum could fit at multiple positions and not only play instead of Brown or Jae Crowder. This was a very early step to proving that, but a good one.
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