Sometimes the folks here at Kia Rookie Ladder HQ understand how some premier college coaches feel.
You spend all season focused on, analyzing and appreciating the skills and character of your brightest young players and then, whoosh, it’s over. They’re gone.
One-and-done can be a little sad.
Unlike the abandonment some coaches might feel, the Ladder committee doesn’t need to let them go. Tracking second-year players — not just their current level of play but essentially their two-year resumes — is a mere variation on the rookie tracker.
So why not, let’s go with it: the Kia Sophomore Ladder as an annual late-season glimpse of rookies still in the business of growing their games. And don’t worry: after updating on the Class of 2021, we’re checking in with the weekly look at the Class of 2022.
(Sophomore stats through Tuesday, March 28)
1. Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers
Sophomore stats: 16.4 ppg, 9 rpg, 2.8 apg
Rookie stats: 15.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.5 apg
2021 Draft pick: No. 3 overall
Final Rookie Ladder rung: No. 1
Two years of two-way excellence as Cavs rank Top 10 at both ends.
2. Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic
Sophomore stats: 18.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.6 apg
Rookie stats: 15.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.9 apg
2021 Draft pick: No. 8 overall
Final Rookie Ladder rung: No. 5
Rank among sophomores: total points (2nd), total rebounds (6th), total assists (3rd) and minutes (3rd).
3. Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors
Sophomore stats: 15.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.8 apg
Rookie stats: 15.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.5 apg
2021 Draft pick: No. 4 overall
Final Rookie Ladder rung: No. 3
Reigning Kia ROY winner looking clutch with FG%, production in fourth quarter.
4. Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder
Sophomore stats: 16.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 6.2 apg
Rookie stats: 12.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 6.4 apg
2021 Draft pick: No. 6 overall
Final Rookie Ladder rung: No. 6
Passes like this to finishers such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren for years.
5. Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets
Sophomore stats: 9.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 3.8 apg
Rookie stats: 12.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.6 apg
2021 Draft pick: No. 16 overall
Final Rookie Ladder rung: Not ranked
On pace to be fourth-ever 20-year-old at 14 ppg, 8 rpg and 3 apg.
6. Jalen Green, Houston Rockets
Sophomore stats: 22 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.6 apg
Rookie stats: 17.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.6 apg
2021 Draft pick: No. 2 overall
Final Rookie Ladder rung: No. 4
A 4.7 ppg leap in Year 2 > Beal’s, Edwards’, Irving’s.
7. Trey Murphy III, New Orleans Pelicans
Sophomore stats: 13.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.4 apg
Rookie stats: 5.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.6 apg
2021 Draft pick: No. 17 overall
Final Rookie Ladder rung: Not ranked
Possible 50/40/90 marksman in line for Kia Most Improved Player votes.
8. Herbert Jones, New Orleans Pelicans
Sophomore stats: 9.4 ppg, 4 rpg, 2.4 apg
Rookie stats: 9.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.1 apg
2021 Draft pick: No. 35 overall
Final Rookie Ladder rung: No. 7
A defensive ace whose shooting is down across the board.
9. Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago Bulls
Sophomore stats: 8.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.6 apg
Rookie stats: 8.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.3 apg
2021 Draft pick: No. 38 overall
Final Rookie Ladder rung: No. 10
Steal as the No. 38 pick, he hit a plateau for his hometown team.
10. Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons
Sophomore stats: 19.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 6 apg
Rookie stats: 17.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5.6 apg
2021 Draft pick: No. 1 overall
Final Rookie Ladder rung: No. 2
Only 12 games leaves No. 1 pick in ’21 with incomplete grade this season.
And now, here’s a look at the top rookies this season with 12 days to go in 2022-23.
The Top 5 this week on the 2022-23 Kia Rookie Ladder:
(All stats through Tuesday, March 28)
1. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
Season stats: 19.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.7 apg
Since last Ladder: 16 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 4 apg
Last Ladder: No. 1
Draft pick: No. 1 overall
The Magic big man got some praise from Brooklyn’s Mikal Bridges this week, a credit to Banchero’s professionalism. “He’s tough. His handle [is] way tighter than I thought,” Bridges said on the YES Network. “And the thing is, he’s still playing the right way. It’s tough as the No. 1 pick, with the team kind of losing, you probably want to just take yours.” Banchero has stayed productive in various ways, upping his rebounds and assists and bouncing back from a February shooting slump.
2. Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Season stats: 13.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.2 apg
Since last Ladder: 16 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.3 apg
Last Ladder: No. 2
Draft pick: No. 12 overall
Just when it looked as if time might be running out to tinker with the top rungs of the Ladder, Williams does this against Charlotte: 31 points on 11-of-16, 4 assists and 4 steals. Then — with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out (ankle) — Josh Giddey (31 with 10 boards, nine assists) and Isaiah Joe (33) join Williams to become the second trio in history younger than 24 to all get 30 in a game. The first? Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden with OKC in 2012.
3. Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz
Season stats: 9.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.4 bpg
Since last Ladder: 16 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.3 bpg
Last Ladder: No. 3
Draft pick: No. 22 overall
The Jazz center has more buckets and has taken more shots in March than in any previous month, without dinging his FG% one bit. At 72.4%, he’s on pace to finish third on the single-season list behind Mitchell Robinson (74.2% in 2020) and Wilt Chamberlain (72.4% in 1973). Then there’s his shot-blocking: Kessler has 168 blocks, almost more than the second (Jabari Smith Jr., 66), third (Christian Koloko, 55) and fourth rookies (Jalen Duren, 53) combined.
The Sheriff with 𝚂𝙴𝚅𝙴𝙽 blocks on 80% shooting 🤠#PerformanceLeader | @UofUHealth pic.twitter.com/LVByxYg9kK
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) March 28, 2023
4. Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons
Season stats: 15.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 5 apg
Since last Ladder: 26 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 8 apg
Last Ladder: No. 5
Draft pick: No. 5 overall
A 3-20 stretch since January takes a toll on a team, but Ivey’s play remains resilient. He started this week with a season-high 32 points, eight rebounds and eight assists against the Bucks. Since the last Ladder, the Pistons guard’s playmaking was good (8.0 assists) but so was his play-busting (6.5 turnovers). Coach Dwane Casey is encouraged by Ivey’s defense, but don’t overlook this: Ivey has scored at least 10 points in every game so far in calendar 2023.
New career high for @IveyJaden 💯 pic.twitter.com/2mP8lXKeS2
— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) March 28, 2023
5. Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers
Season stats: 16.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.4 apg
Since last Ladder: 11.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.3 apg
Last Ladder: No. 4
Draft pick: No. 6 overall
No Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield or Myles Turner thrust Mathurin into a featured role vs. Dallas and he produced with 26 points on 9-of-19 shooting in 38 minutes. The Kia Sixth Man of the Year award candidate has started five straight, but had averaged just 5.8 shot attempts and 2.5 free throws until his breakout against the Mavs. Despite his starts, Mathurin still leads the league in points scored off the bench (1,028).
Bennedict Mathurin with his 25th 20+ point game of the season. pic.twitter.com/p2skJm8F5A
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) March 28, 2023
The Next 7:
6. Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings
Season stats: 11.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.2 apg
Since last Ladder: 12.7 ppg, 4 rpg, 1.3 apg
Last Ladder: No. 6
Draft pick: No. 4 overall
Two shy of tying rookie mark for 3FGs (187), set by D. Mitchell in 2018.
7. Jabari Smith, Jr., Houston Rockets
Season stats: 12.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 15.5 ppg, 7 rpg, 2.3 apg
Last Ladder: No. 7
Draft pick: No. 3 overall
Season-high six assists vs. Knicks on Monday showed more of his ball skills.
8. Tari Eason, Houston Rockets
Season stats: 9.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1 apg
Since last Ladder: 12.3 ppg, 7 rpg, 1.5 apg
Last Ladder: No. 9
Draft pick: No. 17 pick overall
Ten of his 14 games of 27+ minutes have come in March (11.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg).
9. Jalen Duren, Detroit Pistons
Season stats: 8.9 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.2 apg
Since last Ladder: 13.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.5 apg
Last Ladder: No. 10
Draft pick: No. 13 overall
No other Piston ever had more rebounds (522) through first 60 games.
10. Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio Spurs
Season stats: 11 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.5 apg
Since last Ladder: 13.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.0 apg
Last Ladder: No. 8
Draft pick: No. 9 pick overall
Not shut down yet, but nagging right knee had him miss 7 of past 11.
11. Andrew Nembhard, Indiana Pacers
Season stats: 9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 4.1 apg
Since last Ladder: 15.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 5.5 apg
Last Ladder: No. 11
Draft pick: No. 31 overall
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle: “Should have been a Top 10 pick … who fits in perfectly.”
12. Shaedon Sharpe, Portland Trail Blazers
Season stats: 8.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.8 apg
Since last Ladder: 22.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.3 apg
Last Ladder: Not ranked
Draft pick: No. 7 pick overall
Three straight 24+ point nights, then “teachable” 5-of-13 vs. Pelicans.
* * *
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery Sports.