Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: No letting up at the top for Ja Morant

Ranking of top five rookies in the NBA

Zion Williamson is on the scene, but Ja Morant is still reminding us this is still his party.

In his latest display, Morant put on a show in his first visit to Madison Square Garden, dazzling with 18 points and 10 assists in a 127-106 rout of the Knicks.

Morant had several highlight-reel plays, finishing an alley-oop early in the game, throwing a circus pass after doing a 360 in the lane, and finishing a swooping layup that left fans at MSG oohing and ahhing.

While his line wasn’t exactly jaw-dropping (Ja-dropping?), he was incredibly efficient, finishing with a ridiculous plus-46 in the box score in just 27 minutes.

“I felt like everybody knows Madison Square Garden is a place to play,” Morant said. “Just happy to be able to go out here with my teammates and get a win.”

A week ago, Morant had easily the worst game of his career (two points on 1-for-5 shooting in a loss to the Celtics), but the Grizzlies have since reeled off four straight wins to reach .500 for the first time since Dec. 31, 2018.

Morant has been brilliant in that span, averaging 17.6 ppg, 8.5 apg, 1.2 spg and 53.9% shooting. His impressive rookie season will easily earn him an invitation to the 2020 NBA Rising Stars game (roster will be released Friday), which showcases the top rookie and second-year players on Feb. 14 at 9 p.m. ET.

But does Morant have a shot at becoming the first rookie since Blake Griffin in 2011 to earn a reserve spot in the actual All-Star Game? Nuggets coach Mike Malone isn’t ready to go that far.

“I think he’s a hell of a player but he’s not an All-Star yet, in my opinion,” Malone said this week. “He’s got to go through his growing pains. He’s Rookie of the Year, though.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, however, said Morant will “get real consideration” for that honor.

The Western Conference is loaded, especially in the backcourt, and Morant was 10th among guards in the final fan vote update. But what he’s done to help turn around the Grizzlies has certainly put him in the All-Star conversation.

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1. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Last week: No. 1

Some more stats from Wednesday’s win in New York: Morant notched his eighth double-double of the season and also had his third turnover-free game. The only bad part of his night was the apparent lack of hot water or water pressure in the visitors’ locker room for post-game showers. “This is beyond me,” said Morant. “I’ve taken cold showers before, but at least I had water pressure.”

2. Michael Porter, Jr., Denver Nuggets

Last week: No. 3

In three games this week, Porter averaged 13.3 ppg while hitting 52.9% of his 3-pointers. He also grabbed 7.7 rpg in 23.3 mpg and had scored in double-digits in seven straight until putting up eight points in Tuesday’s loss the Grizzlies. When Porter slipped to the 14th pick in the 2018 draft, many thought the Nuggets had found the steal of the Draft — if he could stay healthy. It finally looks Denver’s patience is paying off, as Porter is going to be a key asset as the Nuggets fight to get out of the loaded West.

3. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

Last week: Not ranked

We’ve had a full week now of Zion, which is enough of a sample size to throw the No. 1 pick into the Top 5. Now remember, the Rookie Ladder takes recent play into heavy consideration, so Williamson has definitely earned this spot. In three games this week, Zion averaged 16.7 ppg and 8.7 rpg on 60.5% shooting. He even picked up his first NBA win Sunday, putting up 21 points and 11 rebounds while scoring the team’s final eight points. “What he’s done he’s just done on raw talent really,” coach Alvin Gentry said “He’ll get the feel of what we’re trying to do, and playing in a certain amount of space and how we can give him the ball and things like that. He’s going to be a welcome addition. He’s going to be a guy that we can finish the game with.”

4. Cam Reddish, Atlanta Hawks

Last week: Not ranked

Reddish got off to a slow start this season, struggling to find his shot through the first three months. But January has been a different story as the No. 10 pick has turned things around to show signs of promise. Over his last 10 games, Reddish has averaged 13.6 ppg on 44% shooting, hitting 44.9% of his 3-pointers(9-for-20 in three games this week).

5. Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat

Last week: No. 2

Nunn had climbed to No. 2 last week after after an impressive stretch that saw him average 19.8 ppg over his last four games. But Nunn has since missed three games with a sore left Achilles, knocking him down a few notches. The injury doesn’t appear to be serious, and the Heat’s surprising guard could return as early as Saturday, when Miami visits Orlando.

Just missed the cut:

Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies

Last 3 games (3-0 record): 13.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.7 spg, 1.0 bpg, 60.7% FG

De’Andre Hunter, Atlanta Hawks

Last 3 games (1-2 record): 16.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 52.8% FG, 33.3% 3FG

Terence Davis, Toronto Raptors

Last 3 games (3-0 record): 9.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 55.6% FG, 41.7% 3FG

Tyler Herro, Miami Heat

Last 3 games (1-2 record): 12.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 34.9% FG, 21.1% 3FG

Luguentz Dort, Oklahoma City Thunder

Last 4 games (3-1 record): 10.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 1.0 spg, 57.7% FG, 64.3% 3FG

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(All stats through Wednesday, Jan. 29)

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