Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: James Wiseman takes over No. 1 spot

Several first-year players have impressed as the Rookie of the Year chase continues.

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

James Wiseman has continued his consistent start with Golden State.

Getting a great matchup between the top two players selected in any given Draft isn’t necessarily the stuff of legends, at least not since Mt. Rushmore types Oscar Robertson and Jerry West went 1-2 way back in 1960. But it does make for a little contemporary intrigue, based on the scouting reports and debates that might have hung over the most recent Draft.

And this week, in a scheduling quirk based on virus concessions, we get it twice with the Minnesota Timberwolves playing the Golden State Warriors in consecutive games at San Francisco’s Chase Center.

Anthony Edwards, whom the Wolves picked No. 1 overall in November, went head-to-head if not position-to-position Monday with Warriors center James Wiseman, the No. 2 pick. They’ll do it again Wednesday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN) to determine … well, nothing official or momentous. But it will provide another glimpse of the guys judged a couple of months ago — in a Class of 2020 with an unclear pecking order — to have the most talent, the most potential or some combination thereof.

Check out the best plays from Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman this season.

Wiseman won Round 1. Golden State beat Minnesota 130-108 and the 7-foot big man had the better stats line: 13 points on 4-for-5 shooting with four rebounds and two blocks. Edwards scored 15 points but did so on 4-for-13 shooting, with three boards, one assist and a steal. Wiseman was a minus-2 in 16 minutes while the 6-foot-4 wing from Georgia was minus-10 in 27.

One wrinkle Monday was that Wiseman came off the bench, doing for the first time this season what Edwards has done every game for Minnesota. Warriors coach Steve Kerr wanted to change his rotation in hopes of getting more robust starts. So Kevon Looney swapped spots with Wiseman for what could be a short- or long-term tweak.

Kerr said Wiseman took the news like a pro and then he played like it. Edwards has handled his reserve role smoothly too. But with Minnesota sputtering at 4-12 with Karl-Anthony Towns sidelined by health and safety protocols following a positive virus test, and D’Angelo Russell missing time with a sore quad muscle, some in the team’s fan base have pushed for longer minutes for the prize rookie.

“A lot of times, people look way too hard into starting lineups and when guys come in,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said. “But we know this is a unique year. If you stay true to the process of making sure the individual has growth, you’re going to what’s best.

“We’ve explained to ‘Ant’ that, ‘Hey, we think it’s better for you coming off the bench, letting you see the game go for a few minutes.’ And then for some of the guys he’s playing with as well, giving that group a little more offensive firepower. You’re probably able to handle the ball a little more too.”

Edwards, who has averaged 24.8 minutes to Wiseman’s 21.1, had a monstrous dunk over the No. 2 pick Monday, the stuff of highlight reels and posters. But Saunders talked of more subtle contributions on which he’s being evaluated and coached. Like play in transition, defense and rebounding, as veteran guard Ricky Rubio helps mentor on and off the court (Rubio has played in the second unit in nine of 14 games).

For some perspective on these meetings of No. 1 and No. 2 rookies, it’s worth noting that New Orleans’ Zion Williamson and Memphis’ Ja Morant faced each other only twice in six-plus months last season. The 2018 top two, Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton and Sacramento’s Marvin Bagley, met twice in six weeks.

The top two selections in 2017 (Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball) and 2016 (Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram) didn’t square off at all in their rookie seasons, due to somebody’s injury. That same reason limited or waylaid completely eagerly anticipated showdowns in 2014 (Andrew Wiggins vs. Jabari Parker, one game) and way back to 2007 (Greg Oden vs. Kevin Durant, none as rookies).

So there is a little something-something to Edwards and Wiseman meeting twice in three nights.

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

(All stats through Monday, Jan. 25)

1. James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors

Season stats: 11.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 0.6 apg
Since last Ladder: 14.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 2

The No. 2 pick scored a career-high 20 points against New York.

Wiseman nearly snagged the top rung on the Ladder last time, based on his contributions and some “imagine this guy in five years” projections. He got it this time not just by handling well his flip from starter to the Warriors’ bench, but for his increasing involvement at both ends. His 7-foot-6 wingspan leads a flock of Golden State pterodactyls who have their team third in contested shots per game (59.6) and fifth in deflections (17.2).

2. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets

Season stats: 11.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 5.9 apg
Since last Ladder: 9.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 5.7 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 1

A drop in shooting accuracy (already low), a tick up in turnovers and a 1-5 stretch for his team were enough to unseat Ball at the same time, coincidentally, his brother Lonzo’s reviews in New Orleans are flagging. Charlotte coach James Borrego might have cut LaMelo more slack if he had contributed more in other ways. “If you’re turning the ball over five times in 16 minutes, that ain’t gonna cut it for me,” was Borrego’s constructive criticism for the rookie. “If you’re doing that on the offensive end, you better be bringing something defensively.” Still leads the Class of 2020 in rebounds and assists, though.

3. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings

Season stats: 11.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4,9 apg
Since last Ladder: 10.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 3

Haliburton’s confidence, acknowledged in the last Ladder, showed up again when the Kings beat the Knicks last weekend. He admitted that he got motivated to face a New York team that, at No. 9, could have drafted him three spots ahead of Sacramento. And he showed up, scoring 16 points off the bench with a late, crucial 3-pointer. The Iowa State product has scored in double figures 11 times, and ranks Top 5 among newbies in scoring, assists, overall shooting percentage and 3-point percentage.

4. Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic

Season stats: 11.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 13.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.7 apg
Last week’s rung: 9

Opportunity is one thing; being ready to seize it is another. The Magic’s rookie guard makes the biggest leap in our rankings by making the most of increased playing time since Markelle Fultz was lost to injury. Anthony has averaged 30.3 minutes lately compared to 23.3 through the first Ladder. His other numbers have bumped up accordingly, to 13.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists in his past seven games, with 15 of 29 shooting (51.7%) from the arc. He scored 21 against Charlotte after hitting a game-winning three at Minnesota.

5. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

Season stats: 12.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.6 apg
Since last Ladder: 10.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 4

It’s enough that Edwards’ offensive numbers have sagged in the past couple weeks, including 26.9% on 3-pointers and 26.7% overall. But then there are the tough rookie lessons a fellow learns as he navigates his first NBA season, such as the woes his Wolves team endured dealing with Stephen Curry in the first of their consecutive meetings this week. “He’ll just take on dribble and pull up from deep and shoot it like it’s nothing,” Edwards said, a little awed by the two-time MVP after their first brush. One positive lately: Edwards got to the foul line 13 times in his past two games, equaling his total for the previous eight.

The Next Five:

6. Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks

Season stats: 10.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 2.5 apg
Since last Ladder: 15.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.1 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: N/A

Career-high 31 (21 in 4Q) in 24 minutes in Portland.

7. Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers

Season stats: 8.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.8 apg
Since last Ladder: 9.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.7 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: N/A

Defensive wing leads all rookies in minutes (35.9 per).

8. Xavier Tillman, Memphis Grizzlies

Season stats: 8.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.6 apg
Since last Ladder: 13.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: N/A

Overachieving big, with Desmond Bane, gives Grizzlies another 1-2 rookie punch.

9.  Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets

Season stats: 8.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.7 apg
Since last Ladder: 8.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: N/A

First Rockets rookie with 5+ starts since Tarik Black in 2014-15.

10. Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls

Season stats: 9.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.0 apg
Since last Ladder: 7.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 5

Indecision on offensive end called out by coach Billy Donovan.

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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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