This was an atypical week for the NBA with most of the focus centering around the knockout stage of the inaugural in-season tournament. As a result, many teams had a couple days off between games, and some squads played only two matches over the last week. But even with a pared-down week for the league, there is still plenty of worthy action to talk and write about regarding the top rookies.
But before we get to that, the NBA handed out some awards earlier this week, with Chet Holmgren and Jaime Jaquez Jr. winning Rookie of the Month in their respective conferences. Neither selection is all that surprising, and with Holmgren winning in the West over No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama, it kind of gives us a benchmark of how the league views the Rookie of the Year race. I've said on multiple occasions that Holmgren has been the best in his class thus far, but there's still plenty of time for that to change.
Now, let's move on to the rookies who stood out the most this week. Keep in mind that these rankings will reflect a rookie's performance on a week-to-week basis only, not the collective season. These aren't Rookie of the Year standings, but rather a reflection on what the player has done over the past week. With that straightened out, here is a look at the top five performers from the NBA's freshman class:
There isn't a rookie-team combination that fits as well as Jaquez does on the Heat. He's been everything Miami could've hoped for, and I don't think anyone anticipated that he would make this much of an impact on a team fresh off of losing in the NBA Finals. It seems like Miami always finds itself in this situation: drafting a player later into the lottery or first round that other teams clearly skipped on for one reason or another. Only for that player to flourish almost immediately while being nurtured under the always talked about "HEAT culture." We saw it happen with Tyler Herro, and we're seeing it happen with Jaquez, who in 13 of his last 14 games has reached double figures in points, highlighted by a 24-point outing this week.
It's not just the scoring that makes Jaquez an obvious win for the Heat. He does so many of the little things that add to the value. Like knowing how to move without the ball into space to set himself up for an open jumper:
Or seeing a couple steps ahead and making the smart pass which leads to an easy dunk:
Oh, and then there's the crazy bounce and athleticism that Jaquez possesses, which leads to exciting plays like this:
Jaquez's scoring, playmaking and rebounding make him a vital piece for the Heat, and he's only going to improve as the season carries on.
The Spurs are in a freefall, as they're in the midst of a 15-game losing streak, just one game shy of the franchise record. But don't let that distract you from the fact that Wemby has still been balling on a nightly basis. Even in games where he has what could be considered "off" nights, he's still showing all the flashes of a future All-Star. Against Minnesota, despite having just 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting from the floor, he's still doing things that virtually no one else in the league can do.
It's not every day we see someone get off an unlikely hook shot against three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert under the basket, but here's Wembanyama doing exactly that:
But what's become glaringly apparent is that the Spurs need an infusion of talent to surround Wemby with, because there's always a handful of possessions each game where his teammates are missing reads to him in the post for what would be an easy two points. That will -- hopefully -- improve with time, because when Wembanyama's in the dunker spot he's basically unguardable.
George is already looking like Utah's point guard of the future with his crafty handle, ability to score at all three levels and, of course, being the best facilitator in his rookie class. He's leading all rookies in assists per game, and he's the only player in his class to put up multiple games with 11 assists, which he's already done three times. He's the perfect table setter for his teammates, using a barrage of dribbling moves to dizzy a defender only to lob it up to a big man in the paint, or flip it out to a shooter on the perimeter.
Having guys like John Collins and Lauri Markkanen to feed the ball to only complements George's court vision, and those are only the plays where he's actually getting credited with an assist. George leads the league in potential assists with 9.1 a game, showing that he should be averaging far more than 5.2 assists this season.
Lively's impact has been immediate in Dallas. His chemistry with Luka Doncic in pick-and-roll situations is already one that teams have to scramble to figure out how to stop, something that Doncic pointed out after the Mavericks' 50+ point drubbing of the Utah Jazz this week. "They're already a little bit afraid of him," Doncic said. "You saw they put a smaller guy on him so we don't play pick and roll, but we managed that well."
Lively may not get the touches other rookies get, but when Doncic and the Mavericks give him the opportunity he often takes advantage of it, and is incredibly efficient in the process. Earlier this week in a loss to the Thunder, Lively put up his first 20-point outing, on a perfect 9-for-9 from the floor. The former Duke product was looking like a young Tyson Chandler out there on the floor, skying for tip dunks, and somehow pulling off this emphatic finish while contorting his body midair to avoid a potential block from fellow rookie Chet Holmgren:
But it's not just the dunking and pick-and-roll prowess Lively brings on defense that makes him important to Dallas. His rim protection is something the Mavericks have sorely needed, and while he can sometimes be too aggressive when he's defending in the post which results in fouls, that's something that will surely improve as he learns and develops.
There hasn't been much to be excited about regarding the Wizards this season as Jordan Poole and Kyle Kuzma haven't provided the high-scoring one-two punch that some expected. But one silver lining in what's been a disappointing start to the season is Coulibaly, who had an ultra efficient two-game week. This kid is just electric, and he proved it on more than one occasion against the 76ers with several highlight-reel level dunks.
Coulibaly is an athletic scorer, but where he could prove to have the biggest impact on the game is on defense. It's more than just putting in the effort, Coulibaly is an absolute pest on that end of the floor. He's got great footwork to stay in front of opponents, always has active hands and has great instincts that help disrupt passes. He's coming off the bench right now, but if the Wizards decide to move pieces at the trade deadline to open up more opportunities for him, Coulibaly will certainly thrive in the bigger role.