Rookie Ladder (old archive)

Timberwolves' Kris Dunn can't capitalize on early opportunity

A dip in production has Minnesota's top pick faltering in our latest Rookie Ladder

Scott Howard-Cooper

By the end of Tuesday night in Minneapolis, he was down to 13 minutes against the Charlotte Hornets, a season low, the third consecutive game in the teens. It was the third consecutive game of decline, underlining exactly how much things have gone head-shaking wrong for Kris Dunn.

He got the chance to start five games at point guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves when Ricky Rubio was sidelined and shot 28 percent, although with a commendable assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.30-1. One of the five starts included a nine-assist, three-steal effort and another one featured five steals. As soon as Rubio was able to return from the sprained right elbow, he returned all the way – right back into the opening lineup Saturday and to 24 minutes that night and then 34 and 34 the next two.

Dunn, meanwhile, went from 19 minutes to 14 to the 13 on Tuesday, a short-term decline that would go mostly unnoticed later in the season with a larger body of work. But it now becomes another layer of missed opportunities for a 22-year-old who was considered one of the most NBA-ready players in the Draft. The good side is that he is still second in the class in assists, first in steals and seventh in rebounding as the only guard in the top 10, enough to barely hold a spot on The Ladder.

1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Last week: 1)

Embiid has at least two blocks in five of his seven appearances, including back-to-back games with four at the start of the month, offsetting continued problems with turnovers and fouls. That has moved him to 3rd in the league regardless of experience, even with time restrictions that have kept him at 22.2 minutes. The 16 total blocks doesn’t just lead the class, it is 10 more than second-place Brandon Ingram. It’s quickly become that kind of race.

2. Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers (5)

Teammates going 1-2 is at least a rarity in the long and glorious Ladder history and maybe even unprecedented, but Saric’s climb continued with consistently finding ways to contribute. While the shot remains a problem at 38.8 percent, although 46.2 behind the arc, he had 12 rebounds in 34 minutes, seven rebounds in 28 minutes and six rebounds in 24 minutes within the last four games. Saric is second in the class in scoring, second in rebounding, third in 3-point percentage, 16th in field-goal percentage and first in minutes.

3. Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks (4)

The impressive start, well beyond expectations for a No. 36 pick, now includes the combo guard at 48.8 percent from the field the last six games while averaging 9.7 points in the same span with 21 assists against 11 turnovers. That has pushed him to 13th in the class in shooting and first among guards. Brogdon is also fourth in scoring and third in steals.

4. Malcolm Delaney, Atlanta Hawks (6)

The unexpected has reached to where the 27-year-old who went undrafted out of Virginia Tech in 2011 and spent four seasons in Europe is No. 1 in the class in assists, 16th in minutes and 18th in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio. In the best perspective of all, the 10.9 assists projected over 48 minutes is ninth among all players. That level of dependability from a rookie has been especially important for the Hawks in a season when depth at point guard was a concern after trading Jeff Teague and moving Dennis Schroder into the opening lineup.

5. Willy Hernangomez, New York Knicks (not ranked)

The obvious problem is that the 35th pick in 2015 is averaging just 11.2 minutes, normally too small of a role to be considered an impact rookie and especially small for such a big jump into the rankings. But the field gets very weak at this point, creating opportunity, and Hernangomez is No. 3 in the class in rebounding and tied for sevent in blocks despite the limited opportunity. His role is understandably increasing while collecting at least six boards in three of the last four games, to where Hernangomez could soon be in the high-teens in minutes.

6. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers (not ranked)

Ingram has emerged as one of the solid rookies without posting any numbers, despite arriving with offense as a projected strength. He is in or very close to the top 10 in several key categories, including points, rebounds, shooting, minutes, steals, blocks and assists. The No. 2 pick is also playing a key role in the Lakers’ encouraging start, with at least 24 minutes off the bench in six of the last seven games. That has moved him to No. 4 minutes overall.

7. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics (3)

He keeps a spot – for now – because shooting 45 percent is practically Stephen Curry for this class, while also 9th in blocks. But his impact is clearly fading. Brown has scored more than eight points once in the last five games and has had some bad moments, as well as good, on defense. He also hasn’t broken 20 minutes since Nov. 6. The No. 3 pick is on the verge of joining the unranked.

8. Kris Dunn, Minnesota Timberwolves (2)

Guards don’t get much attention for rebounding, but Dunn’s work on the boards has been an important early read for someone expected to handle physical play at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, along with 22 years old. He is rebounding at about the same rate as Domantas Sabonis and Brown and ahead of Ingram, players getting all or most of their time in the front court.

9. Buddy Hield, New Orleans Pelicans (not ranked)

Hello again. The opening-night No. 1 who dropped to 7 the next ranking and then completely out amid a hailstorm of missed shots found some footing at 43.4 percent the last five games, getting Hield to 37.1 overall. Not great, but not terrible for wings in this class. He is also stringing together double-digit scoring games to move into a tie for No. 2 among rookies at 9.7 points per outing. Now the Pelicans play five games from Wednesday to next Wednesday with two back-to-backs, the chance for Hield to turn the encouraging into serious forward progress.

10. Wade Baldwin IV, Memphis Grizzlies (8)

Tough call. Not getting off the bench in three of the last four games, after already being near the end of The Ladder last week, would ordinarily mean a quick exit, except that Baldwin is still No. 4 in assists, No. 4 in steals, 10th in minutes and is leading all rookie guards in defensive rating. Another Grizzlies rookie guard is playing a bigger role and under rankings consideration, but the 29.2 shooting percentage hurts Andrew Harrison’s case.

Dropped out: Domantas Sabonis (7), Pascal Siakam (9), Marquese Chriss (10).

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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