A month isn’t a season and a season isn’t a career. Still, no matter how small this sample size seems, there’s a lot more to go on in evaluating the NBA’s newest players than there was five weeks ago.
And while we’ve been learning about them and their fit with their teams, the Class of 2022 has been learning the league, the intensity of its competition, the demands of the NBA schedule and the hard lessons imparted by surly veteran opponents, minor and major injuries, shaky shooting nights and the relentless urgency to win.
For players near the top of the Kia Rookie Ladder, the early education has included the disruption of a significant ankle sprain (Orlando’s Paolo Banchero), a reminder that starting matters less than finishing (Indiana’s Bennedict Mathurin) and the frequent disconnect between good stats and winning basketball (Sacramento’s Keegan Murray).
For Detroit’s Jaden Ivey, there’s been a little of everything. Already, the fifth overall pick in last June’s Draft has lost nearly as often in a month as in his two college seasons at Purdue combined (47-18 to the Pistons’ 4-15). He tried to complement the team’s rookie star of last year, Cade Cunningham, until Cunningham went out seven games ago with left shin soreness. That thrust Ivey into a different, bigger role, yet another adjustment. Then there has been the usual rookie stuff, such as playing twice in two nights rather than twice in a week. And all that free time without classes.
Early in Detroit’s current six-game trip, Ivey chatted briefly with NBA.com’s Mark Medina, who shared some of the notes and quotes with the Ladder Committee. On the No. 2 rung for the second straight week, the swift 6-foot-4 guard said his NBA experience to this point has been “everything I’ve dreamed of.”
“Being able to play against some of the greatest players every night,” he said, “and being able to put on an NBA uniform and competing in all of these historic arenas. I’m enjoying every second.”
“Every second” clearly is about attitude, because it includes back-to-back grinds and the Pistons’ recent seven-game losing streak. Of the former, Ivey said “You have to wake up the next day and lock in for the next game. It takes a big, mental lock-in to do that.” And of the latter, “Scoring the ball is great. But the win is what matters. I put that on me. I’m a rookie, but I have to keep learning as much as I can to put us in a great situation to win.”
An early bonus: Playing for Detroit has Ivey close to family. His father, Javin Hunter, was a native of that city before playing wide receiver for Notre Dame and in the NFL. Jaden Ivey’s grandfather, James Hunter, was a defensive back for the Detroit Lions from 1976-82. His mother, Niele Ivey, played in the WNBA for the Indiana Fever and the Detroit Shock before becoming coach of the Notre Dame women’s basketball team.
“I’m able to visit my grandparents and father,” Ivey told NBA.com. “I also have ties on my mom’s side of the family. She has her mom’s cousins and some of her family there. It’s an honor to be able to play for a great organization and play in Detroit where I spent some of my summers. I love the city, being here and putting on the Pistons jersey every day. I want to represent for the city.”
So far, with his speed, quickness and raw potential, Ivey is representing just fine. He is joined on this week’s Ladder by a couple of new faces, vying for those lower rungs.
The Top 5 this week on the 2022-23 Kia Rookie Ladder:
(All stats through Tuesday, Nov. 22)
1. Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers
Mathurin had to shadow-box in what could have been a two-game, head-to-head showdown with ROY rival Paolo Banchero, who missed the pair of games in Indianapolis Saturday and Monday. The Pacers newbie had 22 points in the second clash and averaged 17 points and 4.5 rebounds while shooting 40% — but his team won both. Curiously, Mathurin’s stats during Indiana’s five-game winning streak (16.8 ppg, 40% FG, 37.5% 3FG) aren’t as flashy as in the team’s 5-6 start (20.4, 46%, 43.7%) but he continues to lead all NBA reserves in scoring.
2. Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons
The Pistons snapped their seven-game skid by beating Denver Tuesday, without Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey or Isaiah Stewart. That thrust Ivey into his biggest role yet, and he put up seven points, six rebounds, five assists and four turnovers on 3-of-11 shooting with a minus-10 in 26 minutes in the two-point victory. His ever-present threat to explode to the rim opens passing lanes for him even when it doesn’t boost his own outside shot (with the exception of his 4-for-4 from the arc in Sacramento, he has shot 4-for-31 from deep since Nov. 14). Backcourt mate Cunningham (left shin) is out indefinitely, hurting synergy development between the two but upping Ivey’s repetitions.
Ivey goes coast-to-coast in four dribbles ⏩ pic.twitter.com/MuwV6oJlmj
— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) November 23, 2022
3. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
The Ladder committee is looking forward to Banchero bursting back onto the scene when his left ankle sprain — which has cost him seven consecutive games — is sufficiently healed, perhaps by Friday against the Sixers. No one else in the Class of 2022 is close to Banchero, on a per-game basis, in points, rebounds, minutes, FGA or points in the paint (11.8). But due to this layoff (missing nearly 40% of Orlando’s game now), Ivey has played 50% more minutes, Mathurin has amassed 19% more points and 23 of his rookie peers have tasted victory more often than the No. 1 pick (just twice).
4. Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets
Granted, his scoring high thus far of 22 points “only” came against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday. But Smith went 5-for-5 inside the arc, hit three of his nine 3-pointers and had seven rebounds against a mostly intact version of the defending champs. The 19-year-old has launched the most 3-pointers (96) of any rookie, and his 29 makes equals, er, 30.2% accuracy.
Tari & Bari put in work 😤
Check out the highlights 👇 pic.twitter.com/0MWfoQXZpB
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) November 21, 2022
5. Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings
Murray returned from back soreness to play two games this week. He scored 13 points against Detroit, then had his worst performance at Memphis on Tuesday. The Kings’ wing scored two points on 1-of-8 shooting and missed his four 3-pointers. He has missed 11 of 12 triples over his past three appearances. The good news? His sputters at both ends haven’t disrupted Sacramento’s winning streak.
— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) November 21, 2022
The Next 5
6. Tari Eason, Houston Rockets
Leads the NBA — not just rookies — in steal percentage (3.8%).
7. Shaedon Sharpe, Portland Trail Blazers
His 42.9% 3FG is tops among rookies who have played at least 10 games.
8. Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Finished with 16 points, six rebounds and seven assists in Memphis start.
9. Jalen Duren, Detroit Pistons
Oh, to clean up a holiday mess the way Duren cleans up at the rim.
T-10. A.J. Griffin, Atlanta Hawks
Buzzer-beater vs. Raptors beat his dad Adrian’s (assistant coach) team.
T-10. Andrew Nembhard, Indiana Pacers
Shot 57%/43%/100% for week, no turnovers in 20.3 mpg.
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