Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Jackson Jr.'s all-around game draws rave reviews

Week 6: Ranking the top five rookies in the NBA

The Grizzlies are one of the league’s early surprises, and rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. is a big reason.

Memphis leads the Southwest Division with a 14-9 record and sits firmly among the West leaders. Jackson’s contributions on both ends of the floor are putting him in some rare company.

Check out some of the early superlatives, as highlighted by Michael Wallace in a recent feature on

  • Fourth player in NBA history with 250 points, 40 blocks and 20 steals through his first 20 games. The three others are Hall of Famers David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Bill Walton

  • Third-youngest player in NBA history to score 36 points (Friday vs. Nets), behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant
  • Third player in NBA history to knock down four 3-pointers and block seven shots in the same game. The other two are Brook Lopez and Raef LaFrentz
  • First Grizzlies rookie since Pau Gasol to tally a double-double while blocking five shots

The numbers are impressive, and opposing coaches are taking notice. LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers raved about Jackson before Wednesday’s 96-86 loss to Memphis in which the rookie finished with 13 points and six rebounds before fouling out.

“He’s right there as the best rookie I’ve seen,” Rivers said. “That doesn’t mean he’s the Rookie of the Year because he’s had a good year. But he’s going to be special. Like, really special.”

Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle — who saw his team fall in Memphis on Nov. 19 — said his team was high on Jackson and even eyed him with the No. 5 pick before trading up with the Hawks to get Luka Doncic at No. 3.

“Very much, very much,” Carlisle said about targeting Jackson on Draft night. “There are just varying opinions on who would be best for those top four spots, best with this team or that team, things like that. Jackson has shown it right now, why he was a high pick. It’s not a fluke. The guy is a very, very good player overall and a first-rate defensive player.”

Jackson’s just 19 years old, but already he’s growing tired of people telling him how “good he can be”.

“I don’t get caught up in the whole potential, how-good-can-I-be, when-I-can-be-it thing,” Jackson said. “I’ve been hearing that since I was 13. I’ve heard that from every person on earth. So when you hear it, you’re like, ‘Eh, well, okay. I guess that’s a compliment.’ It’s just a compliment of the work you’re going to put in and the work you’ve been putting in. Just stay the course, do what you do and everything should follow along.”

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1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week: No. 1

This was not a great week for the holder of the top rung. After scoring in double-digits in each of his first 19 games, Doncic had clunkers in two Dallas losses. Doncic scored just six points on 2-for-13 shooting (missing all five 3-point attempts) in Friday’s 114-103 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. After missing Sunday’s game with a hip strain, Doncic did bounce back to score 21 points — including a game-icing stepback 3-pointer — in the Mavs’ 111-102 win over Portland. But the rookie disappeared again Wednesday night, scoring eight points on 2-for-8 shooting (1-for-4 on 3s) as the Mavs were dismantled by New Orleans 132-106. If Ayton or any other rookie had had a monster week, Doncic definitely would have slipped.

2. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

Last week: No. 2

With Devin Booker and TJ Warren out with injuries Tuesday night, Ayton had a chance to be the man. Unfortunately, Ayton “didn’t come ready to play,” coach Igor Kokoskov said afterward. Ayton finished with just 10 points for the second straight game in 21 minutes of the Suns’ 122-105 loss to Sacramento. Kokoskov was frustrated, but understanding. “Ayton is a rookie, he’s going to hit a wall, he’s going to have bad games, and we’re still here to support him and coach him and teach him. He’s still our future. Nothing changes off one game. He didn’t play an impressive game by any means, but Deandre’s our guy.”

3. Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

Last week: Not ranked

Jackson’s 36-point outburst against the Nets on Friday was a season-high for rookies this season and just the third 30-plus-point game this season by a rookie. (Atlanta’s Trae Young scored 35 in a win against the Cavs on Oct. 21, and Luke Doncic put up 31 in Dallas’ loss to San Antonio Oct. 29.) Jackson was clutch down the stretch, hitting several big shots in regulation to force OT. ”He’s got a big heart, man,” point guard Mike Conley said. “He’s got the gene to make the big shots in the big time. Man, he is built for it. The shots he made were shots a lot of young guys won’t attempt.” Coach J.B. Bickerstaff loved seeing the 19-year-old step up. ”In winning time, to take those shots, it takes a unique heart, skill, ability and just cold-blooded nature,” Bickerstaff said. ”Jaren has that.”

4. Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers

Last week: No. 3

Sexton had another decent week running the Cavs’ offense. In his last four games, he averaged 15.3 points on 41.7 percent shooting (4-for-6 from 3-point land). Sexton held his own Wednesday night against Stephen Curry and the Warriors, scoring 21 points and helping keep the game close before Golden State took over in the second half for the 129-105 win. Sexton was 7-for-14 from the field and hit all three 3-point attempts in the teams’ first meeting since The Finals. Most impressive about Sexton’s week? The point guard had just one turnover over his last two games (67 minutes).

5. Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls

Last week: Not ranked

Carter had a solid week, averaging 16 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in three games. Carter scored a career-high 28 on 11-for-18 shooting in Friday’s 107-88 loss to the Pistons and picked up his fifth double-double Tuesday in Indiana with 12 points and 13 rebounds. Things are changing around the rookie big man with Lauri Markkanen back in the lineup and Fred Hoiberg out as coach, but Carter continues to impress on both ends of the floor.

Just missed the cut:

Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings

Bagley falls out of the top five after playing just one game before missing the last two while dealing with back spasms. In his lone game, though, Bagley had 18 points and 10 rebounds and was starting to break out.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LA Clippers

The Clippers’ promising young point guard averaged 11 points, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals in four games this week. Gilgeous-Alexander continues to be steady, hitting 53.6 percent of his shots and only had three total turnovers in those four games.

Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

Young’s poor shooting and turnover troubles continued this week. In three games since our last look, the Hawks’ point guard shot just 33.3 percent from the field, going 1-for-12 from 3-point land. He also had 15 turnovers in that stretch as Atlanta suffered losses to the Thunder, Warriors and Wizards.

Kevin Knox, New York Knicks

Last week, we featured another Knicks rookie, Allonzo Trier, who is having a breakout season after going undrafted in 2018. This week, it’s Knox who took the spotlight, breaking out for 26 points, hitting 5 of 12 3-pointers, to lead New York to a 136-134 win over the Bucks on Saturday. Knox has drawn plenty of criticism for his early-season struggles, but seems to be getting more opportunities from coach David Fizdale. ”It was good to see the ball go in the net,” Knox said. ”It felt good. Just (have) to keep working (and) never get too high, never get too low.”

Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets

Bridges scored a career-high 16 points in 29 minutes Sunday, hitting 3 of 6 3-pointers and also grabbed eight rebounds in a 119-109 loss to the Pelicans. This followed a 12-point night on Saturday, his first double-digit scoring game since Nov. 3. With Marvin Williams out for the next week, Bridges should continue to more playing time.

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(All stats through Wednesday, Dec. 5)

Send any questions or comments to my email or find me on Twitter @drewpackham.

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