Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Tyrese Haliburton climbs to No. 1 after strong stretch in starting lineup

The rookie takes over the top spot as he continues to provide a steady hand to Sacramento's playoff push.

The Kings are 7-1 since Tyrese Haliburton was moved into the starting lineup two weeks ago.

Consistency counts. And that’s why Tyrese Haliburton has climbed to the top of the Kia Rookie Ladder this week.

The top spot opened up two weeks ago when Charlotte guard LaMelo Ball suffered a broken wrist and got shut down for most or all of what’s left to the 2020-21 season. Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards grabbed it almost by default last week, though things were trending up for the Timberwolves newcomer.

Then Edwards had a bumpy week. He continues to lead the Class of 2020 in scoring at 17.2 points per game, but since he’s hoisting 16.4 shots nightly while making only 38.6%, he also leads the first-year guys in missed field goal attempts. He is a mixed bag of jaw-dropping highlights and wince-worthy mistakes night to night, sometimes minute to minute. Which is typical of the rookie experience.

Meanwhile, Haliburton has chugged along like the tortoise vs. the hare. No one talks of the Sacramento guard as an athletic marvel, as so many rightfully do of Edwards. He has been precocious not in his ability to posterize individual defenders but in the way he seamlessly has blended into the Kings’ strategies and style at both ends.

And that’s never been more evident than during the team’s current hot stretch. Haliburton was coming off a calf injury to start March and was unhappy with his return to form — until coach Luke Walton moved him into the starting lineup in a three-guard formation to replace Marvin Bagley III (broken hand).

Since then, the Kings have gone 7-1, outscoring rivals by 5.8 points and shooting 50.6% to their foes 48%. As for Haliburton, the No. 12 pick from Iowa State has averaged 15.8 ppg on 11.8 shots, hitting 51.1% overall and 42.5% of his 3-pointers. His 4.5 assists have come at the expense of only 1.6 turnovers. He even has been talking like a veteran in addressing Sacramento’s improved play.

“We’re all here to help change the Kings culture,” Haliburton said, “get the Kings back to the playoffs, do special things here in Sacramento. Things that they haven’t done in a long time.”

There’s nothing wrong with being a valuable starter or rotation player from the day of one’s arrival in the league. The list of past Rookie of the Year award winners includes a number of such guys, from Malcolm Brogdon in 2017, Michael Carter-Williams in 2014, and Emeka Okafor in 2005, back to Mike Miller 20 years ago.

So for now, too much of the regular season remains to know which top rookie’s portfolio will get the nod from ROY voters: Ball’s tremendous half season, Edwards’ spectacular moments and stats lines, or Haliburton’s steady reliability.

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

(All stats through Monday, March 29)

1. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings

Season stats: 13.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 5.0 apg
Since last Ladder: 16.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 5.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 2

Haliburton has been helping Sacramento at both ends: His offensive rating of 111.9 ranks second among all rookies and his has an effective field-goal percentage of 59.4%. Meanwhile, he’s averaging 1.3 steals and 2.2 deflections. Most of all, he is impacting winning, the rare rookie trait that Charlotte’s Ball demonstrated early in staking his claim to the East’s top rookie honors for January and February. Well, Haliburton was his West counterpart in winning those honors.

2. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

Season stats: 17.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.5 apg
Since last Ladder: 22.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.8 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 1

Don’t think of this as a demotion, Edwards slipping down one rung from last week’s Ladder. Think of it as an indication of how fluid the ROY race is with Ball out for an extended pit stop. Edwards’ latest to-do list includes adapting to Malik Beasley’s return, building trust with and from recently hired coach Chris Finch, gaining maturity with his offensive decisions and bringing effort consistently on defense.

3. Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks

Season stats: 12.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 13.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 3

Quickley’s production as the No. 25 pick has provided cover for lottery-selection Obi Toppin’s slow rookie season. The 6-foot-3 guard’s production in limited minutes continues to impress, such as 12 points in 17 minutes vs. Miami. Pro-rated to 36 minutes, the Knicks rookie would be putting up 23.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg and 4.1 apg, along with 5.7 free throw attempts.

4. Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets

Season stats: 10.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.8 apg
Since last Ladder: 13.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.8 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 4

Minutes, scoring and rebounding all are up since the All-Star break. No 20-point games for the two-way forward through the Rockets’ first 37 games, but three since then. Tate’s 0.098 defensive win shares is tops among rookies, for a team that is 13-33. His confidence at both ends has made him a key piece in Houston’s young core.

5. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons

Season stats: 10.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 13.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 5

Only Jerami Grant (39) has more double-digit scoring games with the Pistons this season than Bey (28). He has knocked down 102 3-pointers just 44 games into his career, which ranks third all-time behind Luka Doncic (106) and Lauri Markkanen (103). The closest Pistons shooter ever? Brandon Knight (67).

The Next Five:

6. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets

Season stats: 15.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 6.1 apg
Since last Ladder: DNP
Last Ladder’s rung: 6

Hornets sensation in ROY green room pending return or ballot deadline.

7. James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors

Season stats: 11.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 0.6 apg
Since last Ladder: 12.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 0.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 7

Confidence has been issue for top rookie paint threat (7.8 ppg).

8. Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies

Season stats: 9.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 7.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.5 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 8

Third-best rookie 3FG% (45.8) ever behind Morrow (46.7), Petrovic (45.9).

9. Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls

Season stats: 9.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 8.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 9

He and Cavs’ Okoro only rookies to start every game this season.

10. Isaiah Stewart, Detroit Pistons

Season stats: 6.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 0.8 apg
Since last Ladder: 9.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 10

Feisty, physical big earned first ejection vs. the Nets.

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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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