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Exum makes way into mix as Parker takes over top spot

Rookie Ladder: Week 3

POSTED: Nov 19, 2014 9:44 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper


An increase in minutes is providing Utah's Dante Exum a better shot at the Rookie of the Year award.

One of the pressing Jazz storylines of 2014-15, one of the intriguing rookie subplots of any team, and they are not close to a resolution. They don't even look close to getting close.

The season started, and nothing happened. One of the other Utah guards, Rodney Hood, was sidelined, forced into a walking boot by a foot injury, and that didn't change anything either. Dante Exum, the 2014 lottery-pick point guard, and Trey Burke, the 2013 lottery-pick point guard, have played a total of 21 minutes together and never more than seven in any of the five games they partnered on the court.

Either first-time coach Quin Snyder, experienced as an assistant and very smart, is taking his time getting around to the topic or, very unlikely, he has already decided it is a bad collaboration. Bottom line, though, is we're two weeks in and Exum-Burke is as unresolved as ever.

It's still incredibly early, especially the part about this being a piece of the Jazz future, and Exum is getting increased minutes during an encouraging start to reach 19.4 overall. (All statistics heading into Tuesday's schedule.) But continuing in the same positive direction means more playing time. That leads to a greater chance for a player who entered the league with a high profile to enter the conversation for Rookie of the Year, especially when a lot of front offices around the league didn't think he was ready for an immediate impact. The starter-reserve issue has a place in the discussion.

Exum insisted at every opportunity leading to the draft that he is a true point guard, not simply a scorer who needs the ball in his hands to create opportunities with elite athleticism. He can defend shooting guards, but doesn't have the perimeter game yet to truly succeed playing off the ball. And Burke, without a jumper, without the size to handle shooting guard or the athleticism to compensate, can only play point guard.

The Jazz have months ahead to reach a conclusion. It's just that Exum has quickly handled himself as something other than a prospect with practically no experience against good competition. He is already getting more minutes, an average of 23 per game the last four outings after failing to break 20 the first four. He is already moving up the rookie rankings.

One other Ladder-worthy note, unrelated to Exum: The sprained ankle that will sideline Ricky Rubio indefinitely is an unexpected huge opportunity for Zach LaVine in Minnesota. LaVine went from not playing in three games and getting five and eight minutes in the two appearances he did get to 26 minutes and a spot in the starting lineup Saturday at Orlando. That could give him four games as the starting point by the time the next rankings come, enough of a body of work to get an early read.

For now:

1. Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks (Last week's ranking: 2)

Parker Slam On The Break

Jabari Parker slams it home from the nifty Jerryd Bayless bounce pass.

Parker didn't seize the top spot as much as he backed into it. He was the last man standing in the process of elimination once Nerlens Noel played and limped his way out of the No. 1 spot. Parker is leading all rookies in scoring and rebounding, which counts for a lot, but at 11.6 and 6.1, respectively, hardly glittering numbers. He did recently have consecutive strong offensive showings of a combined 31 points on 14-of-25 shooting.

2. Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic (4)

Payton's Swipe and Slam

Orlando's Elfrid Payton steals the ball and heads to the hoop for the first-quarter slam.

Payton was closing in on the top spot before the five assists against four turnovers last Wednesday at Philadelphia and six assists vs. five turnovers Sunday at Brooklyn. That setback after an encouraging start as a ball handler, plus the predictable shooting problems coming true, makes it difficult to put him at No. 1. But it's easy to see him getting there if/when he finds a good direction again as a distributor.

3. K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers (9)

Wroten to McDaniel Alley-oop

Tony Wroten finds K.J. McDaniels with a perfect alley-oop pass for a massive throwdown.

What McDaniels lacks in flashy numbers -- 9.3 points, 2.1 rebounds, 48.1 percent from the field -- he makes up with efficiency beyond his years, and certainly beyond a second-round pick. One bit of flash worth following: 1.7 blocks, second among rookies and tied for 15th in the league, in 23.7 minutes from a 6-foot-6 wing.

4. Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers (1)

Noel Injures Ankle

Nerlens Noel sprained his ankle in the third quarter and did not return to the game.

Sitting out two games with a sprained left ankle is not cause for concern because it's an ankle and not his surgically repaired left knee. But in this case, it is two games in the wake of consecutive outings of two rebounds and one block in 17 minutes, one rebound and one block in 30 minutes and five rebounds and one block in 25 minutes. So he needs two different recoveries.

5. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves (3)

Wiggins Wham

Zach LaVine zips a perfect pass inside to Andrew Wiggins for the two-handed stuff.

While Rubio's absence will have a greater direct effect on LaVine, it is also an opportunity for Wiggins to get more shots after trailing Rubio in attempts at the time of the injury. As it is, Wiggins is fourth among rookies in scoring, one-tenth of a point behind McDaniels.

6. Dante Exum, Utah Jazz (not ranked)

Exum finishing with a solid season, not even a standout campaign, would put him ahead of projections considering the massive leap currently underway from high school competition in Australia to the NBA. This counts as solid so far. He hasn't shown any perimeter game but is making shots at close range, and the passing numbers have gotten much better after a bad start.

7. Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets (7)

Bogdanovic Gets Fancy

Bojan Bogdanovic goes behind-the-back to elude the defense for a first quarter bucket.

He is getting big minutes on a regular basis -- at least 25 in five of the past six outings and 32 each of the last two -- and repaying coach Lionel Hollins on a semi-regular basis. Bogdanovic has pinballed around, from 12 points to nine to eight to 22 while being just as unpredictable from the field. With that large role already, he will have the chance to move up.

8. Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic (not ranked)

Aaron Gordon Slam

Elfrid Payton dishes to Aaron Gordon for the dunk.

Gordon making shots beyond 10 feet would have been noteworthy. Gordon showing signs of a mid-range game, and at times farther out than that, is an important early development. Plus, he has been a versatile defender. But 3.3 rebounds in 16 minutes a night? That won't do.

9. Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls (8)

Pro: He's shooting 51.6 percent, though just 33.3 from 15 feet or beyond after arriving as one of the best perimeter threats in this rookie class. Con: His role is decreasing. McDermott has played seven minutes or less in two of the last four appearances.

10. Shabazz Napier, Miami Heat (10)

The point guard stays on the final rung, not by much, with an assist-to-turnover ratio of about 2-1, a tie for third in steals among rookies and a serious role in Miami at 21.2 minutes a game. But 37 percent from the field makes it a tenuous hold.

Dropped out: Nikola Mirotic (5), Nik Stauskas (6)

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

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