We've hit the quarter mark of the season, and in a year that has seen dozens of games postponed, no fans in most cases and a ridiculous amount of players held out due to health and safety protocols, it's safe to say that no other rookie class has had to endure what these crop of first-year players have been through. Now that we've seen about a month's worth of games from these guys, it's only right to rank who I think the top three rookies are for Rookie of the Year at this point in the season:
- Tyrese Haliburton (11.1 PPG, 5.0 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 45.7 3P%)
- James Wiseman (12.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.4 BPG)
- LaMelo Ball (11.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 5.8 APG, 1.3 SPG)
While No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards is leading all rookies in scoring (13.0 PPG), his efficiency in getting buckets hasn't been great. He's shooting just 35.5 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from deep on over five attempts per game. If he was more efficient, he'd be up in the top three, but for now, he's ranked No. 4 for me.
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Now moving on to this week's rookie rankings. These rankings will reflect a rookie's performance on a week-to-week basis only, not the collective season, so these aren't Rookie of the Year standings. With that straightened out, here is a look at the top rookies this week.
In an effort to mix things up, Warriors coach Steve Kerr pushed Wiseman to the bench in favor of Kevon Looney, and while it might seem like a demotion, it's not a permanent placement for the No. 2 overall pick. In fact, Wiseman even said himself that coming off the bench would help with his development as it allows him to analyze the flow of the game and what the opposing team is doing before he checks in. That certainly helped when the Warriors took on the Timberwolves in the second game of a two-game series. Wiseman went off for an efficient 25 points, six rebounds and two blocks. He went 3-of-3 from deep, and 9-of-14 from the floor, and got most of his points simply by just being in the right place at the right time.
He wasn't trying to do too much or forcing anything. Instead, he ran the floor and got to his spots and trusted his teammates to find him either down in the low post for an easy layup or dunk, or open at the 3-point line. It was by far his best performance of his rookie year, and he continues to get a better feel for the game in each matchup.
Here's a stat, Edwards ranks first in the league in points scored per possession in isolation (1.571). Although it may be a small sample size, as isolation plays make up just five percent of Edwards' possessions, this is no fluke. Coming out of college his isolation scoring was highly touted, as he uses his ridiculous speed and quickness to get past essentially anyone.
While he's not finishing around the rim at the rate of top guards in the league like Jaylen Brown (71.3 percent) and Zach LaVine (71.1 percent), his 46.8 percent in the restricted area puts him in a similar class as Donovan Mitchell, Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick Rose. Not bad positioning for a 19-year-old rookie.
Quickley has become the darling of the rookie class this season, and for good reason. His floater has already been heralded as the deadliest in the game and he's one of the best pick-and-roll scorers in the league. This past week he became just the second rookie this season to put up 30 points in a game (former Kentucky teammate Tyrese Maxey is the other one).
What's more impressive about Quickley's performance, though, is he did it off the bench. He's consistently proving his worth on this young Knicks roster, and if he continues on this track he'll make it hard for coach Tom Thibodeau to not put him in the starting lineup.
Anthony continues to improve in his 3-point shooting, where he struggled heavily at the start of the season. Through his first 10 games, he was shooting 17.2 percent from deep, but in his last nine contests, that's significantly improved to 48.6 percent.
One aspect that's factored into his improved shooting from deep has been the freedom he's been given to create for himself a bit more. Since he's been thrust into the starting lineup, he can put the ball on the floor a bit more and try to create space and knock down a 3-pointer in rhythm. He's far more efficient when he puts the ball on the floor and pulls up from deep, as opposed to just being used as a catch-and-shoot scorer. When Anthony takes 0-2 dribbles before launching from deep, he connects just 31.2 percent of the time. Compare that to the 43.7 percent he's shooting when he takes between 3-7 dribbles and the difference is pretty noticeable.
Haliburton ranks in the 95th percentile in the league in transition scoring, which isn't surprising given that the Kings are a team that wants to get out and run against you, which is why they rank 10th in the league in pace (101.23).
But Haliburton elevates Sacramento in transition, with his ridiculous speed, court vision and 3-point shooting. His tenacious defense also helps lead to transition points, off of deflections by playing the passing lanes, blocks and steals. Haliburton's length makes him a nuisance on defense, and when he gets out in transition, it's trouble for the other team.
After a loss to the Bulls earlier this week in which Ball played in just 16 minutes, Hornets coach James Borrego was asked why the prized rookie wasn't seeing more minutes. Borrego pointed at Ball's five turnovers in that matchup as the reason, saying "that ain't gonna cut it for me," and that "if you're doing that on the offensive end, you better be bringing something defensively." While Borrego may be right, you don't want a guard turning the ball over five times in a game. But let's give this some context. Ball is a rookie, and it's expected for him to commit a lot of turnovers as he feels out the game. Also, it's not as if Ball is just driving into the defense and losing the ball off of bad drives. Let's look at the five turnovers from that Bulls game
Of those five, I'd say Ball made a bad read on the one that resulted in a Coby White steal. Other than that, a couple looked like missed communication with teammates, and others just missed the mark from being in his teammates' hands. If he connected on all those dishes to Cody Zeller, they would be highlight-level assists for a rookie. I get where Borrego is coming from, but maybe let's give the rook a little bit more room for mistakes.
Okoro's defensive effort is what's been getting him attention this season, but in a game against the Pistons, he showed some flashes of what he can bring on offense. One finish in particular, a drive to the rim through contact that led to an and-1, was really eye-popping. His greatest asset on offense is his ability to get to the rim and finish at a decent rate (56.3 percent), and with more opportunity, he can improve even further in that area of his game.
Jones hasn't been getting a ton of consistent playing time in Houston this season, but when he is given the opportunity to show his worth, he over-delivers, like his 16-point outing against the Dallas Mavericks. His small sample sizes of production show that he ranks among the league's best in pick-and-roll scorers, generating 1.143 points per possession. While he's only gotten 14 total possessions in the pick-and-roll, it's encouraging to see that he's been so effective running it. That's exactly what you want out of a player who won't see the court often.
Vassell has been impressive on both sides of the ball this season, showing his ability to knock down 3s at a high clip and be a bit of a disruptor on defense. What's been most impressive, though, is his knack for not turning the ball over. Prior to the game against the Celtics in which he recorded three turnovers, Vassell hasn't turned the ball over for 11-straight games, and has only recorded six turnovers in 18 games so far. It's not as if he's not getting playing time, his minutes have steadily increased as the season moves forward, he just does a great job at protecting the ball. That's a great asset to have as a rookie and something that will surely keep him in good graces with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
Windler didn't appear in a single game last season after sustaining a stress fracture to his knee, then missed 13 of the Cavs' first 14 games to start this year with a wrist injury. But he just finished his first full week with Cleveland, and he immediately showcased what makes him an intriguing prospect.
He's an ideal 3-and-D type player for a Cavaliers defense that ranks eighth in the league, and his ability to knock down shots from deep will help a team that's struggled to get anything going on offense.