Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Top 5 performances to start 2022-23

Paolo Banchero and Bennedict Mathurin lead the way as several first-year players shine in Week 1.

Paolo Banchero is one of three No. 1 picks in NBA history to score 20-plus points in each of their first four NBA games.

The Ladder committee has long been wary of small sample sizes. The first week of the NBA regular season can be like the first song played in a game of musical chairs — a whole lot of activity without much lasting achievement.

It’s not until chair after chair is yanked away and the music stops again and again that you really get to see the blood-lust competition kick in, shoving that other contestant to the floor to claim your throne. Something like that, anyway.

The opening week of games can send up false flares across all the categories, including the 2022-23 rookies whose work will be tracked here. Some deep reserve newbie shows out in garbage time for 12 minutes and all of a sudden he’s claiming a rung with a misleading scoring or rebounding average.

So just for this edition, we are merely ranking the top rookie single-game performances to this point. Week 2 of the Ladder will shift to ranking the first-year players overall on their way to All-Rookie honors and the Rookie of the Year Award.

Here is a rundown of some big nights by the new guys:

1. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic

Stat line: 27 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, at Detroit Oct. 19

Notes: Banchero’s scoring career is off to a torrid pace, with the young Magic big man scoring 20-plus points in every appearance so far. This performance tops his list because it came on Opening Night, with all the curiosity and expectations heaped on him from the start. It also was the only game yet where he finished in plus territory (+2) in Orlando’s 0-4 start. The 6-foot-10 Seattle native is hoisting 17.0 shots per night, more than Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler, Julius Randle, Tyler Herro and a slew of other veteran scorers. But his 9.3 foul shots per game rank fourth overall, too.

2. Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers

Stat line: 27 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, vs. Detroit Oct. 22

Notes: Mathurin, the Pacers’ highest draft pick (No. 6) since Rik Smits in 1988 (No. 2), has come off the bench each game but has looked like the natural and long-term backcourt partner of Tyrese Haliburton. The Montreal native of Haitian descent hit five 3-pointers against Detroit, is averaging 7.0 attempts from the arc and making 42.9% so far.

3. Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets

Stat line: 21 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, vs. Utah Oct. 24

Notes: The No. 3 pick from the Class of 2022 had an especially efficient night, hitting six of his 10 shots overall and two of three 3-pointers. Big improvement over his 6-of-17 debut that has weighed down his field goal percentage (35.7%). He has started each game for the Rockets, averaging 15.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 1.3 apg, with a double-double at Milwaukee on Oct. 22.

4. Jalen Duren, Detroit Pistons

Stat line: 14 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, vs. Orlando Oct. 19

Notes: There were bonuses throughout Duren’s line against the Magic. First, he did this on the same night Banchero was making his debut. He’s only 18. He had three blocks. He made seven of his 13 shots. And half of his rebounds were at the offensive end. So far, the No. 13 pick is averaging 3.5 offensive rebounds, and 5.9 per 36 minutes played. Last year’s league leader, Memphis’ Steven Adams, averaged 3.6 officially and 3.9 per 36.

5. Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons

Stat line: 17 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, at Indiana Oct. 22

Notes: Ivey, the No. 5 pick in June, had an impressive 26 hours or so. His big night against the Pacers came on the tail of back-to-back games, with the 6-foot-4 guard going for 17 points and nine assists at New York to start the set. As the sidekick to the Pistons’ prize pick from last year, Cade Cunningham, Ivey has averaged 16.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 5.5 apg while shooting 42.9% from the arc.

Honorable mentions:

Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings

Tari Eason, Houston Rockets

Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz

Andrew Nembhard, Indiana Pacers

Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio Spurs

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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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