Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Paolo Banchero leads the way after Jordan Rising Stars draft

The No. 1 overall pick was selected by Team Pau for the 2023 Jordan Rising Stars on Feb. 17 in Salt Lake City.

Magic rookie Paolo Banchero and teammate Franz Wagner were the top picks in the 2023 Jordan Rising Stars draft.

Gimme Team Pau all night at the 2023 Jordan Rising Stars on Friday night at All-Star Weekend.

In fact, the regal Spaniard and likely Class of 2023 inductee for the Hall of Fame didn’t just assemble the best squad among the four that will compete in the mini-tourney at All-Star Weekend. He showed enough acumen to merit consideration for upcoming GM vacancies around the Association.

OK, we jest a bit. But seriously, it’s hard to argue with Gasol’s roster that came out of Tuesday’s draft with fellow honorary coaches Joakim Noah and Deron Williams.

In the exhibition featuring first- and second-year players, as well as a squad of G Leaguers, Gasol managed to corral the 2022 Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes. He also got the favorite for the ROY award so far this season, Paolo Banchero, who maintains his grip on the top rung in this week’s edition of the Kia Rookie Ladder.

But wait, there’re more: the Nos. 2, 5 and 6 rung holders – Bennedict Mathurin, Keegan Murray and Jaden Ivey – also will play for Team Pau. And their final two teammates are steady Pacers rookie guard Andrew Nembhard and second-year catalyst/irritant Jose Alvardo of New Orleans.

Overall, of the dozen players in this week’s rankings, 10 were selected to participate in the showcase for the NBA’s youth. Walker Kessler and AJ Griffin are the only Class of 2022 guys on Williams’ squad. Noah’s crew features the other four: Jalen Williams, Jalen Duren, Jabari Smith Jr., and Jeremy Sochan.

Longtime NBA guard Jason Terry will lead the event’s underdog squad, a group of seven G League performers eager to measure themselves against NBA talent. His players as chosen: Scoot Henderson, Sidy Cissoko, Mojave King and Leonard Miller, all of the G League’s Ignite team, along with Kenneth Lofton Jr. of Memphis Hustle, Mac McClung of the Delaware Blue Coats and Scotty Pippen Jr. of the South Bay Lakers. Henderson, already penciled in as the likely No. 2 pick in the Draft in June, will have most of the scouts’ eyes trained on him as the Ignite guard tests and gets tested by pro peers.

For the second year, Rising Stars will be played as a three-game, single-elimination tournament (9 p.m. ET, TNT). The games are played to target scores, with 40 points deciding the winner of each semifinal game and 25 determining the champs. Last year, Detroit’s Cade Cunningham was named MVP after leading coach and Hall of Famer Rick Barry’s team to the title.

By the way, the All-Star break seems to be coming at a good time for the Ladder and its denizens. Whether feeling the effects of the proverbial rookie wall or simply in need of a breather, this was a trying week for several rookies, their production a little off from their season numbers overall.

The Top 5 this week on the 2022-23 Kia Rookie Ladder:

(All stats through Tuesday, Feb. 7)

1. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic

Season stats: 20.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.7 apg
Since last Ladder: 15.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 4.3 apg
Last Ladder: 1
Draft pick: No. 1 overall

Banchero hasn’t been his Ladder leader best against New York so far – 18.5 points on 42.9% shooting, with 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in two games – but he drew legit praise from Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau after Tuesday’s clash. “He’s got the strength already to deal with the league. He has a good feel. He’s crafty, he’s shifty with the ball, too. It’s hard to get a good read on him and if he has any seams, he gets in there. … I loved him at Duke. He’s got a great demeanor.”

2. Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers

Season stats: 17.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.4 apg
Since last Ladder: 9.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 0.3 apg
Last Ladder: 2
Draft pick: No. 6 overall

Still No. 2 on the Ladder but is a possible favorite for Sixth Man, leading all qualified scorers off the bench at 17.8 points per game. As a closer, Mathurin’s 5.4 points per fourth quarter ranks third behind Norman Powell (6.4) and Tyrese Maxey (5.6). He has scored 20+ points in 22 games (all but one off the bench) and the Pacers are 11-11 on those occasions vs. 14-19 otherwise.

3. Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder

Season stats: 12.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.8 apg
Since last Ladder: 10.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.3 apg
Last Ladder: 3
Draft pick: No. 12 overall

As big a night as it was Tuesday for LeBron James, it was bigger for OKC’s Williamses, with Jalen, Jaylin and Kenrich all starting and cumulatively outscoring the NBA’s all-time points man 42-38. Our rung holder here had eight points to James’ and Anthony Davis’ combined four in the fourth quarter of the Thunder victory and finished with 25 points, 7 rebounds and 6 steals in probably the most-watched game of his life.

4. Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz

Season stats: 7.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 0.8 apg
Since last Ladder: 10.7 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 0.7 apg
Last Ladder: 4
Draft pick: No. 22 overall

It was no wonder former Jazz guard Deron Williams picked Kessler for the Rising Stars tourney, what with the big Utahn putting up 13.9 points, 13.1 rebounds, 5.0 offensive boards and 3.6 blocks per 36 minutes. That includes his 13-9 in 27 minutes against the Mavs Monday.

5. Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings

Season stats: 12.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.0 apg
Since last Ladder: 9.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.3 apg
Last Ladder: 5
Draft pick: No. 4 overall

Was on the verge of a Ladder slide after shooting 2-of-21 for 7 points at Spurs, Pacers and Pelicans on Kings’ lengthy trip. But rallied in a rookie showdown with No. 2 pick Jabari Smith Jr., outscoring him 30-13 while hitting 11 of 17 overall and 8 of 12 from the arc. They meet again Wednesday night.

The Next 5:

6. Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons

Season stats: 15.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 4.6 apg
Since last Ladder: 17.0 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 6.0 apg
Last Ladder: 6
Draft pick: No. 5 overall

Ivey and Duren working post-practice “to get a rhythm,” says coach.

7. Jalen Duren, Detroit Pistons

Season stats: 8.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.0 apg
Since last Ladder: 7.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 1.7 apg
Last Ladder: 8
Draft pick: No. 13 overall

Praise from Celts’ R. Williams: “Rebounding all day … What is he, 19?”

8. Tari Eason, Houston Rockets

Season stats: 8.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 0.9 apg
Since last Ladder: 11.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 0.3 apg
Last Ladder: 10
Draft pick: No. 17 pick overall

Flips past teammate with better per-36 stats (16.1 pts, 10.6 reb).

9. Jabari Smith, Jr., Houston Rockets

Season stats: 11.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.1 apg
Since last Ladder: 11.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.8 apg
Last Ladder: 9
Draft pick: No. 3 overall

Improvement? Shooting 38.7% and only 20.6% on threes since Jan. 1.

10. Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio Spurs

Season stats: 9.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.5 apg
Since last Ladder: 0.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.0 apg
Last Ladder: 7
Draft pick: No. 9 pick overall

Has not played since hurting his back Feb. 1 vs. Kings.

11. Malaki Branham, San Antonio Spurs

Season stats: 8.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.9 apg
Since last Ladder: 21.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.0 apg
Last Ladder: N/A
Draft pick: No. 20 pick overall

Shot 55%/44% on 15.5 FGA with two starts last week.

12. AJ Griffin, Atlanta Hawks

Season stats: 9.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.1 apg
Since last Ladder: 7.5 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 1.5 apg
Last Ladder: 12
Draft pick: No. 16 overall

Despite his 3.9 3FGA and 40.8% from arc, Hawks rank 28th and 22nd.

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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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