Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Tyrese Haliburton, Jae'Sean Tate make their move up

See which rookies are shining the brightest so far in the 2020-21 NBA season.

Tyrese Haliburton continues to provide steady production for the Kings this season.

Style vs. substance. It’s an everyday challenge in the NBA, across teams and individuals, veterans and newbies, on the court and in the verbiage that promotes or explains what we see out there.

When it comes to rookies, we’re far more likely to see the former in the form of highlight plays and memorable moments. In fact, we tend to crave style, reveling in the potential that we glimpse in that while acknowledging that the consistency that’s part of substance is tougher to come by for guys getting their first taste of the pro life — and huge step up in competitive level.

Anthony Edwards throws down monster dunk

Anthony Edwards' dunk on Yuta Watanabe had the internet buzzing.

Few instances have typified the vs. part rather than any premature and on the style/substance spectrum than Anthony Edwards’ incredible dunk against the Toronto Raptors Friday night. Instantly proclaimed to be the “Dunk of the Year” across social media, Edwards charged from the corner along the left baseline, went airborne, cocked back his arm and threw down his thunderous shot over Toronto forward Yuta Watanabe.

The greater NBA community went wild, racing to flood the airwaves and Internet with photos, video clips and GIFs. It was worth seeing and spoke to how entertaining Edwards in particular has been this season and this league so often is in its peak experiences.

What got way less attention was the fact that Edwards shot 3-of-14 in that game, missed all seven of his 3-point attempts, scored only seven points and posted a minus-13. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but Minnesota lost that game to fall to 7-23 at the bottom of the Western Conference.

And two days, after losing in New York, the Timberwolves fired coach Ryan Saunders and gave Edwards his second NBA coach already by hiring Chris Finch off the Raptors’ bench.

Edwards’ first season has been like that. He has tremendous athletic ability, an ability to aggressively attack the rim and an engaging personality about it all. He also frequently gets caught in the air, fighting gravity with no plan, and has coin-flip odds of making the right pass/shoot decisions.

The job of polishing Edwards as a cornerstone for Minnesota’s future falls now to a guy who happened to see the dunk in person. Finch has a reputation as an offensive guru, which suggests bright things for the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and most of all Edwards. Keeping the rookie moving when he doesn’t have the ball would be a nice start, by the way.

“The Dunk” electrified fans, players and media around the league. But Edwards’ overall play actually had him slip a rung on this week’s Ladder.

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

(All stats through Tuesday, Feb. 22)

1. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets

Season stats: 14.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 6.1 apg
Since last Ladder: 14.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.5 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 1

Ball followed up his 34-point game vs. Utah earlier this month with 21 Monday, though he got carried away when he taunted Jazz veteran Mike Conley after taking him to the rim. Kids, right? Hopefully the No. 3 pick will focus more on the Hornets getting pasted by Utah by a total of 39 points in their two meetings. One of eight rookies in NBA history to average at least 10 points, five rebounds, five assists and 1.5 steals through his first 30 games.

2. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings

Season stats: 13.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 5.4 apg
Since last Ladder: 15.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5.7 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 3

Haliburton’s consistent contributions — as Kings backcourt mates De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield have ups and downs — has some wondering if the No. 12 pick in 2020 should be starting. His 17.5 ppg scoring average since last Ladder led all rookies. He ranks third in scoring and second in assists among the newcomers, while shooting 44.2% from the arc with a 3.57 assist/turnover ratio. “I feel good where I’m at, I know there’s a whole other level to my game — a level that nobody’s ever seen,” Haliburton said recently.

3. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

Season stats: 14.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.5 apg
Since last Ladder: 13.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 2

We covered a lot of “Ant” hills up above. From last week’s Ladder through Monday, the No. 1 overall pick in November had shot 22.5% from the field and 17.6% on 3-pointers.

4. Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets

Season stats: 9.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.8 apg
Since last Ladder: 15.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 5

Snubbed entirely in a recent ranking of rookies by The Athletic, Tate has overcome a lot more than that — from a rough childhood to injuries to tours overseas — to reach this rung. He has a 61.2 true-shooting percentage, 0.120 defensive win shares that ranks first among rotation rookies and an average of 6.6 points in the paint, second only to Golden State 7-footer and No. 2 pick James Wiseman.

Jae'Sean Tate flips in incredible circus shot

Rockets rookie Jae'Sean Tate sinks a must-see shot against the Bulls.

5. Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks

Season stats: 12.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.5 apg
Since last Ladder: 7.0 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 0.5 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 4

That whole thing about rookies not getting calls doesn’t apply much to Quickley. In fact, getting to the foul line and making his free throws (78 of 84, 92.9%) is one of his best traits so far. In his first 25 games, Quickley scored more from the line (69 points) than notable Knicks rookies such as Walt Frazier and Mark Jackson.

The Next Five:

6. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons

Season stats: 9.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.0 apg
Since last Ladder: 11.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.7 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 6

Eight consecutive games scoring in double figures.


7. Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls

Season stats: 10.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.2 apg
Since last Ladder: 10.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 7

Teammates loving his “stone cold” court demeanor.


8. Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies

Season stats: 10.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.5 apg
Since last Ladder: 8.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.7 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 9

Net rating (4.1) second among rookies of 20+ games to Denver’s Campazzo.


9. Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers

Season stats: 7.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.9 apg
Since last Ladder: 11.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: N/A

Tested by opponents’ top threats almost nightly.


10. Xavier Tillman, Memphis Grizzlies

Season stats: 7.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.5 apg
Since last Ladder: 7.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: N/A

Shoots better off the bench than as spot starter.

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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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