Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Ja Morant takes over top spot with steady play

Ranking of top five rookies in the NBA

Raise your hand if you had Eric Paschall as a serious Kia Rookie of the Year candidate before the season started.

Yeah, me neither.

But with the Warriors’ lineup depleted by injuries, Paschall — along with several other rookies — is getting his chance to shine.

And he’s making a name for himself. Oh, and before we go any further, it’s pronounced PASS-chal. But if he keeps playing like he has over the past week, he’ll become a household name.

In his last four games, Paschall has averaged 21.0 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 52.7%. His breakout game, in which he scored 34 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in an improbable 127-118 win against the Blazers, captured the hearts of Warriors fans at Chase Center and thrust him into the ROY conversation.

Paschall finished that night — his 23rd birthday, no less — 11-for-19 from the floor (4-for-8 on 3s) as he topped 30 points for the first time since his freshman year in college, when he played for Fordham University. Paschall would go on to transfer to Villanova, where he helped the Wildcats win the 2018 National Championship.

The Warriors are likely out of the championship hunt this season, but the Warriors’ second-round pick (41st overall) should see plenty of playing time and plenty of opportunities to keep his name on the Ladder.

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1. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Last week: No. 4

While other rookies are coming down to earth, Morant is establishing himself as the rookie to beat. In three games this week, the Grizzlies point guard averaged 24.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 54.9% (and 60% on 3-pointers). He leads all rookies in scoring and assists and drew high praise from James Harden, who saw Morant score 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting. “He a beast, man,” Harden said. “He is aggressive as a young guy, and in this league, some guys tend to be nervous, and he has no nerves at all. He is aggressive; he’s on full attack mode.”

2. Eric Paschall, Golden State Warriors

Last week: Not ranked

Here’s some perspective to Paschall’s breakout week: In his first three games, the forward scored 79 points, the most by an NBA player in his first three starts since Linsanity hit New York and Jeremy Lin tallied 89 in his first three starts with the Knicks in 2012. The 34 and 13 was also the most by a rookie since Blake Griffin put up 47 and 14 in 2011. Paschall came down to earth a bit Wednesday, but he still put up 19 and 6 in the Warriors’ 129-112 loss in Houston.

3. P.J. Washington, Charlotte Hornets

Last week: No. 2

The Hornets won both of their two games this week, and Washington was once again crucial to both wins. The No. 12 pick scored 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting with five boards and a pair of steals in a 93-87 win against the Warriors. Washington followed that up with 16 points in 24 minutes in Charlotte’s 122-120 win against Indiana. Washington showed off his athleticism with a pair of monster dunks, one flying down the lane on a break, then another strong finish, this time with the left hand. The Hornets are 4-3, and Washington’s emergence is a big reason.

4. R.J. Barrett, New York Knicks

Last week: No. 3

Of all the rookies, Barrett is seeing the biggest workload, but he hasn’t shown any signs of fatigue. Through eight games, he’s averaging 17.9 points (3rd among rookies) and 6.1 rebounds (2nd). He struggled a bit with his shot this week (34.7%, 3-for-11 on 3s), but he continues to look like a star taking the lead for the woeful Knicks.

5. Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat

Last week: No. 1

Nunn started the week with another monster performance, scoring a career-high 28 in Miami’s 106-97 win in Atlanta. The guard was 10-for-15 from the floor (4-for-6 on 3s) and capped off a historic first five games to his career. At 112 points, Nunn passed Connie Hawkins for most points ever by an undrafted player through his first five games. Nunn has come down to earth slightly, going 6-for-24 over the past two games, but it’s certainly not enough to drop him out of the Top 5.

Just missed the cut:

Jarrett Culver, Minnesota Timberwolves

The No. 6 pick has seen his playing time increase this week, and he’s making the most of it. Over his past three games, the Texas Tech product averaged 14.3 points, 4.7 rebounds while playing 26.8 minutes per game. To date he’s only shooting 35.0% overall, 9-for-28 on 3-pointers (32.1%) and 4-for-13 from the line (30.8%).

Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies

With Jaren Jackson nursing a sore knee, Clarke stepped in and put up some big numbers. The No. 21 pick averaged 12.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in his last three games, and he’s now scored in double-digits in five of the last six. His numbers are even more impressive considering he’s still only seeing about 20 minutes per game. If Jackson continues to deal with injury, expect Clarke to see his role increase.

Goga Bitadze, Indiana Pacers

With the Pacers dealing with injuries, the No. 18 pick stepped up and averaged 9.3 points and 6 rebounds in 23.6 minutes over the past four games. With Domantas Sabonis back, his playing time will likely take a hit, but the 6-foot-11 big man from Georgia has shown he can fill in when called upon.

Darius Bazley, Oklahoma City Thunder

The 23rd pick scored in double-digits in his last two games, scoring 17 in 19 minutes to spark the Thunder past the Pelicans, then getting 10 points and six rebounds in OKC’s win over Orlando. Bazley was 5-for-11 from beyond the arc (9-for-21 overall)and he’s clearly gaining confidence as a reliable option off the bench.

Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards

Hachimura disappeared in two of the three games this week as his playing time has dipped. In a 131-109 loss to the Wolves, Hachimura had four points on 2-for-11 shooting. He was then held scoreless, missing all five shots in 21 minutes of a 121-106 loss to the Pacers on Wednesday. He gets a mention here since his first week earned him a Top 5 spot, but his recent play is concerning.

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(All stats through Wednesday, Nov. 6)

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