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Noel keeps his No. 1 perch as new names enter fray

Rookie Ladder: Week 2

POSTED: Nov 5, 2014 10:28 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper

NBA.com

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The Starters: Better Block?

The starters debate who had the better block, Nerlens Noel or Brook Lobez.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Top 3 of Rookie Ladder remains unchanged
  • Sixers' McDaniels, Heat's Napier get into the mix

It's the first full week of the season, not the time for real assessments, so no major adjustments from the opening rankings that set up the race for Rookie of the Year. You're welcome for the reprieve, Nik Stauskas, Doug McDermott and Bojan Bogdanovic.

This is it, though. The Ladder is unforgiving territory with Dante Exum, Kostas Papanikolaou and others are pressing for inclusion after K.J. McDaniels and Shabazz Napier pushed their way in thanks largely to a shooting touch most classmates have been slow to find. Things get cutthroat the rest of the way with the goal of tracking the best rookies in the big picture, not ranking who just had the best week.

Longshots happen. A season ago, Mason Plumlee finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting and Tim Hardaway Jr. fifth after being drafted 22nd and 24th, respectively. Before that, Chris Copeland tied for sixth as an undrafted forward who had clawed his way up from the NBA D-League and three different leagues in Europe before getting to the NBA. And before that, 2011-12, Kenneth Faried went from No. 22 pick to third in balloting and Isaiah Thomas from No. 60 to seventh.

This time, Napier, McDaniels, Papanikolaou have already started making their case from every direction.

Napier immediately played a key role in the Heat's start -- all stats here were from games heading into Tuesday's schedule -- by shooting 62.5 percent as the backup point guard with twice as many assists as turnovers. That was as the No. 24 pick.

McDaniels was an obvious second-round sleeper all along. But him going from the 32nd choice to contributing nine points, at least one block in three of four games (at small forward, no less) and 52-percent shooting in 20.2 minutes is noteworthy no matter what.

Papanikolaou was a second-rounder by the Knicks in 2012, No. 48 overall, whose rights bounced from New York to Portland (part of the deal that sent Raymond Felton to Madison Square Garden) and Portland to Houston (part of the trade that brought Thomas Robinson to the Trail Blazers). Papanikolaou signed with the Rockets in September and, though he's shooting just 38.1 percent overall, was 40 percent behind the arc in his first four games.

McDaniels and Napier are in while Papanikolaou and lottery pick Exum are making cases. The time for patience with slow starts in the previous top 10 is running out. Major adjustments could be coming. For now:

Previous Rankings: Cards stacked in Noel's favor

ROOKIE LADDER RANKINGS: WEEK 2

1. Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers (Last week's ranking: 1)

Noel's Quick Steal

The Sixers turn it over, but Nerlens Noel makes up for it with the quick steal of his own and goes in for the bucket.

Two games with 10 rebounds, one with five and another with one board is a choppy start, but also typical rookie inconsistency. It's only a problem if it lasts. Besides, Noel has also had three blocks in two of the outings, six steals and five assists one night, and broke double digits in scoring twice.

2. Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks (2)

Parker Pummels It

O.J. Mayo runs the break and lays it off to Jabari Parker who pounds home the nasty two-hand punch.

He moved from starting power forward to starting small forward after three games. It's an adjustment on defense for someone whose athleticism was in question all along, but probably not much of a change beyond that. Parker leads all rookies in scoring at 10.7 ppg, though while shooting 35.1 percent, and in rebounding at 8.3.

3. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves (3)

Wiggins Blocks Noah

Joakim Noah drives baseline for the reverse layup and Andrew Wiggins rises to stuff him at the rim.

Saturday against the Bulls was the reminder, or the introduction for some, that Wiggins can be more than offensive flash. Wiggins may have had eight points on three-of-10 shooting, but he also contributed six rebounds, two blocks and two steals to help keep Minnesota close in a 106-105 loss.

4. Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic (4)

Payton to Vucevic

Elfrid Payton threads the needle with the pass to Nikola Vucevic for the layup.

The shooting struggles (36.4 percent) are no surprise. But the point guard posted nine, seven and seven assists his first three outings, mostly while taking care of the ball. Yes, there were the six turnovers Thursday against the Wizards, but that was sandwiched by games of two and one.

5. Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls (6)

Mirotic got just 15.9 minutes in the crowded Chicago frontline the first three games, the lowest average of anyone in the top five. But, he made 50 percent of his shots overall and 42.9 percent of his threes (plus all six free throws). The experience of seasons in the competitive ACB league in Spain and being 23 years old is showing.

6. Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings (5)

There is an opening to take over as the starting shooting guard, with Ben McLemore at 26.3 percent from the field and the Kings looking for any help on perimeter shooting. The problem? Stauskas is shooting just 23.5 percent himself, a figure that includes 27.3 percent from 3-point range.

7. Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets (7)

The 31st pick in 2011 started each of the first games, a nice platform, but shot 39.1 percent and scored more than seven points once. The experience of playing in Europe and being 25 years old is not showing. Bogdanovic is admitting the transition to the NBA has been harder than he expected.

8. Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls (8)

McDermott Slam

Doug McDermott makes the back door cut and gets the two-hand slam.

Not only is McDermott six of 16 (37.5 percent) from the field, three of the baskets are on layups or dunks and four of the attempts are from within the restricted area. To put it another way, one of the best shooters in the draft is three of 12 from beyond a few feet. That won't last. Or at least it better not.

9. K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers (not ranked)

The ability to score, the blocks as a wing, the athleticism -- this is why he was getting workouts deep into the first round before the draft. McDaniels lasted until early in the second round, setting Philadelphia up for a steal. Welcome to the early returns.

10. Shabazz Napier, Miami Heat (not ranked)

Riding the wave has gone from winning the national championship as a senior at Connecticut to getting the LeBron James seal of approval to being picked in the first round to a good start in the NBA. Napier has made half his shots while posting an assist-to-turnover ratio of about 2-1.

Dropped out: Marcus Smart (9), James Ennis (10).

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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