Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Paolo Banchero leads 1st ranking of 2022-23

Orlando's dynamic forward isn't the only rookie turning heads to begin the season.

No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero has started strong during his rookie season.

What have you done for them lately — that seemed to be Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s point in the postgame Tuesday night after scoring 34 points to spark Oklahoma City past the Orlando Magic and prize rookie Paolo Banchero.

Beyond his scoring and shooting (12-for-18, 10-for-11 from the line), Gilgeous-Alexander threw some shade at Banchero, the league’s top rookie through the season’s first two weeks. After citing some of the former Duke big man’s attributes, noting “physical, plays inside of his game, he has tools,” the Thunder guard gratuitously added, “Chet Holmgren was the No. 1 pick, by the way.”

It was a nice nod to Holmgren, who actually went to OKC with the No. 2 overall pick but is out for all of 2022-23 due to right foot surgery from an offseason injury. But it was a jab at Banchero nonetheless, and mostly an undeserved one.

Yes, Banchero sputtered down the stretch at OKC, scoring two points on 1-for-5 shooting in the fourth quarter while Gilgeous-Alexander scored 13 to bring his team back from an 11-point deficit over the final seven minutes. Still, it’s clear Orlando has sized up the Seattle native Banchero as the centerpiece of its young core and, despite a recent dip, he’s been playing like one.

That’s why Banchero holds the top rung in this week’s Kia Rookie Ladder.

Thunder coach Mark Daigneault was more generous than Gilgeous-Alexander in assessing Banchero’s play so far and his potential.

“The combination of the size and skill is what makes him unique,” Daigneault said. “He’s very crafty for a young player. He’s got an old soul game.”

Banchero’s performances have been dredging up names from the past, such as this: When he totaled 120 points, 35 rebounds and 15 assists in his first five games, he became the first rookie since Dominique Wilkins in 1982-83 to do so. At 19 — he turns 20 on Nov. 12 — he moved into prestigious company by the time he played at OKC.

Banchero has hit bumps in the rookie road. He’s shooting 28% on threes, his usage rate (29.3) is way beyond any Magic player’s last season and at 1-7, the team Tuesday slipped behind the 2-6 start of 2021-22. Banchero might need a blow – he’s second among the league’s rookies in minutes (33.8) and assists (3.6), while topping the newcomers in scoring (21.8) and rebounding (7.6).

But last week on a stop in Cleveland, Banchero told The Athletic: “Honestly, it’s just really fun. It’s really competitive. Just all the games, all the traveling and stuff, you know, just teaching myself to get the proper amount of rest. Learning my body even more with eating and stuff, so, I’ve loved it so far.”

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

(All stats through Tuesday, Nov. 1)

1. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic

Season stats: 21.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.6 apg
Draft pick: No. 1 overall

When two games scoring 18 and 15 points on 12-for-33 shooting (1-for-7 on threes) qualifies as a slump, you know a rookie has been doing something notable. The No. 1 pick from last June had scored 20 points or more in each of his first six games. His debut line — 27 points, nine boards, five assists — made him only the third rookie since 1969-70 (with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James) to reach 25+, 5+ and 5+ in their first games. If the versatile 6-foot-10 player looked tired in Dallas or OKC this week, it was understandable; Orlando has played six of its eight on the road, and eight overall in 14 days. Up next, though: A seven-game Magic homestand.

2. Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers

Season stats: 20.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.1 apg
Draft pick: No. 6 overall

With Indiana down by 17 late at Chicago on Oct. 26, Mathurin rankled some of the Bulls by swiping the ball and attacking the basket, a bad-form type of play that allegedly demonstrated his competitive fire. Coming off the Pacers bench, he tied his worst plus/minus (minus-18 in less than 27 minutes), but he has topped 20 points three times, including 32 at Brooklyn Saturday with 6-for-9 from the arc. “He has tools that really nobody else on our team has and that’s exciting,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle has said.

3. Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings

Season stats: 17.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.4 apg
Draft pick: No. 4 overall

Murray was considered by many to be the most complete player in the Class of 2022 and it has shown in his across-the-board contributions to the 2-4 Kings. Coach Mike Brown had said of the Iowa native, “He can play with the starters or he can play with the second unit. He is going to be good either way. He has just got a great feel and a great demeanor for a young guy.” After two appearances in reserve, Brown moved Murray into the starting lineup and has used him at both forward spots.

4. Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons

Season stats: 15.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.7 apg
Draft pick: No. 5 overall

The Purdue product’s explosiveness and zeal for attacking the rim have set him apart so far, with only Banchero topping him on drives among the rookies. Ivey has been adept at finishing — hitting 71% inside 3 feet — as well as kicking out to teammates spaced on the perimeter. Venturing farther from the basket for shots has been an adventure, though he hit two of his five threes against Golden State and was a plus-15 in Sunday’s victory.

5. Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets

Season stats: 11.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 0.9 apg
Draft pick: No. 3 overall

One of nine Rockets players age 21 or younger, Smith hit one of those multi-category random superlatives in his first eight games — only rookie to total at least 95 points, 51 rebounds, 10 blocked shots and 17 3-pointers in that particular sample size. An Oct. 24 bench flare-up with Jalen Green had some Houston fans wondering, competition or friction?

The Next 5:

6. Jalen Duren, Detroit Pistons

Season stats: 7.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 0.1 apg
Draft pick: No. 13 overall

More offensive boards (47) in 7 games than Detroit HOFer Bob Lanier.

7. Shaedon Sharpe, Portland Trail Blazers

Season stats: 9.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.7 apg
Draft pick: No. 7 overall

Minutes ramping up with first start for 50% shooter.

8. Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio Spurs

Season stats: 8.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.0 apg
Draft pick: No. 9 overall

Normally Rudy Gobert gets rookies at the rim, not vice versa.

9. Tari Eason, Houston Rockets

Season stats: 7.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 0.5 apg
Draft pick: No. 17 overall

Houston assistant John Lucas called him “a better Dennis Rodman.”

10. Jake LaRavia, Memphis Grizzlies

Season stats: 7.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.4 apg
Draft pick: No. 19 overall

Missed two games to illness, but hitting 60% of threes.

* * *

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 Turner Broadcasting.