Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: State of the race with less than 1 month left

The No. 1 overall pick maintains his lead, while Walker Kessler rises to No. 3 in the latest ranking.

Bennedict Mathurin has carved out an impactful role off Indiana's bench this season.

With barely three weeks remaining in the NBA regular season, voters for the league’s annual awards are warming up their ballots. That puts Indiana rookie wing Bennedict Mathurin in a unique position, with the possibility of seeing his name land high on two of them.

Kia Rookie of the Year? Kia Sixth Man of the Year? Both? Neither?

“I’d like both of them,” Mathurin told before a recent game in Chicago. “If I had to pick? I’d go with Rookie of the Year. I’d like that because there’s a little target on your back [as a new guy]. I like that kind of pressure. Then coming back next year, people would be watching to see how you got better.”

At the moment, Mathurin isn’t adding to his case for either award because he has been out with a sprained right ankle suffered last week against Houston.

He had been No. 2 here on the Kia Rookie Ladder for most of the season before a post-All-Star slump and now the injury. He has a decent case for Sixth Man consideration behind veteran candidates such as the Clippers’ Norman Powell, Boston’s Malcolm Brogdon and Milwaukee’s Bobby Portis.

Mathurin has subbed in for the Pacers in 61 of his 67 appearances. His scoring (16.9 ppg) ranks second only to Powell (17.2) in bench production.

From a historical perspective, Chicago’s Ben Gordon – the SMOY winner in 2005 – is the only rookie to win the award. Brogdon – the 2017 ROY choice – is the rare winner who mostly came off the bench, doing so in 47 of his 75 appearances for the Bucks that season. Wilt Chamberlain, the legend for whom the Rookie trophy is newly named, was named both ROY and NBA Most Valuable Player in his inaugural season, 1959-60.

How has Mathurin found contentment without being a starter? He said he brought the right mindset to his first NBA season.

Follow along with Pacers rookie Bennedict Mathurin as he navigates through his rookie season.

“Coming out of college, I was the best player on our team,” the native of Montreal and product of Arizona said. “But we have a lot of great players on this team as well. Obviously, I want to be a starter, but I wanted to do what was best for my team as well.

“I feel like my scoring is an ability not a lot of players have coming into the NBA. I can bring that off the bench to give my team a little lift.”

With time left for a strong finish, Mathurin said his rookie experience hasn’t rocked him one bit.

“My first year in the league, I didn’t have a lot of expectations,” he said. “I went out and did what I knew I could do, which was mostly to play hard. I knew good things would come from that.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve been really surprised by anything,” Mathurin said. “I was curious coming into the NBA how good the league is and how many great players there are here. I remembered a quote Andre Iguodala said at Arizona last year, that ‘the worst player in the NBA could beat you 1-on-1.’”

In other rookie news: Memphis’ David Roddy had a pair of games against Dallas that could make an opponent trade for a guy. He scored 24 and 19 points and shot a combined 18-of-24 in 49 minutes off the bench in victories Saturday and Monday over the Mavericks, easing the torn Achilles loss of super-sub Brandon Clarke.

Roddy grabbed his first rung this season in a prolific week for the rookies, with 13 averaging double figures in scoring. Others who haven’t yet gotten Ladder love included Dallas’ Jaden Hardy, Brooklyn’s Dru Smith, and Utah’s Simone Fontecchio and Ochai Agbaji.

Meanwhile, San Antonio’s Blake Wesley led the rookies with 6.5 assists, and OKC’s Ousmane Dieng topped the non-rung holders in rebounds with 4.8 across four games.

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

(All stats through Tuesday, March 14)

1. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic

Season stats: 20.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.6 apg
Since last Ladder: 23.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.7 apg
Last Ladder: No. 1
Draft pick: No. 1 overall

The guy who was looking like a lock Rookie of the Year when he grabbed Eastern Conference honors as the top newcomer in both December and January is having an even better March. Through seven games, the Magic forward is averaging 22.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists. And that miserable 3-point showing of February (1-for-33) is over – Banchero has hit 11 of his first 28 from deep (39.3%) this month. He scored 13 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday against the Spurs in trying to stop the Magic’s skid of four losses in five games.

2. Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder

Season stats: 13.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.2 apg
Since last Ladder: 20.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 5.0 apg
Last Ladder: No. 2
Draft pick: No. 12 overall

After missing a couple of games, OKC’s versatile wing has returned with a vengeance. His stats above, plus 1.7 steals, helped the Thunder go 3-0 while he posted a plus-14 in those games. Williams has averaged 20.2 points on 57.5% shooting in his past 14 games, and since Feb. 7 is one of only a dozen NBA players averaging at least 20 points, 5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 10-plus appearances.

3. Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz

Season stats: 8.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 12.3 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 2.3 bpg
Last Ladder: No. 4
Draft pick: No. 22 overall

Since the All-Star break, Kessler has averaged 11.3 points, 12.6 rebounds and 3.8 blocked shots while shooting 77% in 30.9 minutes. For comparison, let’s choose a random big like, say, oh, well … Rudy Gobert of Minnesota. The man for whom Kessler and a bounty of assets were traded has these post-All-Star stats: 16.3 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 2.0 bpg, 64% in 30.6 mpg. Kessler is tied for third with 9.1 contested 2-point shots.

4. Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers

Season stats: 16.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.4 apg
Since last Ladder: DNP
Last Ladder: No. 3
Draft pick: No. 6 overall

Mathurin is one of two top Ladder guys to be sidelined as this edition posts. He was three minutes into his appearance vs. Houston Friday when he suffered a sprained right ankle on a drive to the hoop. He hasn’t played since and Pacers coach Rick Carlisle has indicated no timetable for his return.

5. Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons

Season stats: 15.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 4.9 apg
Since last Ladder: 16.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 6.0 apg
Last Ladder: No. 5
Draft pick: No. 5 overall

Ivey was just a senior at La Lumiere School in LaPorte, Ind., when the NBA got hit for the first time with COVID shutdowns. Well, now he’s had a taste of that as a pro, sitting out Detroit’s past three games in the league’s health and safety protocols. Ivey’s streak of 27 consecutive games scoring in double figures came to a screeching interruption, but before he was idled, he became the first Pistons player to post point-assist double-doubles in back-to-back games since Lindsey Hunter in 1994.

The Next 7:

6. Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio Spurs

Season stats: 11.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.6 apg
Since last Ladder: 24.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.5 apg
Last Ladder: No. 7
Draft pick: No. 9 pick overall

With 29-11 vs. Banchero and the Magic, it marked his second double-double in March.

 7. Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings

Season stats: 11.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.2 apg
Since last Ladder: 6.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.0 apg
Last Ladder: No. 6
Draft pick: No. 4 overall

Kings’ success keeps him afloat, but he’s at 10.3 ppg, 33.9% on 3-pointers since All-Star.

8. Jabari Smith, Jr., Houston Rockets

Season stats: 12.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 24.7 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 2.7 apg
Last Ladder: No. 8
Draft pick: No. 3 overall

Three consecutive double-doubles, shooting 58.6% (53.6%) since March 4.

9. Tari Eason, Houston Rockets

Season stats: 9.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.0 apg
Since last Ladder: 8.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.3 apg
Last Ladder: No. 9
Draft pick: No. 17 pick overall

Started in a win vs. the Celtics. In 4 starts: 11.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.8 apg.

10. Jalen Duren, Detroit Pistons

Season stats: 8.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 0.9 bpg
Since last Ladder: 11.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.5 bpg
Last Ladder: No. 12
Draft pick: No. 13 overall

Carving out space (19.6 points, 17.0 rebounds per 36) behind teammate James Wiseman.

11. Andrew Nembhard, Indiana Pacers

Season stats: 8.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.0 apg
Since last Ladder: 16.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5.3 apg
Last Ladder: Not ranked
Draft pick: No. 31 overall

Responding well as coach Rick Carlisle shoves minutes at him.

12. David Roddy, Memphis Grizzlies

Season stats: 6.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 0.5 spg
Since last Ladder: 16.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.0 spg
Last Ladder: Not ranked
Draft pick: No. 23 pick overall

Bubbles up to grab a rung in the Grizzlies’ time of need.

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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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