Rookie Ladder (old archive)

Kia Rookie Ladder: Trade deadline pays off for handful of rookies

Buddy Hield, Dario Saric among those who may benefit most Staff

Buddy Hield went to the Sacramento Kings, Serge Ibaka to the Toronto Raptors and Taj Gibson to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Additionally, Lou Williams was sent away from the Los Angeles Lakers, the Philadelphia 76ers dealt Ersan Ilyasova and the Brooklyn Nets traded Bojan Bogdanovic to the Washington Wizards. All of which were tremors that struck the rookie class around the trade deadline even if Hield was the only prominent first-year player to move.

Last Thursday came and went with the potential to least slightly impact notable rookies, mostly in a trickle-down effect but impact nonetheless. The arrivals of Ibaka and Gibson, after all, could mean smaller roles for Pascal Siakam (Toronto) — although he was going down that path anyway — and Domantas Sabonis (Oklahoma City). Williams leaving Los Angeles would remove a prominent scoring option from the team as Brandon Ingram surges. Same thing is true for Ilysavoa’s exit possibly translating into more time for Dario Saric at his natural power forward. Bogdanovic departing for Washington creates an opportunity for Isaiah Whitehead and Caris LeVert to fill a scoring void.

Hield is impacted most, of course. He was getting chances in New Orleans — 20.4 minutes, 8.3 attempts per games, starts in 37 of his 57 appearances — but also mostly with Anthony Davis in the same offense. With Sacramento, he is the player. His development is everything for the Kings and so there will be opportunities like never before, probably in playing time and shots.

He is at No. 5 as the Rookie Ladder returns from a one-week hiatus for the long All-Star break, with a clear path to play himself into fourth place as everyone enters the final full month of the regular season.

To this week’s rankings:

1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Last ranked: No. 1

The Sixers have not ruled him out for the remainder of 2016-17, but that seems the likely outcome after the many precautions of the past five months. (The past three seasons, actually.) For now with the final decision pending, he is No. 1 in scoring, rebounding, blocks, usually by a wide margin, along with No. 5 in shooting. His 2.4 blocks per game would tie him with Anthony Davis for No. 2 in the league had he met the qualifying minimum.

2. Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers

Last ranked: No. 3

Malcolm Brogdon didn’t lose second place. Saric took it, just as Saric has been handling most every other situation. What had been a race with Willy Hernangomez of the New York Knicks for Rookie of the Month in the East turned into an easy call with Saric’s active streak of eight consecutive games with at least 18 points and a run within those eight of four in a row with at least 11 rebounds. He finished February at 17 points, 7.9 rebounds and 44.3 percent from the field in 30.9 minutes.

3. Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks

Last ranked: No. 2

Making six of nine shots Sunday against the Suns and eight of 15 on Monday at Cleveland was noteworthy after Brogdon failed to break 40 percent in five of the previous six games. The good finish to February combined with the good start got him all the way to 48.9 percent for the month, plus 42.9 behind the arc. The 41.7 percent shooting on 3-pointers overall is tied for 14th in the league.

4. Marquese Chriss, Phoenix Suns

Last ranked: No. 4

His playing time has been bouncing in every direction, with a recent stretch of 22, 32, 16, 25, 33 and 16 minutes, even with some games with good shooting and others with good production on the boards. He obviously has been inconsistent, but the Suns are just as plainly in need of developing the prospects. Still, Chriss is eighth in the class in scoring, seventh in rebounding, 11th in shooting, eighth in steals and fourth in blocks.

5. Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings

Last ranked: No. 5

The first three games as a King resulted in 16, 15 and 18 points while shooting a combined 50 percent, the kind of numbers that could put pressure on Chriss for fourth place if they continue. Plus, while Hield is not starting at shooting guard — yet — he got 26, 26 and 27 minutes, a bump after averaging 20.4 in New Orleans. Whether or not that trend continues could also impact The Ladder top five by April.

6. Willy Hernangomez, New York Knicks

Last ranked: No. 7

While Joakim Noah’s knee surgery obviously creates a big opportunity, Hernangomez had already been tracking in a positive direction. He averaged 10.7 points and 9.5 rebounds in 25.9 minutes in February while shooting 57.1 percent, with the finish of nine boards or more in the last five games despite surpassing 30 minutes just twice in the five. That has moved Hernangomez to third among rookies in rebounding, first in field goal percentage and tied for fifth in blocks. The next step is to break into the top 10 in scoring, which could happen soon.

7. Isaiah Whitehead, Brooklyn Nets

Last ranked: No. 10

Whitehead isn’t having many big games, but the consistent contribution has moved him to third in the class in assists, seventh in minutes, seventh in blocks and ninth in scoring. That’s enough to pick off a couple Ladder regulars in free fall, Pascal Siakam and Andrew Harrison. It helps that while Whitehead has struggled with his shot overall, making just 39.1 percent of the attempts, he is at 47.2 the last five games.

8. Yogi Ferrell, Dallas Mavericks

Last ranked: Not ranked

Twenty-three games wouldn’t ordinarily be nearly enough to make the rankings, but Ferrell is fourth among rookies in scoring, second in assists, sixth in 3-point percentage, tied for sixth in both steals and minutes in a contradiction to what, based on the number of appearances, would seem to be a limited role. And, as has been the case all 2016-17, the weak first-year class creates wide openings. The undrafted point guard from Indiana has had a huge role since going from the NBA D-League to the Mavericks on Jan. 28, averaging 12.3 points and 4.8 assists in 32.2 minutes while making 41 percent of his 3-pointers.

9. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

Last ranked: Not ranked

He returns to the list for the first time since Feb. 1 after a nice month of 10.0 points per game and 4.4 rebounds per game on 43.7 percent shooting. The last number is especially encouraging for the Lakers as a significant improvement from the season-long 37.1 percent shooting as a glaring problem amid the positives of handling a major role at multiple positions. Ingram is still far from the top 10 in field-goal percentage or 3-point accuracy, but is seventh in scoring, fourth in rebounding, first in minutes, and tied for ninth in both assists and blocks.

10. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

Last ranked: No. 6

Siakam was already struggling to hold on to a spot in the Toronto rotation, and now Ibaka’s arrival may knock him off our Ladder for good. The No. 27 pick has gotten on the court once in the last six games, for all of five minutes, and eight times in 17 outings. Another week or two of this and Siakam may join the list of the great unranked, depending how well others at the bottom of the list are playing. Being second in field goal percentage and blocks and is tied for eighth in rebounding.

Dropped out: Andrew Harrison (8), Caris LeVert (9).

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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