Rookie Ladder (old archive)

Kia Rookie Ladder: Wade Baldwin IV ready to learn wherever he goes

Memphis' top pick is soaking up lessons as he alternates between the NBA and the NBA D-League

Wade Baldwin IV returned to the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday convinced he was better after spending time in the NBA D-League. He was showing no signs of frustration at being sent down to the Iowa Energy again — this time for three weeks — and determined that his time in the minors would eventually become part of the success story.

He welcomed the chance to have a defined role with Iowa, something not possible as in Memphis playing behind starting point guard and veteran Mike Conley and fellow rookie Andrew Harrison as the No. 1 backup. Baldwin was certain he wasn’t just grinding through his Energy stint. He was seeing the positives in regular minutes, more opportunities to break down his play on film and finding ways to improve, especially when it came to decisions with the ball and defense.

Coming back to the NBA now also means coming back to the uncertainty, of course, with every outcome important as the Grizzlies fight to stay in the middle of the Western Conference playoff pack. There will be a lot more sitting compared to his D-League work, as was the case Saturday, when he didn’t get off the bench at Utah, and Monday, with five minutes at Phoenix.

Memphis sent him back to the NBA D-League yesterday, but he remains every bit the prospect as when the Grizzlies drafted him with the 17th pick last June. He’s still tied for eighth in assists per game among rookies despite all the time in the minors and is also third in defensive rating. He just wants the chance to show how the D-League was beneficial, not a demotion.

To this week’s rankings:

1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Last week: No. 1

It’s been a tough couple weeks, between being passed over for an All-Star berth as part of a stretch that also included missing six of eleven games because of rest during back-to-backs and soreness in his left knee. But the five Embiid did play? Fifty percent from the field, 24.4 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.20 blocks in all of 26.6 minutes en route to what appears to be a third consecutive Rookie of the Month for the Eastern Conference. So it’s also been a tough couple weeks for opponents as well.

2. Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week: No. 2

Davis Bertans of the San Antonio Spurs is gaining ground on Brogdon for the 3-point percentage lead among rookies, among the evidence of a Brogdon shooting slump that has reached 37 percent overall the last 10 games and 28.6 percent the last five. He is still ninth in the class in field-goal accuracy, though, and has at least five assists in 13 of the last 16 outings, solid work as a playmaker for any rookie but especially one who built his reputation on his perimeter game. That has built a cushion for first place in the category while also first in assist-to-turnover ratio.

3. Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers

Last week: No. 3

Brogdon’s cooling trend combined with Saric averaging 10.8 points the last 10 games has allowed Saric to open a lead for second place among rookies in scoring. (The world still trails Embiid by light years.) Saric is also second in rebounding, fifth in minutes and 13th in 3-point percentage. Shooting overall remains the problem — he shot 38.4 percent in January and is at 38.5 overall.

4. Buddy Hield, New Orleans Pelicans

Last week: No. 4

The 35.6 percent shooting overall the last 10 games and 37.3 percent mark in January makes the ice under him thin, and he should be hearing footsteps from behind, but Hield keeps the spot for at least one more week with solid credentials: fourth in scoring, sixth in 3-point percentage, 10th in minutes per game and even 11th in rebounding. Just as noteworthy, he is shooting 43.8 percent from 3-point range as a starter, compared to 26.6 as a reserve.

5. Marquese Chriss, Phoenix Suns

Last week: No. 6

The preseason No. 8 was unranked much of November, at No. 10 the final two polls of December, No. 9 as recently as Jan. 11 and on a steady climb ever since. The push into the top five for the first time comes on the strength of fourth in blocks, 10th in rebounding, seventh in scoring, eighth in shooting and seventh in steals. That’s a lot of real estate in or very close to the top 10 of important categories. While 18.1 minutes is not a huge roll, especially on a team that can afford to invest time in prospects without sweating the impact on the playoff chase, it is just 2.1 minutes behind Hield, the man he is chasing on The Ladder.

6. Andrew Harrison, Memphis Grizzlies

Last week: No. 7

Important development No. 1: Harrison is back in the rotation, with 15.2 minutes the last six games and at least 10 each time after failing to break double digits in five of the previous six. (Even better that it’s the rotation for a team on 48-win pace). Important development No. 2: Shooting 45.7 percent in 12 games in January, a significant change of direction after 31 percent in November and 28.6 in December that brings him to 31.7 for the season. Still terrible, but at least trending in a good direction to support No. 2 in the class in assists, No. 5 in steals and No. 6 in minutes.

7. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

Last week: No. 5

The lack of minutes — 11 total the last 15 games, with a zero in six of the 15 — is starting to drag him down, especially with Chriss’ consistency and Harrison returning to a prominent role. Bad timing to lose traction and then have Patrick Patterson rejoin the Raptors at power forward after missing six games with a sore left knee. Still, Siakam is second in blocks, second in shooting and eighth in rebounding. With those numbers, he could climb again if the minutes do the same.

8. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week: No. 8

So much for the big opening of starting at point guard while D’Angelo Russell nursed knee and calf problems. Ingram has gone back to the bench the last three games, but in either role is 4-for-31 from the field the last four outings, 37.7 percent in January and 35.6 percent overall. He did average 9.1 points in the month, increasing his season-long total to 7.9 ppg, sixth among rookies, while also fourth in rebounding, first in minutes and tied for ninth in assists.

9. Isaiah Whitehead, Brooklyn Nets

Last week: No. 9

He is third in the class in assists at 3.0 per game and is positioned to pass Harrison (3.1) for second place, partly depending on Harrison’s minutes in Memphis. The bigger move for Whitehead has been in taking care of the ball, with a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio the last 10 games to move to 1.46-1 for the season, fifth among rookies. He has also improved from 28.3 percent behind the arc the first 25 games to 39.3 in January.

10. Caris LeVert, Brooklyn Nets

Last week: No. 10

The surge continues. LeVert has gone from playing 20 minutes once in his first 10 appearances after returning from a knee injury to 12 of the last 15, creating a good Nets-Nets race near the end of The Ladder, so good that it’s possible to imagine both moving up. LaVert is ninth in scoring, fourth in steals and 12th in minutes while climbing fast. He hasn’t made enough shots yet because of the long early absence to qualify in shooting, but the 44.9 would be sixth.

Dropped out: None.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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