With six weeks to go in the regular season, let’s use this first Kia Rookie Ladder since NBA All-Star 2023 to reset the race.
There are 40 days left in the regular season. Paolo Banchero has held onto the top rung here for most of what preceded this home stretch. He is, from all reports, the favorite — betting or otherwise — to be named Kia Rookie of the Year. His individual play and his impact on the Orlando Magic’s team success should weigh heavily with the media panel that casts the ballots.
But Banchero is not a lock. A late fade by him and/or the Magic, combined with a push by one of the other top candidates could change things dramatically. Here, for comparison’s sake, are where the Ladder stood coming out of the break the past two seasons:
- Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers
- Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors
- Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder
- LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
- Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks
- Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
Two seasons ago, the Timberwolves’ Edwards closed so strongly, many felt he should have snagged the ROY (though the final vote totals went Ball’s way and weren’t particularly close). Last season, Barnes edged out Mobley for the annual award by a narrow 378-363 points margin.
So Bennedict Mathurin, Walker Kessler, Jalen Williams, Keegan Murray and Jaden Ivey have reasons to find another gear, rather than simply looking ahead to summer development and R&R.
Meanwhile, four Class of 2022 lottery picks — OKC’s Chet Holmgren, Washington’s Johnny Davis (10), OKC’s Ousmane Dieng (11) and Utah’s Ochai Agbaji (14) — and nine others drafted in the first round still haven’t made an appearance on this season’s Ladder. Holmgren, out all year, figures to climb high on the 2023-24 Ladder but the others at least could make a cameo with a few strong weeks still.
For now, these dozen rookies have claimed rungs, with several more (Andrew Nembhard, Shaedon Sharpe, A.J. Griffin) coming and going week by week:
The Top 5 this week on the 2022-23 Kia Rookie Ladder:
(All stats through Tuesday, Feb. 28)
1. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
If you didn’t know this guy is in his first NBA season, you would not have guessed it in his performance at New Orleans Monday. Banchero scored eight early points, then got 20 of his 29 in the second half. Orlando went to him repeatedly down the stretch and he hit on three key trips to ice the 101-93 victory. OK, so he shot only 37.4% in February and made only one of 33 3-point tries in the month. But the Magic went 6-5, 17-16 since Dec. 15. The defensive attention he commands even on off nights aids his mates.
elite company 🪄
— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) February 28, 2023
2. Benedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers
Success in the Jordan Rising Stars event at All-Star weekend doesn’t necessarily translate into, well, anything as a player’s career goes forward. But if you go, you might as well win, right? Mathurin and fellow Pacers rookie Andrew Nembhard rode Team Pau MVP Jose Alvarado’s star to victory in Salt Lake City. Mathurin then averaged 17.3 points on 48.6% shooting in Indiana’s first three post-break games before his 1-of-7 night vs. Dallas. Still, he was plus-9 in 26 minutes against the Mavs.
rookie Bennedict Mathurin broke out his French to sing happy birthday to Tyrese Haliburton after shootaround today.🥳 pic.twitter.com/oUF6YYngYr
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) February 28, 2023
3. Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz
Come for the rebounding, shot-blocking and high-percentage work at the rim, stay for the 3-point accuracy. Kessler, who hits 70.8% of his 2-point shots, now is hitting 100% of his 3-pointers thanks to a set play early against OKC last week. He also had 18 rebounds and his third game with seven blocks. “His length, timing and athleticism continue to stand out,” said coach Will Hardy.
4. Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Don’t look now but the guy whose fledgling NBA climb and career has been marked by continuous improvement is at it again. Aside from Williams’ value and versatility playing both ends of the court, it was clear early that his perimeter shooting needed work — he made only 25 of his first 82 3-point attempts (30.5%). Now look at February, when he went 12-of-32 (37.5%) from the arc.
5. Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings
With 21 games left on the Kings’ schedule, Murray — who has benefited from being Sacramento’s fifth or sixth offensive option — has an opportunity to stand out. He is 40 short of Donovan Mitchell’s rookie record of 187 3-pointers, set in 2017-18. At Murray’s current pace of 2.5 makes on six attempts, he should sail past it with about a dozen to spare.
Keeg came outta nowhere for this putback 😤💪 pic.twitter.com/uPo1g9hd5N
— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) March 1, 2023
The Next 7:
6. Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons
Felt “disrespected” by Magic defense when hit late game-tying 3-pointer.
7. Jabari Smith, Jr., Houston Rockets
EFG% (45.4) ranks 52nd among league’s 72 rookies and lowest on Ladder.
8. Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio Spurs
Averaged 9.2 points, 7 FGA at Baylor to 10.3 ppg and 9.3 FGA as an NBA rookie.
9. Jalen Duren, Detroit Pistons
Losing playing time to ankle soreness and reps to new center James Wiseman.
10. Tari Eason, Houston Rockets
“I feel like I’m the best rookie defender in this class.”
11. Mark Williams, Charlotte Hornets
Three of his four double-doubles since Valentine’s Day.
12. Malaki Branham, San Antonio Spurs
From 10th in usage among Ladder rookies pre-Jan. 1 to 5th since.
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