Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Zion Williamson continues to make progress with rehab

Ranking of top five rookies in the NBA

Don’t look now, but Zion Williamson may be nearing a return.

OK, don’t get your hopes up too much. Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin provided an update on the No. 1 pick on Tuesday, saying the team was “really excited with where he’s at” while also admitting that Williamson is still “a little ways away”.

Williamson had been seen getting up shots at practice earlier in the day, which marked the end of his initial six-to-eight-week timetable to return after having surgery on his right knee on Oct. 21.

Griffin said Williamson is fully weight bearing at this point and that his teammates really responded to seeing their prized pick back on the court.

“If we’re going to see a setback, it would be now,” Griffin said. “The teammates, the way they responded to him, the joy he has when he’s on the floor is evident. And we’ve obviously needed that.”

With Griffin’s admission, you have to think Williamson’s odds of making a real run at Kia Rookie of the Year are a longshot at this point. It’s possible Williamson could have weathered missing 25 games, but missing half the season seems like too much to ask, even for a rookie as talented as Zion.

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1. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Last week: No. 1

The Grizzlies have had a little resurgence over the past 10 days, winning four of six. They picked up wins over three bottom dwellers, while most notably dropping the Heat on Monday. Morant put up 20 points and 10 assists as Memphis beat the team that dropped them in the season opener. ”We just learned,” Morant said. ”I feel like we lost a lot of games late in the fourth quarter. A team would go on a run, and we weren’t able to bounce back from it. … We’re just learning from our mistakes.” Of course, Morant and the Grizzlies would finish the week by blowing a 24-point lead to OKC, so there are definitely still lessons to be learned.

2. Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat

Last week: No. 2

Nunn is keeping the pressure on Morant for the top spot, and he got another big performance in an impressive Heat win. Nunn scored 26 on Wednesday as Miami handed Philly its first home loss of the season. “Kendrick made some big-time shots,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “Our young guys were very good tonight. They took a beating in the film session yesterday (after a loss in Memphis on Monday) but they took it on the chin and they produced tonight.”

3. Tyler Herro, Miami Heat

Last week: No. 4

In four games this week, Herro averaged 14.3 points and 5.5 rebounds but struggled a bit with his shot, hitting at a 31.6% clip. Still, Herro has been key to Miami’s success, as highlighted by fellow scribe Sekou Smith, who runs the Kia MVP Ladder (the other, more popular, Ladder). Herro is known for his work ethic and caught Jimmy Butler’s attention. “When you constantly have people in this organization talking about how he works and he’s gonna be good, [that he’s] a tough son of a gun. You know, I’m like ‘OK, let’s see it.’ And then when we meet, he is that. And he’s like, ‘let’s get in the gym, let’s get in the gym, let’s get in the gym.’ And I’m like ‘I’m with it.’ … they are turning this kid into a real player. Everybody knows he has the talent and he has that mental edge over a lot of young guys. But teaching him how to work every day … this organization is perfect for him.”

4. Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies

Last week: NR

Clarke missed four games with a hip injury, but has been a stud in the four games since his Dec. 11 return. Over that span, he averaged 20.3 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting at a 70.8% clip (3-for-6 on 3s). Clarke seems to be finding his role, and twice this week he set career highs, scoring 25 Saturday in a win over the Spurs and 27 in a loss to the Thunder on Wednesday.

5. RJ Barrett, New York Knicks

Last week: NR

The Knicks are 3-3 since Mike Miller took over for David Fizdale as interim head coach, and Barrett had one of his best games yet in the Knicks’ biggest win of the season. Barrett had a career-high 27 points and six rebounds in New York’s 143-120 rout of Atlanta on Tuesday, and knows a coaching shakeup is just part of the business. “I’m 19 with no pressure on me,” Barrett told The Undefeated. “I go out and play basketball, the game that I love. I am in the NBA. Why would I let something like that mess me up?” If Miller is wise, he’ll give his young guard a long leash and embrace that enthusiasm.

Just missed the cut

Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards

Hachimura, who had started the first 25 games for the Wizards, will miss five games after suffering a groin injury when he was inadvertently kicked by teammate Isaac Bonga. Hachimura had been climbing the Ladder after a stretch of eight straight games scoring in double-digits. The Wizards said the rookie will be re-evaluated after a four-game road trip that ends Dec. 26.

PJ Washington, Charlotte Hornets

Washington slips out of the Top 5 after a literal tough break. Washington, who is averaging 12.2 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 41% on 3s, had surgery for a fractured finger on his right hand. The Hornets haven’t given a timetable for his return, but speculation has him missing at least through Christmas and likely beyond.

DeAndre Hunter, Atlanta Hawks

Hunter’s putting up decent scoring numbers, but his shooting has been up and down. In three games this week, he averaged 15.0 points on 37.8% shooting, 2-for-15 on 3-pointers.

Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans Pelicans

Hayes continues to be one of the best rebounders in this rookie class. In four games this week, Hayes grabbed 5.8 per game while scoring 8.3 points in 22.6 minutes. Hayes’ energy off the bench continues to be big for the Pelicans, even though his numbers don’t necessarily pop off the page.

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(All stats through Wednesday, Dec. 18)

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