Last week, I handed the top rung to Trae Young, knocking Luka Doncic off his throne for the first time all season.
Boy, did that get your attention.
I received more emails and comments this week than all season combined. For the record, I’m not losing my mind. (But would I know it if I was?) Young deserved the nod, and I stand behind it.
And as a reminder: the Kia Rookie Ladder takes into account the season on the whole, with extra weight given to recent performance. Young was on a tear, and he earned the rung. Am I saying he’s the Kia Rookie of the Year? Absolutely not. I’ll make that decision at the end of the season. But for one week, at least, Young deserved the top spot.
Of course, right after I swapped them, Young went 6-for-28 from the field (2-for-8) in his next two games. And this is where it gets tricky writing this column every week. Doncic didn’t have a spectacular week, either. Which leaves me with a tough decision to make.
Check out their numbers this week in three games each:
|LUKA DONCIC (0-3)
|TRAE YOUNG (2-1)
|35.2 FG pct.
|35.0 FG pct.
|23.8 3-point pct.
|38.5 3-point pct.
|-7.0 +/- rating
|+10.3 +/- rating
For now, Young keeps the top spot, based mostly on Doncic’s most recent two games — which saw him go 10-for-34 from the field (2-for-13 on 3-pointers). Doncic, who remains the frontrunner for ROY based off the season on a whole, had one of his worst games of the season Tuesday, scoring 12 points while committing nine turnovers (the second time in the last three weeks he’s had that many) in a 112-105 loss to the Spurs.
Young had struggles of his own, but he picked up his first triple-double and led the Hawks to two wins to barely — just barely — hold off Doncic.
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1. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Last week: No. 1
Young had the first triple-double by a rookie in Hawks history Saturday, which was one of the highlights of his week. But to be fair to what I said above about Doncic’s clunker, Young also had a dud of a game this week, going 2-for-14 from the field (0-for-4 on 3-pointers) against the New Orleans Pelicans. However, Young also had 10 assists (five in the fourth quarter) and helped facilitate a 128-116 win when his shot wasn’t falling (he missed his first nine attempts). Coach Lloyd Pierce was impressed by Young’s ability to handle the rough shooting night. ”He came in the fourth quarter and played 12 straight minutes and shifted to just a playmaker,” Pierce said. ”I think it’s a sign of maturity. I think he’s going to have those games from time to time and understand he can still impact a game.”
2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Last week: No. 2
To Doncic’s credit, the rookie wasn’t even sure he’d play in the embarrassing loss to the Spurs, in which he went 1-for-9 from the free throw line. “Just in my head, I’m thinking I’m going to miss it. I’ve just got to work on that. I’ve got to think I’m going to make every shot.” Doncic had suffered a knee strain against the Rockets, but fought through the injury, which is admirable considering the Mavs’ position in the standings. “Honestly I wasn’t 100 percent, but I want to play. I want to play always. Even though we’re not playing for that much right now I just want to play every game.” You’ve got to love the attitude.
3. Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
Last week: Not ranked
Sexton has had his ups and downs this season, but he said this week “the game is starting to slow down a little bit.” And it shows. In three games this week, the point guard averaged 27 points on 58.2 percent shooting, hitting 57.9 percent of his 3-pointers. Sexton was huge in the Cavs’ surprise win vs. Toronto, scoring 28 points with four rebounds, five assists and zero turnovers. He was 10-for-18 from the field, and afterward coach Larry Drew said it might have been his best game of the season. “I really thought tonight was probably as complete of a game as I’ve seen Collin play in regards to him scoring, getting us into an offense and his decision-making. … He played a terrific all-around game.” A night later, he nearly willed the Cavs to a win in Philly, scoring 26 points on 11-for-20 shooting. It’s clear he’s becoming more confident running the team and finding his scoring spots.
4. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
Last week: No. 3
Ayton was crucial to the Suns’ surprising upset of the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, scoring 18 points and grabbing nine rebounds in the 115-111 win. But Wednesday’s loss to the Utah Jazz was a different story. Going against Rudy Gobert, Ayton finished with two points on 1-for-9 shooting in 32 ineffective minutes. Ayton didn’t hold back on his performance. “Overall, I give myself an F-minus,” Ayton told reporters. “This was a bad game. I definitely put this loss on me. I just wasn’t locked in. I don’t know what’s happening. The shots I took were pretty bad. This is definitely the worst game I’ve ever played.”
5. Landry Shamet, LA Clippers
Last week: No. 4
Shamet is going to play a big role in the Clippers’ run toward the playoffs. He’s getting 28.5 minutes per game in L.A. (he got 20.5 mpg with the Sixers), averaging 12.1 points on 44.1 percent shooting. He’s knocking down 46.9 percent of his 3-pointers with the Clippers, easily leading rookies in 3-point shooting on the season. If you haven’t seen a Clippers game yet, Shamet is worth checking out. His ability to come off screens and get his shot off quickly is a thing of beauty.
Just missed the cut:
Jalen Brunson, Dallas Mavericks
Brunson has scored in double figures in five straight and had his best game in the Mavs’ loss to the Spurs. The second-round pick scored 34 points and averaged 23.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 5.7 apg while shooting 65 percent overall (and 41.7 percent on 3-pointers) this week. “He’s probably grown more than any player,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “If you go back to the Summer League in July, if you’d seen him play then and you saw him play tonight, you’d say ‘Wow.’ ”
Kevin Huerter, Atlanta Hawks
The young sharpshooter scored 27 in the Hawks’ 128-116 win over the Pelicans on Sunday, going 11-for-18 from the field (4-for-7 on 3-pointers). On a night Young struggled to find his shot, Huerter was needed and the Hawks kept looking for their other rookie. ”My teammates started finding me,” Huerter said. ”They started running plays for me almost every possession down the court.” Huerter followed that up with 16 points, five rebounds and four assists in Wednesday’s win against Memphis.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LA Clippers
Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 12 ppg in three games and was his consistent self from the field, shooting 52 percent overall (and 3-for-4 on 3-pointers). He helped L.A. get wins against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston Celtics before seeing their five-game win streak end Tuesday against Portland. The Clippers are winning while starting two rookies, so if watching rookies is your thing, they might be worth adopting down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Frank Jackson, New Orleans Pelicans
Jackson has been mentioned in this space a few times this season, but he’s really blossomed over the last few weeks. He’s scored in double digits in six of his last eight games and averaged 19 ppg and 46.4 percent shooting in his last three games while filling in for Jrue Holiday. “I think with him, it’s all about confidence,” coach Alvin Gentry said of Jackson’s improvement. “I think the more he plays, the more confidence he gets. The big thing for me is that he’s not duplicating mistakes. You tell him something and then he takes that out of his game and tries to take a step forward. That’s the big thing.”
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(All stats through Wednesday, March 13)
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