Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Kendrick Nunn (and others) rising the ranks

Ranking of top five rookies in the NBA

At this point, it’s starting to sound like a broken record — every week, another rookie makes a name for himself.

Last week, we highlighted Bulls guard Coby White for his breakout performances.

This week, several rookies had big games that seemed to catch everyone by surprise.

How’s this for coming out of nowhere? Entering Monday, Chicago’s Daniel Gafford had played just 13 minutes all season. His stats: 0 points, 1 rebound, not even a shot attempt. But that all changed against the Bucks on Monday. Gafford played 20 minutes, scoring 21 points on 10-for-12 shooting, grabbing five rebounds, blocking a pair of shots and throwing down dunk after dunk.

Gafford, whom the Bulls grabbed with the 38th pick out of Arkansas, looked polished running the pick-and-roll with Zach LaVine on several occasions and showed he’s got the size and athleticism to help him earn more playing time.

“He knows how to keep his game in a box and do the things that he’s good at, which is defending, rolling, rebounding, vertical spacing, competing, effort plays, physicality,” coach Jim Boylen said afterward.

But Gafford wasn’t the only one stepping up this week.

In New Orleans, Jaxson Hayes had a big night on a big NBA TV game, willing the Pelicans to a win over the struggling Warriors. Hayes was all over the court, scoring 10 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking three shots while changing the game with his energy and length in the lane.

And in Toronto, another undrafted rookie is starting to emerge as a reliable option off the bench. Terence Davis, a 6-foot-4 guard who played four seasons at Ole Miss, has scored in double-digits in three of his past four games, highlighted by a 19-point, eight-rebound, five-assist night in a win over the Magic on Wednesday. When asked if this is what the Raptors expected from the rookie, coach Nick Nurse said it best.

“I think we might be seeing more than we expected to see,” Nurse said.

Nurse might not have expected this, but anyone following the Kia Rookie Ladder knows this is just how it goes with an opportunistic and hungry rookie class.

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1. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Last week: No. 1

Memphis saw its past and future on Friday, and the future looks bright. With Mike Conley back in town, Morant scored 25 points with eight assists and dazzled with several big plays — including a go-ahead bucket late — to lead the Grizzlies to a 107-106 win. While Conley was a steady influence for years, Morant may be the one to take them to another level. “He’s incredible,” teammate Jaren Jackson Jr. said of Morant. “His change of speeds, change of direction is just different. It’s something you don’t find too often. It’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime talent.”

2. Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat

Last week: No. 5

The Heat are rolling, and Nunn is a big reason why. Miami has climbed to third in the East, thanks to a four-game win streak in which Nunn has averaged 19 points and 5.3 assists on 53.4% shooting (43.5% on 3s). He’s playing big-time minutes (34.6) and doing it on both ends of the floor, leading all rookies in steals (1.5 spg). Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry saw Nunn drop 22 on his team Saturday, and left impressed. “I think what this kid has done has been phenomenal. It just doesn’t happen in this league where you’re not in the league and all of a sudden you’re a leading scorer on a team with a really good record and you seem to [be] a guy they go to early on. ... He’s playing with so much confidence, it’s unbelievable. And he feels like not only does he belong, but feels like he’s the best player on the floor more than half the time. He hadn’t been that wrong really.”

3. Eric Paschall, Golden State Warriors

Last week: Not ranked

The Warriors are reeling like they’ve never reeled before, but Paschall remains a bright spot. In his past four games, the versatile big man has delivered 21.3 ppg and 6.8 rpg, highlighted by a 30-point, seven-rebound showing on Sunday in a loss in New Orleans. With the team banged up like it is, Paschall will continue to see big minutes, so it’s unlikely he’ll see a drastic dip in production.

4. RJ Barrett, New York Knicks

Last week: No. 2

Barrett slips a bit this week, but he hasn’t been awful. He put up 22 points on 8-for-16 shooting in a loss to the Hornets last week, then helped New York beat the Cavs with an all-around good game. He only scored 15 points on 5-for-13 shooting but he had a pair of steals and a pair of blocks in 24 minutes of the 123-105 home win. Barrett’s week ended on a down note, though, as he and the Knicks went cold down the stretch as they blew a big lead to the 76ers, falling 109-104 on Wednesday after leading by as much as 17 in the third quarter. Barrett missed all three of his shots in the fourth quarter, but wasn’t discouraged afterward. “I got my shots,’’ he said. “You’re not going to make them all. But I got them and I was happy with that.’’

5. Tyler Herro, Miami Heat

Last week: Not ranked

The No. 13 pick jumps back into the top 5 after a week in which he averaged 16.7 ppg as the Heat are rolling. The fact Miami is winning with a pair of rookies seeing big minutes (even Chris Silva is starting to see some playing time) makes their rise to third in the East even more noteworthy. Herro has once again found his shooting touch, hitting at a 59.4% clip in three games this week, including 6-for-12 on 3-pointers.

Just missed the cut:

Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies: Clarke has scored in double-digits in seven straight games and had another solid week, averaging 15.3 points and 4.7 rebounds while shooting 65.5% from the field.

Coby White, Chicago Bulls: White had a decent week, averaging 14.5 points over four games, highlighted by a 26-point outburst last Thursday in a loss to Milwaukee in which he was 6-for-13 from beyond the arc. Over his last five games, he’s 50% on 3s (20-for-40) and continues to provide a spark off the bench.

DeAndre Hunter, Atlanta Hawks: Hunter has scored in double-digits in six straight games, and had his best showing yet Wednesday night. The No. 4 pick scored 27 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while hitting all three 3-pointers in Atlanta’s 135-127 loss to the Bucks.

Terence Davis, Toronto Raptors: It will be interesting to see if Davis sticks in the Raptors’ rotation, but at least for now, the Raptors will ride their undrafted rookie. Davis is efficient with his minutes, scoring in double-digits in four of his last six games. Consequently, Toronto won all four of those while dropping the pair he didn’t.

Kelan Martin, Minnesota Timberwolves: Another week, another undrafted rookie stepping up. This week, Martin had a pair of solid games running the point, putting up 14 points and six assists in Monday’s win in Utah on Monday, then following that with 10 points and seven assists in Wednesday’s home loss to Utah. This might be a rare outburst for the two-way player with Andrew Wiggins out and Jake Layman ailing, but he’s clearly proven his worth and could see more playing time moving forward.

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(All stats through Wednesday, Nov. 20)

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