Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Situation as important as skill set when evaluating rookies

LaMelo Ball stays on top in the latest ranking of the rookie class.

LaMelo Ball (center) has shined as a starter in Charlotte over the past five games.

Congrats and kudos to Robert Woodard II, Vernon Carey Jr., and Nico Mannion, who rank first among all rookies respectively in scoring, rebounding and assists.

Per 36 minutes played, anyway.

It’s all about the pro-rating. Woodward, a 6-foot-6 forward from Mississippi State and the 40th pick in November’s 2020 Draft, actually has scored 13 points for Sacramento in six appearances. But if you extrapolate that out to 36 minutes – a common standard for basketball stats – the work Woodard did in a total of 17 minutes becomes an eye-popping 27.4 scoring average.

Ditto for Carey and Mannion. Carey, a 6-foot-9 center out of Duke, has logged only about six minutes for Charlotte. But based on the three rebounds he grabbed in that time, he’s got a gaudy rebounding average of 17.2. Based on a hypothetical 36 minutes per game, which has been deemed to be beyond his means at the moment.

Mannion? He’s distributing 12.0 assists nightly, if only he could get on the court more than Steph Curry. What he theoretically could do in 36 minutes in fact has been 12 assists (to two turnovers, pretty good ratio) in 36 minutes this season rather than per game.

This isn’t simply an idle musing about Fun with Math. It shows how roles and needs and fit with a team contribute to a player’s productivity. That’s especially true for rookies, newcomers who often aren’t trusted playing more than small roles, particularly for teams with aspirations of winning and contending.

The opportunities for veteran players vary widely, too, but over a few seasons, you’d expect a guy’s potential and/or limitations to show themselves and establish whatever role he’s slotted. For the new guys, they’re still learning the league and only starting to harness their skills. How often and how much they participate can have as much to do with the rest of the roster and other players’ availability as their own demonstrated ability.

What are we to make, say, of Oklahoma City’s Theo Maledon and Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey? Their contributions so far this season are pretty close by numbers. Maledon, a 6-4 guard who was the 34th pick in the Draft, was averaging 7.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 22.7 minutes. Maxey, the 21st pick, was at 9.0 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 17.7 minutes.

But they were trending in different directions over the week between Kia Rookie Ladders. Maledon averaged 33.4 minutes for the Thunder to Maxey’s 9.4 minutes. Does that mean the former is a better rookie, given the workload he presumably has earned? Or is Maxey losing opportunity on a team that currently is all about winning, with an 11-3 mark since Jan. 12?

Take their seasons out to 36-minute averages, and here’s how they look: Maledon is at 11.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists, with 2.9 turnovers and 3.4 fouls. Maxey is at 18.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, with 1.4 turnovers and 2.6 fouls. So while Maledon has been shouldering a bigger role lately, Maxey’s surgical production for the Sixers still is valuable.

Other per-36 standouts in the Class of 2020: San Antonio’s Tre Jones (24.4 points), Denver’s R.J. Hampton (9.6 rebounds), Dallas’ Tyler Bey (11.4 free throws), Utah’s Trent Forrest (4.1 steals and 8.2 fouls) and the Jazz’s Elijah Hughes (4.0 3-pointers made). Neither of them have been entrusted with anything resembling a rotation spot.

Then there are shooting percentages, which don’t change according to 36-minute pro-rating. They would in real life, most likely, factoring in fatigue, game-planning and more. But for now, Boston’s Payton Pritchard is flirting with becoming the first rookie to join the vaunted 50/40/90 club for shooting percentages, based on his current 48.5 field goal percentage, 42.9 3-point percentage and 90.0 free throw percentage.

Whether Pritchard, back after missing six games with a sprained knee, can do that over a full season – perhaps in a growing role vs. 336 minutes in 16 appearances – remains to be seen.

The Top 5 this week on the 2020-21 Kia Rookie Ladder:

(All stats through Monday, Feb. 8)

1. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets

LaMelo Ball hit a career-high 7 3-pointers against the Rockets on Monday.

