Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Opportunity arrives for Celtics' Williams

Week 8: Ranking the top five rookies in the NBA

Drew Packham,

Over the last five games, Boston Celtics rookie Robert Williams III was finally seeing some playing time, albeit in spot situations, after languishing on the bench early in the season.

That playing time is about to grow even more.

With Al Horford nursing a knee injury, Williams has started to see his first action, averaging 18 minutes in the Celtics’ last five games. But with Wednesday’s news that Aron Baynes will need surgery for a broken left hand, Williams will likely be called upon to man the middle for Boston.

In Wednesday’s surprising loss to the Suns, Williams had the biggest game yet of his young career, scoring eight points, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking five shots in 24 minutes.

Asked after the game whether he was ready for his new challenge, the 6-foot-10, 240-pound center from Texas A&M didn’t miss a beat.

“Of course. It’s my job,” Williams said, with a smile upon his face.

We’ll definitely be keeping an eye on him, and if his last five games are any indication — 5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.2 bpg in just 18.0 mpg — there’s no reason Williams couldn’t climb the Ladder.

Kyrie Irving, for one, is excited to team up more with the long rookie.

“I’ve played with quite a few bigs,” Irving said Wednesday night. “I had Timofey Mozgov, I had Tristan (Thompson) in Cleveland. When I was in college I had Mason and Miles Plumlee. So, you know, having a consistent lob threat at the rim, where you can throw it around the rim and he can go get it, you can see how easy it is for me and Rob. You know going in and people are stepping up on me and he’s always a threat at the rim for (the) offensive rebound and lob. So, I love playing with Rob.”

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1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week: No. 1

Here’s a stat to put Doncic’s rookie season so far in some perspective: According to Basketball Reference, Luka Doncic topped 500 career points on Tuesday. With his 188 rebounds and 137 assists, he’s the second player since 1983 to hit 500/150/100 by the 28th game of his career. The other? LeBron James.

2. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

Last week: No. 3

The Suns are winning — yes, winning — and Ayton has been right in the middle of the surprising winning streak. Ayton scored 23 points and grabbed 18 rebounds (tying his season high) Wednesday night as Phoenix surprised Boston 111-103 for its fourth straight win. “There’s so much positivity,” Ayton said afterward. And why shouldn’t there be? Over the four-game streak, Ayton has been a beast, averaging 17.3 points and 12.0 rebounds while playing off Devin Booker, who played three games this week after a two-week absence. The pair are coming together at the right time, and the recdent trade that brought in Kelly Oubre could add even more of a spark.

3. Kevin Knox, New York Knicks

Last week: No. 4

Knox continues his climb up the Ladder with another decent week. In four games, Knox averaged 18.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game on 42.9 percent shooting and 39.3 percent from 3-point land. Knox has struggled with staying aggressive, something coach David Fizdale says is something they’re working on. “The last two games in a row, it’s happened,” Fizdale said after Knox disappeared in the second half of Monday’s loss to the Suns. “I have to find a way to keep him aggressive. The second half he wasn’t aggressive. He came out the first quarter and got the numbers. We’ll get that straightened out. When I see the high double figures, I know the kid’s coming along and putting together some consistent basketball.”

4. Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers

Last week: No. 2

After soaring up to No. 2 in the Ladder last week, Sexton came back to Earth in his last four games, averaging 10 points while shooting just 36.5 percent overall and 14.3 percent on 3s (1-for-7). Sexton’s shooting woes aren’t the only problem, though. In Wednesday’s loss to the Hornets, Kemba Walker repeatedly burned the young point guard in pick-and-roll situations. “A good game versus a bad game should not be predicated on your points and how many points you score, how many shots you make,” coach Larry Drew said after Sexton struggled to stick with Walker. “You have to do the other things to affect the game and impact it. And that’s an area where he has to grow.

5. Landry Shamet, Philadelphia 76ers

Last week: Not ranked

It’s time to start giving the Sixers’ rookie his due. While some rookies come in and get a chance to play big minutes on losing teams, others have to find their role and make the most of it. Consider Shamet that guy. Shamet has become a key contributor for the loaded Sixers off the bench, and is tied for the rookie lead in 3-point percentage (41.6 percent) while taking about 4.5 3s in just 20.8 minutes per game. This week, Shamet averaged 10.8 points on 57.7 percent shooting (64.7 percent on 3-pointers) as the Sixers went 2-2 to sit third in the East. Other rookies are getting much of the spotlight, but Shamet isn’t worried about that as he learns under J.J. Redick in a winning environment. “I’ve always felt overlooked,” Shamet told Slam Online. “Even in college, I’ve always felt kind of disrespected and overlooked. That’s how I carry myself even in the NBA. I’m always going to have that chip on my shoulder.”

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Just missed the cut:

Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

Jackson followed one of his worst games — three points on 1-for-6 shooting in a Monday loss to the Warriors — by putting up 16 points, five rebounds and three blocks Wednesday in a 99-92 loss to the Blazers. His inconsistency is the main thing keeping him out of the Top 5 on the Ladder.

Trae Young & Kevin Huerter, Atlanta Hawks

While Young has been up and down this season, Huerter has emerged as a deadly shooter. Young had 13 points and 10 assists Sunday in the Hawks’ loss to the Nets for his ninth double-double. He then helped the Hawks drop the Wizards on Tuesday night by putting up 19 points on 5-for-11 shooting, going 3-for-6 from beyond the arc. But Huerter had himself a nice week as well, averaging 12 points over the past three games. Unlike Young, though, Huerter has been a consistent shooter, shooting 50 percent from the field (47.1 percent on 3s) this week and is tied with Shamet for the rookie lead in 3-point shooting (41.6 percent).

Mo Bamba, Orlando Magic

Bamba put up some decent numbers this week in 19.5 minutes off the bench. Bamba averaged 8 points, 6 rebounds (second among rookies in the past week) and 2.3 blocks. He struggled from the field (40 percent), but his work on the defensive end earns him a mention this week.

Robert Williams III, Boston Celtics

The guy they call Timelord (even though Danny Ainge doesn’t like the nickname) had his breakout game Dec. 10, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking three shots in a matchup with Anthony Davis. Four nights later, Williams blocked five shots in just 16 minutes to help Boston beat Atlanta 129-108. With Wednesday’s five blocks against Phoenix, Williams became just the third rookie to notch multiple five-block games. The other two? Greg Stiemsma, who had four such games in 2012 and Kevin McHale, who had two games in 1981.

Rodions Kurucs, Brooklyn Nets

The Nets have won seven straight, and Kurucs has started the last four. The No. 40 pick out of Latvia isn’t putting up huge numbers, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t make note of his contributions. As a starter, Kurucs has averaged 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in 24.6 minutes per game while shooting 52 percent. The 20-year-old’s playing time spiked with Allen Crabbe nursing a knee injury, but coach Kenny Atkinson has said he plans to stick with his “fearless” rookie. “This is a small pocket of games, but my experience says I believe this will be a season-long thing where he’s getting minutes now,” Atkinson said.

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(All stats through Wednesday, Dec. 19)

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

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