Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: 10 rookies making noise outside of the Top 10

Taking a look at rookies who have shown flashes of promise this season, in addition to the weekly ranking of the Top 10 rookies.

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

Heat forward Precious Achiuwa (right) continues to improve during his rookie season.

Just because the NBA schedule pauses for nearly a week doesn’t mean that the Kia Rookie Ladder shuts down, too.

What it does mean is that, given the tiny sampling of performances from last week’s Ladder to now, we’re changing things up for a week.

First, the 10 players who held rungs on the most recent Ladder are back, Some shifting up or down, yes, but nobody fell off based on a poor performance when most rookies played two, one or zero games.

Second, this gap weeks offers an opportunity to highlight some NBA newcomers who cracked the Top 10 for maybe a cameo appearance or two in the season’s first half or didn’t earn a spot at all. After all, this is more of a stepladder than some heavy-duty extension job wielded by the local fire department. There are but 10 rungs in a season with at least double that number of notable rookies.

So we’ll get to the latest Ladder below. Meanwhile, here in alphabetical order are some rookies that might make the Ladder more competitive, even crazy, as the second half of 2020-21 plays out (season stats in parentheses):

• Precious Achiuwa, Miami Heat (6.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.6 apg): High-octane reserve forward has two great “hustle” mentors in Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler.

• Deni Avdija, Washington Wizards (5.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.3 apg): Wizards have been playing the long game with Avdija, with ups and downs in minutes. His versatility is terrific.

Best From Deni Avdija

Check out the best plays from Deni Avdija during his rookie season.

• Facundo Campazzo, Denver Nuggets (5.5 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 2.1 apg): A slick passing guard who makes himself a pest defensively.

• Saben Lee, Detroit Pistons (7.1 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 2.3 apg): His climb up the Pistons’ depth chart has been as assertive as his drives into the paint.

• Kira Lewis Jr, New Orleans Pelicans (5.2 ppg, 0.8 rpg, 1.8 apg): Inconsistent minutes but the lottery pick’s speed and talent have been apparent in flashes, and the Pelicans are 4-3 when he plays enough to dish three or more assists.

• Theo Maledon, Oklahoma City Thunder (7.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.3 apg): Been starting at guard for six weeks, with more consistency, including 40% shooting from arc, 2.1 assists/turnover ratio.

• Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers (8.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.8 apg): Maxey’s production has been in a long, slow decline, but any COVID-related layoff for Ben Simmons could mean a heavy dose of minutes and opportunity.

• Jaden McDaniels, Minnesota Timberwolves (5.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.0 apg): Do the math – the Wolves have a minus-8.4 net rating per NBA.com stats, but McDaniels is their best individually at minus-2.7.

• Chuma Okeke, Orlando Magic (4.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.0 apg): All the way back from knee issues, the forward has endeared himself to teammates on and off the floor.

• Payton Pritchard, Boston Celtics (7.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.3 apg): Already with a vociferous fan club, the feisty reserve guard has scored 10-plus 10 times, with the Celtics 7-3 on those nights.

• Isaiah Stewart, Detroit Pistons (5.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 0.7 apg): NBA fans in Motown love centers with big motors and Stewart is the latest.

• Xavier Tillman, Memphis Grizzlies (7.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.7 apg): Forward stepped into the void of Jaren Jackson Jr.’s knee injury.

• Obi Toppin, New York Knicks (4.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.6 apg): After a spotty first half and rough learning curve, Toppin might be able to use his Slam Dunk Contest participation as a reset and confidence boost.

• Dylan Windler, Cleveland Cavaliers (6.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.3 apg): His shot needed fixing heading into the break but the Cavs love his cuts and floor-spacing on the wing.


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

(All stats through Monday, March 8)


1. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets

Season stats: 15.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 6.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 19.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 5.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 1

Looking like a runaway favorite for the Kia Rookie of the Year award, barring injury or some wild burst of magnificence by one of Ball’s rivals below. In his one game over the past week, Charlotte’s 33-point abuse of the Timberwolves in Minnesota, the Hornets’ playmaker’s biggest number was his plus-25 in 26:21.


2. Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks

Season stats: 12.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.4 apg
Since last Ladder: 13.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 3

It’s one thing to get named to a roster spot for a game that never happened (the 2021 Rising Stars affair, normally a perennial for All-Star weekend). It’s quite another to not get invited at all. If that happened with a party that was never held, it still might irritate you, right? Just more fuel for Quickley’s motor, perhaps. The Knicks guard tops all rotation rookies (at least 15 minutes per game) with a 27.4% usage rate.


3. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

Season stats: 14.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.5 apg
Since last Ladder: 19.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 4

No first-year player is jacking up more shots, overall and from 3-point land, in spite of his 37.1% and 30.5% inaccuracy, respectively. That includes a 1-of-10 from the arc against Charlotte, in which he also had four turnovers and got tagged with a minus-24 in Minnesota’s ninth consecutive loss.

Best From Anthony Edwards

Check out the best plays from Anthony Edwards during his rookie season.


4. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings

Season stats: 13.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 5.4 apg
Since last Ladder: DNP
Last Ladder’s rung: 2

The Kings were playing it safe with Haliburton heading into the break, giving his sore calf a couple extra days rather than rushing him back. That’s why he has missed Sacramento’s past four games, during which it went 2-2, and that’s why Haliburton slid a couple of rungs on this week’s Ladder. There still is some clamoring among Kings fans to move him into the starting lineup based on his first-half production, but first Haliburton has to get out of the trainer’s room.

Best From Tyrese Haliburton

Check out the best plays from Tyrese Haliburton during his rookie season.


5. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons

Season stats: 9.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.1 apg
Since last Ladder: 10.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 5

The Detroit rookie’s game inside the arc is starting to perk up. In December and January, he actually shot worse on 2-point attempts (32.4%) than he did on 3-pointers (36.3%). But Bey boosted both those numbers in February, most notably his ability to convert from closer in (53.8% on twos), while hitting 44.4% of the deep balls.


The Next Five:

6. Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets

Season stats: 9.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.7 apg
Since last Ladder: 12.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 1.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 6

Racked up a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) vs. Brooklyn.

7. James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors

Season stats: 11.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 0.7 apg
Since last Ladder: 8.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 7

More productive at home than on road, common for rookies.

8. Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls

Season stats: 10.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.2 apg
Since last Ladder: 13.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 8

Butting heads with Zion gave him and the Bulls extra confidence.

9. Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies

Season stats: 9.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.4 apg
Since last Ladder: 7.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.5 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 9

Of 28 rookies averaging 15-plus minutes, leads in net rating (5.2).

10. Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers

Season stats: 8.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.9 apg
Since last Ladder: 7.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 10

Needs to get to the line more while working on outside shoot.

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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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