Season stats: 13.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 6.0 apg
Since last Ladder: 24.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 6.5 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 1

Many have called the Hornets a must-see team on NBA League Pass, and this guy is the No. 1 reason why. Lately, his 3-point shooting – not so productive and criticized for less-than-Ray Allen form – has perked up. He has hit 51.3% from the arc since the last Ladder, including seven of them against Houston Monday. That left him at 21-of-40 in a six-game span. You do that well, you can shoot from down by your knees, not just from chest height. “The kid is confident and believes it is going in,” coach James Borrego said. “And that is at least half the battle.”

2. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings

Season stats: 11.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 5.4 apg
Since last Ladder: 19.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 2

The 12th pick in the 2020 Draft keeps raising questions about his age and tender experience, given the savvy and willingness to tackle pretty much any chore on the court. Sacramento forward Harrison Barnes recently said of the rookie, “Ty has that ‘it’ factor. He’s going to be special in this league for a long time on and off the floor.” Easy for a teammate to say? Then listen to Denver coach Michael Malone over the weekend. “He’s kicked our [bleep] every time we’ve played him. He has poise and confidence you don’t see from many rookies. He’s not afraid to take and make big shots.” Check it out: In his splits against the Nuggets, Haliburton is averaging 16 points, 3.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists, with 16 assists and just two turnovers.

3. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

Season stats: 14.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.2 apg
Since last Ladder: 16.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.8 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 4

Back-to-back 20 points games at OKC and at Dallas included some other category stuffing: 16-of-35 shooting overall, 5-of-13 from the arc, 10 rebounds, eight assists, three steals, three blocks and just one turnover, combined. His 5-for-8 foul shooting was as encouraging as anything else, because getting to the line has been a challenge – particularly the way Edwards can put the ball on the floor and attack the rim. Asked if the No. 1 pick overall was getting “rookie” treatment from refs, coach Ryan Saunders kept his money and said that Edwards’ ability to play through contact will earn him more free throws in time.

4. Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic

Season stats: 11.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.9 apg
Since last Ladder: 14.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 5.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 6

Anthony is said to be his own toughest critic, but most people would be fine with a guy ranking in the top six among rookies in scoring, rebounding, assists, free-throw percentage and minutes. His field-goal shooting showed signs of improvement, too (18-of-32 in a three-game stretch). But he suffered a shoulder strain and left early against Portland, adding to Orlando’s injury woes.

5. Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks

Season stats: 11.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.7 apg
Since last Ladder: 8.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 5

Quickley’s world seemed to get rocked on Sunday with news that the Knicks were re-acquiring Derrick Rose. Sure, Rose, 32, is a proven veteran capable of imparting some court wisdom to the New York rookie, but he still aches to play and to shine. And their coach is Tom Thibodeau, a Rose devotee. But for those nervous that Quickley’s reps at point guard will get stomped, Rose and their coach quickly began saying the right things about his development. Rose in theory can do for Quickley what Detroit had positioned him to do for Killian Hayes.

The Next Five:

6. James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors

Season stats: 12.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 0.7 apg
Since last Ladder: DNP
Last Ladder’s rung: 3

Out since Jan. 30. Sprained left wrist, will be reevaluated this week.

7. Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls

Season stats: 10.5 ppg, 4.4 rpb, 1.0 apg
Since last Ladder: 14.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: N/A

Earning coaches’ trust with offensive efforts.

8. Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies

Season stats: 9.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.6 apg
Since last Ladder: 12.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.3 apg|
Last Ladder’s rung: 9

Ranks top five in league in 3FG% (48.1).

9. Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets

Season stats: 8.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.6 apg
Since last Ladder: 10.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: N/A

Last HOU rookie to log 600 min. in first 23 games? Steve Francis. 1999.

10. Devin Vassell, San Antonio Spurs

Season stats: 5.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.1 apg
Since last Ladder: 8.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.7 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: N/A

Torrid shooting lately (64.7 FG%) and helpful work in 3-0 week.

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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