Kia Rookie Ladder
Kia Rookie Ladder: Ayton, others starting to make their move
Week 4: Ranking the top five rookies in the NBA
It’s been two weeks since I checked in on this entertaining rookie class, and I appreciate the readers who took the time to point out my absence last week. Let’s me know someone’s paying attention, I guess.
(My bad. I was off getting married and honeymooning.)
And while I was making major life decisions and fracturing a rib trying to surf in Sayulita, Mexico, I was also keeping a watch on the rookies making moves in their new lives in the NBA.
And things are not getting any easier when it comes to ranking these guys. Unlike my “Ultimate Wedding Dance Party” playlist I curated on Spotify (which was incredible, by the way, thanks in large part to this song), there’s no simple shuffle button I can hit each week.
I feel like I say this every week, but we’re truly lucky with this rookie class. There is so much talent, variety and skill among the class, with so many rookies doing so many things well, that my job of judging them against each other is becoming increasingly difficult.
Looking back to two weeks ago, for example, I’m surprised to remember that Deandre Ayton was on the fourth rung. Sure, Wendell Carter and Trae Young had had some big performances (and the Ladder does have a built-in recency bias), but Ayton has since bounced back and put together enough solid games to make a serious run at No. 1.
Luka Doncic holds on to the top spot for now, but unlike saying “I do” to my wife or choosing “Ooh La La” by Faces for our first dance, it wasn’t an easy decision.
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1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Last edition: No. 1
Doncic almost lost his grip on this spot due to some spotty shooting, but the fact that the Mavericks have won six of their last eight — including wins over the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City and Utah Jazz — bolstered his case. He’s had at least nine rebounds in each of his last three games and continues to come up with big plays down the stretch of these wins. The Mavs trust him, and it’s easy to see why. He continues to lead rookies in scoring (19.3 ppg), is third in rebounding (6.9) and second in assists (4.1). Ayton is gaining ground on him, and the gap is narrowing with every dominant double-double from the Suns’ big man.
2. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
Last edition: No. 4
Ayton climbs two rungs after two weeks of solid play. The more opportunities I have to watch Ayton, the more I leave impressed and certain he’ll be a star in this league for many years. He’s still struggling to defend like you’d hope from a 7-footer (just three blocks in last eight games), but the offensive numbers back him as a force inside. Over his last seven games, Ayton is averaging 17.3 ppg and 9.9 rpg while shooting 64 percent.
3. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LA Clippers
Last edition: Not ranked
It’s looking like the Clippers might have found their answer at point guard. Taken with the 11th pick, Gilgeous-Alexander has stepped up and seems to have locked down the starting point guard job. At 6-foot-6, he has the size to defend and has shown the ability to navigate the pick-and-roll, hitting 50 percent of his mid-range jumpers to date. Over his last seven games, he’s averaged 14.1 points on 50 percent shooting as the Clippers had won five straight before Tuesday’s 125-118 loss to the Washington Wizards. Gilgeous-Alexander’s season numbers aren’t eye-popping (10.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.8 apg), but he’s carrying himself and leading the Clippers like a veteran.
4. Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
Last edition: Just missed cut
Jackson makes a jump this week thanks to one of the young big man’s best games as well as because of the subpar play from Young and Carter. In a 112-104 win over the Kings last week, Jackson scored 27 points with six rebounds, four steals and a pair of blocks. He made 11 of 16 shots and was a force the Kings couldn’t solve. Before Jackson scored nine points in just 12 minutes of Wednesday’s win over the Spurs, he’d scored in double-digits in eight of his last 10 games. The Grizzlies are a surprise atop the Western Conference standings, and their young big man is a big reason for that.
5. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Last edition: No. 3
Young is in a serious funk right now. He’s scored in double-digits just once in his past five games, hitting just 27 percent of his shots and five percent — yes, five — of his 3s (1-for-20). The talent is clearly there, as his lone breakout game in that span was an impressive 25-point, 17-assist performance in a 127-119 loss to the Clippers. Young became the first rookie since Allen Iverson to record at least 25 and 15 in a game, and the 17 assists are the most by any player this season. Although his averages place him among the rookie leaders, more weeks of poor shooting like this one won’t help him fend off more consistent rookies.
Just missed the cut:
Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls
Carter slides out of the Top 5, but he’s still putting up decent numbers for the struggling Bulls. He ranks second in both rebounds (7.4) and blocks (1.9) per game, but his field-goal percentage is low for a big man (46.5 percent).
Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
Sexton has been one of the leading rookie scorers over the past two weeks, with 17.6 ppg over his last seven games (second among rookies in that span). He’s doing it by shooting 46.2 percent overall and 60 percent on 3-pointers.
Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings
Bagley had 15 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in the Kings’ 117-113 win over the Thunder. It was Bagley’s first career double-double and he’s scored in double-digits in his last three games.
Aaron Holiday, Indiana Pacers
With Victor Oladipo nursing a sore right knee, Holiday has stepped in admirably and deserves some credit for his recent play. In his last three games, he’s averaged 14 ppg and 5.3 rpg in 20.1 minutes per game.
Hamidou Diallo, Oklahoma City Thunder
Diallo gets an honorary spot this week after suffering a gruesome looking (but not serious) leg injury in Wednesday night’s rout of the Warriors. There’s no word on if he’ll miss time, though. Diallo had become a fixture in the rotation, starting in OKC’s previous two games. In Monday’s win over Sacramento, he scored 18 points, becoming the first Thunder rookie to go at least 7-for-7 from the field.
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(All stats through Wednesday, Nov. 21)
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