Due to a much-needed holiday break on my part, it’s been two weeks since we last checked in on this impressive rookie class, and they didn’t disappoint since then.
There have been some monster games in the past 14 days including the following:
- Luka Doncic scored a career-high 34 points Dec. 28 in New Orleans, going 7-for-10 from beyond the arc (10-for-16 overall) in a 114-112 loss to the Pelicans.
- Deandre Ayton scored a career-high 33 points with 14 rebounds (10 offensive) and four steals (also a career high) Dec. 29 in a 122-118 loss to the Nuggets. Ayton was 16-for-20 from the field.
- Landry Shamet scored a career-high 29 points to lead the Sixers to a 132-115 win over the Wizards Jan. 8. Shamet was 8-for-14 from 3-point land in what was easily his biggest night of his career.
- Hawks rookie Kevin Huerter scored a career-high 22 points Dec. 31 in a 116-108 loss to the Pacers. Huerter was 8-for-15 from the field, going 6-for-8 from beyond the arc.
- Pelicans rookie Frank Jackson scored a career-high 17 points Monday night in 17 minutes in a 114-95 win over the Grizzlies, then topped that two nights later with 19 points -- hitting all four 3-point attempts -- in 19 minutes in a 140-124 win over the Cavs.
We’ve just hit the midway point of the season, and big games should start becoming more common as teams falling further out of the playoff race give their youngsters more opportunities.
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1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Last week: No. 1
Doncic dominated his third matchup with No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, notching 30 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. It was Doncic’s fourth 30-point game of the season, while no other rookie has more than one. It was also his seventh game with 20-5-5. All other rookies have combined for five such games. Over the past two weeks, the Slovenian has averaged 22.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists while shooting 40 percent from 3-point land.
2. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
Last week: No. 2
While Ayton has had some monster games over the past two weeks -- averaging 16.2 points and 9.7 rebounds over nine games -- he’s also had some clunkers in the New Year. In a 121-111 loss to the LA Clippers, Ayton finished with four points and five rebounds with four turnovers, then struggled mightily in Wednesday’s loss to the Mavs. In 20 minutes, the big man had six points and five rebounds while hitting just 1 of 7 shots. ''For the first time, I think I ever, went scoreless in the first half and stuff like that just started to get to me a little bit,'' said Ayton, who was 1 of 7 from the field. ''It was just me being the bad egg today. I'm going to apologize to them about this, but yeah, it was a bad game for me.''
3. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Last week: Not ranked
Young has shot more consistently over the last two weeks, shooting 44.7 percent overall and 47.4 percent on 3-pointers. I’ve hammered Young repeatedly for his poor shooting numbers, so I have to give him props for his turnaround. Over his last nine games, he’s averaged 15.9 points and 7.6 assists and has generally looked more in control and selective with his shots. Young continues to lead rookies in assists at 7.3 per game, which puts him ninth among all players.
4. Kevin Knox, New York Knicks
Last week: No. 3
Knox was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for December after averaging 17.1 points and six rebounds. The 6-foot-9 forward out of Kentucky is certainly on the rise, but also admitted he may not even be done growing. “Doctors said I have a half-inch or an inch left in the tank,” Knox told the New York Post recently. “You never know -- hopefully I have an inch [left]. Maybe 6-10, 6-10½. If not, I’m perfectly fine with where I’m at.” For his part, coach David Fizdale is letting his young prospect grow with more minutes and responsibility. “Right now, he’s gained momentum, and [I want to] keep him rolling. It’s starting to become I need him on the court. That’s pretty good to say about a 19-year-old. We need him out there.”
5. Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
Last week: Not ranked
Jackson has scored in double figures in 10 of his last 11 games, but his rebounding and foul troubles are areas of concern. Jackson is first (or worst, depending on how you look at it) among all players in fouls per game (3.9) and is just sixth in rebounds per game among rookies. "Because of how long, tall and narrow he is, when guys lock him up he has a hard time escaping or staying on balance," Bickerstaff told The Commercial Appeal last week. "To be honest, with him, with his length and athleticism, he needs to be trying to escape people more and not let them get their hands or body on him where they can wedge him out." These are all things the 19-year-old will figure out, as Bickerstaff says. “The way he works, the way he studies, he's going to figure it out.”
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Just missed the cut:
Rodions Kurucs, Brooklyn Nets
Kurucs falls out of the top five, but it was a close call thanks to an impressive night in Boston. Kurucs tied a career high with 24 points. He finished 8-for-15 from the field, hitting a career-high five 3s on eight attempts.
Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls
Carter has scored in double-digits in five of his last seven games, with a pair of double-doubles to close out 2018. Most notably, he had a 17-point, 13-rebound, three-block showing in a win over the Wizards Dec. 28.
Landry Shamet, Philadelphia 76ers
Shamet not only scored a career-high 29 on Tuesday, but he also set personal bests by making eight 3s (one shy of Dana Barros’ team record set in ‘95) on 14 attempts. He scored 15 of his points in the third quarter when he was 4-for-4 from beyond the arc. “It just happens,” Shamet said afterward. “That might not be the answer you’re looking for, but it’s just simple, and it just comes in the flow of everything.”
Frank Jackson, New Orleans Pelicans
This could be an anomaly and Jackson won’t stick around these parts, but he deserves some love for his work off the bench. With E’Twaun Moore nursing a quad injury, Jackson has stepped up, scoring 17 points in a win on Monday, followed by 19 in Wednesday’s win over the Cavs. Jackson was 11-for 15 overall in the two games, going 7-for-12 from 3-point land (7-for-7 from the FT line).
Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
Sexton has scored in double figures in his last six games, but the Cavs are mired in an 11-game skid and the rookie is dealing with his own shooting woes. During the slide, Sexton is shooting 32.4 percent from the field, 35.5 percent on 3-pointers.
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(All stats through Wednesday, Jan. 9)
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