With All-Star weekend on our doorstep, it’s time to take a quick look at how the Kia Rookie Ladder has played out so far. A couple quick notes, looking back at my spreadsheet in which I keep track of how the rookies have fared.
- Luka Doncic has held the top rung from Day 1, and can you blame me? Doncic grabbed our attention in the first week with a 31-point performance in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs and hasn’t looked back. There were times Deandre Ayton has pushed him, but every time the Phoenix Suns’ big man had a big game, Doncic countered with a brilliant performance of his own. At this point, the Kia Rookie of the Year award is Doncic’s to lose.
- Speaking of Ayton, he has been in the Top 5 all season and second in nine of the 14 versions of the Rookie Ladder I’ve put out. He’s been Doncic’s biggest competition this season, until Trae Young’s recent string of big games brought him back in the discussion.
- In the 14 weeks I put out a Rookie Ladder, fourteen different rookies have made an appearance in the Top 5. Here’s the breakdown by number of appearances in the Top 5: Doncic (14), Ayton (14), Young (9), Jaren Jackson Jr. (8), Marvin Bagley (6), Kevin Knox (5), Collin Sexton (4), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2), Wendell Carter Jr. (2), Josh Okogie (2), Kevin Huerter (1), Allonzo Trier (1), Rodions Kurucs (1), Landry Shamet (1)
There’s still a lot of season left, so anything can happen. Injuries (knock on wood we don’t have anything major) could derail seasons and playing time for rookies can increase as teams shift their attention toward the future. With an extended break after the All-Star festivities, we’ll check back Feb. 28 as the second half of the season kicks into high gear. Buckle up, because this rookie class could have a lot of surprises and big moments in store for us.
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1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Last week: No. 1
Count Dwyane Wade as a fan of Doncic. Before Wednesday’s game, Wade raved about what he’d seen from the Mavs’ rookie. “It seems like he’s been here before already. He’s just very seasoned,” Wade said. “I think Dallas Mavericks fans, NBA fans, sports fans around the world should be excited about what he can do for the next 20 years in this game. … As a fan of the game, I love watching him play. He does things on the court that wows you.” After the game, Wade compared Doncic’s court vision to that of a certain teammate of his. "Quote me right where I say this -- it’s LeBron James-like from the standpoint of how he’s able to rope that pass to shooters in corners, getting blitzed." Doncic finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in the Mavs’ 112-101 loss to the Heat and finished the week putting up averages of 21.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists in four games.
2. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Last week: No. 2
Young had one of his best games of the season this week, and he saved it for LeBron James with the Lakers in town. Young had 22 points and 14 assists and several big plays to help Atlanta beat L.A. 117-113 to snap a three-game skid. ''I try to live in big moments,'' Young said. ''I feel like I belong here. He's one of the best players of all time. But when I'm out on the court, I'm trying to compete and get a win.'' In four games this week, Young averaged 18.5 points and 9.3 assists while shooting 42.1 percent overall and 47.6 from beyond the arc.
3. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
Last week: No. 4
Despite losing their head-to-head matchup, Ayton climbs past Marvin Bagley this week due to his consistency since returning from his ankle injury. In those six games, the No. 1 overall pick has averaged 17.8 points, 10 rebounds while shooting 54.4 percent from the field in 31.8 minutes per game. Phoenix tends to forget about its big man at times, but when Ayton becomes the focus of the offense and gets involved, he’s tough to stop. He enters the All-Star break as the top rookie rebounder (10.5 rpg) and its No. 3 scorer (16.5 ppg).
4. Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings
Last week: No. 3
Bagley made a statement this week against the Suns with the best game of his young career. Bagley, taken No. 2 overall behind Phoenix’s Ayton, put up a career-high 32 points and grabbed six rebounds to help the Kings to a 117-104 win. Bagley was dominant inside, going 10-for-15 from the field, 11-for-13 from the free-throw line and scored the Kings’ first 12 points in the fourth quarter. Bagley’s week wasn’t all great, though. Two nights earlier, he had just three points in 20 minutes, but it came in a win against the Miami Heat. Bagley’s not worried about stats at this point, as the Kings are in the hunt for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. ''We have this goal in our heads about getting to the playoffs and it's getting close right now,'' Bagley said after Sunday’s win. ''Every game matters. I'm excited, after we get done with this next game [120-118 loss to Denver], how we come back from break and see where we can go from there.''
5. Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
Last week: Not ranked
Sexton is starting to find consistency on the offensive end. In four games this week, Sexton led all rookies in scoring over the past week, averaging 21.8 points on 44.0 percent shooting over four games. He was 43.5 percent on 3-pointers and seems to be showing more confidence in leading the young Cavs, a change Kevin Love has noticed in the 20-year-old rookie. “Just confidence,” Love said. “I mean I think there’s times when he’s just trying to break habits. And being a rookie there’s times where it’s gonna be up and down. But he’s been able to push through. He’s been able to show a lot of bright spots and he’s playing with a lot of confidence. It’s really good to see.”
Just missed the cut:
Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
In four games this week, Jackson averaged 15.5 points and 4.3 rebounds, highlighted by a 27-point outing in a 117-95 loss to the Thunder last Thursday. It was the Grizzlies’ first game after Marc Gasol was traded to Toronto. Jackson came back to earth in the three games since, but you have to imagine he’ll be a focal point in the second half of the season.
Landry Shamet, LA Clippers
It didn’t take long for Shamet to leave an impact on his new team. In his first game since being dealt to L.A., Shamet helped the Clippers rally from 28-down in Boston, scoring 13 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter. Shamet followed that with 15 points in Minnesota two nights later. Shamet has established himself as one of this class’s best shooters, and he’ll play a big role down the stretch if the Clippers aim to keep their playoff spot.
Josh Okogie, Minnesota Timberwolves
Okogie’s two-way impact was on full display in Wednesday’s 121-111 win over the Rockets. Okogie scored 16 points, but also made several key stops on James Harden to help seal the win. In one stretch in the third quarter that helped turn the game, Okogie had a crucial strip of Harden, then moments later blocked his step-back 3-pointer to ignite the crowd even further. Okogie’s performance drew praise from teammates and coaches. ''We saw him grow up tonight in a lot of ways, I thought,'' Timberwolves interim coach Ryan Saunders said. ''In terms of game plan, following the game plan, just staying within the moment and not getting outside of himself.''
Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks
Fellow rookies Kevin Knox and Allonzo Trier have gotten most of the spotlight so far, but Robinson is making his mark. Over the past five games, the second-round pick (36th overall) has averaged 12.6 points. 8.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks, while shooting 74.3 percent from the field. After Wednesday’s 126-111 loss to the Sixers -- in which Robinson had 14 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks -- Philly’s Joel Embiid spoke highly of the Knicks’ rookie. “He has a lot of potential. He needs to work on his body, but he’s got a chance to be a good big man in this league. … A couple times I thought I had a shot, but he just came up with his long-ass arms and blocked it.”
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(All stats through Wednesday, Feb. 13)
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