Rookie Ladder (old archive)

Kia Rookie Ladder: Foul troubles still plague Marquese Chriss

Phoenix's young, talented forward working through No. 1 on-court issue from his college days

First was the University of Washington against Gonzaga and a game with three future first-round picks in waiting — Marquese Chriss, Domantas Sabonis and Dejounte Murray. Then came Washington against Texas the next day and Washington against Charlotte (and coach Mark Price) the day after that. It was one year ago this week, at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, and it was ugly for Chriss.

Three days, three games at the holiday tournament, three times fouling out. Chriss officially had a problem long before he rocketed up draft boards and went from raw freshman to unscheduled one-and-done Draft pick (No. 8 overall) who landed with the Phoenix Suns via a Draft-night trade. By the time his college career was over, he had been disqualified from an amazing 15 of 34 games, including six in a row in Pacific 12 Conference play in January. Ten other times, he missed fouling out by one foul.

Chriss’ fouling problem remains today, even as an NBA rookie with a level of intrigue few prospects can match: only eight players of any experience with at least 10 appearances are fouling at a faster rate. But it’s not controlling his life either. Chriss has gotten limited time even on those night when he stays out of foul trouble and is averaging just 14.9 minutes per game for Phoenix. He’s a part-time starter at power forward yet is staying among the rookie top 10 in scoring, rebounds, blocks and shooting percentage.

He is mostly passing one of the biggest early tests for any rookie, even with the recent run of fouling out in just 16 minutes Nov. 13 at Golden State and getting three and four personals in the four games since (despite not playing more than 20 minutes). It’s still a problem. It’s just not a November 2015 problem.

“I don’t let it get the best of me,” the 19-year-old Chriss said. “I acknowledge it and embrace the fact that, yeah, I have a couple fouls in the game and that I’m better than that and ‘I should have been in this position so I could have avoided it’ and kind of keep mental notes in my head where I should have been.”

The Suns have every reason to be patient. Chriss’ athleticism at 6-foot-10 and 230 pounds — packaged with his shooting range and ability to attack the basket — make for drooling potential. But he needs to learn to defend rather than reach or rely on physical gifts is an important part of the development underway.

To The Ladder:

1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Last week: No. 1

It may be time for The Ladder to assert its vast powers and bar the 76ers from softening Embiid’s minutes restriction, just to keep the Kia Rookie of the Year Award chase interesting. He has separation from the field even with the cap, with the last five appearances at 25 points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes, 13 points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes, 10 and 10 in 22 minutes, 26 and seven in 20 minutes, and 22 and five in 23 minutes. The season-long numbers are 18.4 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game, 2.3 blocks per game while averaging the fourth-most minutes among rookies who have played at least seven games (22.2 mpg). Imagine if Embiid starts playing in the 30s.

2. Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers

Last week: No. 2

Saric has made more than 40 percent of his shots just twice in the last six games, pretty typical for this class, but also while remaining a threat behind the arc. He’s at 37.5 on 3-pointers in the same six games and 41.9 percent for the season, No. 5 among rookies, which is overall nice production for a player of any experience. Saric is also second in scoring and rebounding, behind only Embiid, first in minutes and 11th in steals.

3. Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week: No. 3

His field-goal percentage is heading in the very wrong direction — 20 percent the last four games, 32.1 the last eight, 36 overall — but Brogdon stays in the top three with better numbers than Malcolm Delaney, the primary challenger for the spot, in several key categories. (And it’s not like Delaney is putting on a shooting clinic himself.) No. 3 is in play, though, with Brogdon now at four consecutive games with five points or less.

4. Malcolm Delaney, Atlanta Hawks

Last week: No. 4

The counter argument in the Malcolm-Off: Delaney’s defensive rating. With Wade Baldwin IV suddenly out of the rotation in Memphis, Delaney is No. 1 in the category among rookies guards who are playing and, with Jakob Poeltl of the Toronto Raptors likewise finding few minutes, No. 2 regardless of position behind only fellow rookie and teammate Taurean Prince. Delaney is also first in the class in assists, noteworthy on its own and also six spots higher than Brogdon, although Delaney is a point guard and the Bucks rookie more combo guard.

5. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week: No. 6

Ingram is up to 8.8 minutes a game in the fourth quarter, the largest finishing role among rookies. That would be valuable campaign literature anyway. That it comes for a team that has been above or near .500 most of the way makes it even more worthwhile. The Lakers may still be bringing him off the bench, but they’re loving his early impact on defense as part of the entire promising package. He is at 22.5 minutes overall, third in the class while also fifth in scoring, 19th in shooting and ninth in blocks.

6. Domantas Sabonis, Oklahoma City Thunder

Last week: Not ranked

Even though he’s shooting 34.2 percent in his last six games, a bad slump even by the standards of an underwhelming class, Sabonis climbs back in the rankings after a one-week benching after either making the top five or contending for a spot in six categories: scoring (7th), rebounding (6th), 3-point shooting (6th), minutes (5th), double-doubles (3rd) and – yes – field-goal percentage (13th). In that perspective, he is more likely to climb the list than drop out again, shooting woes or not.

7. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

Last week: Not ranked

While the Raptors clearly need to get better inside, and Lucas Nogueira has had an increased role off the bench in the big-man rotation the last couple weeks, Siakam remains the starting power forward for a 9-5 team and one of the best rookie grinders. He is fourth in blocks and rebounding, along with second in shooting percentage. He’s one of four rookies (Willy Hernangomez, Maurice Ndour and Juan Hernangomez) are the only ones shooting better than 50 percent, even if Siakam’s field-goal accuracy comes with the reality check that he isn’t in the top 10 in field goal attempts per game. Toronto’s other first-year big, Poeltl, has not played in five of the last six games.

8. Tomas Satoransky, Washington Wizards

Last week: Not ranked

The efficiency is the thing. Satoransky has scored more than eight points just once and recorded more than four assists once, but he is sixth in shooting, first in assist-to-turnover and fourth in assists, along with ninth in minutes. The No. 32 pick in 2012 has gone from minor contributor the opening weeks to dependable while consistently reaching the 20s and 30 in minutes.

9. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics

Last week: No. 7

Dropping for the third week in a row, from second on Nov. 2 to third to seventh to ninth, does come with some stability: Brown, though not putting up big scoring numbers, remains one of the few dependable shooters in the class, at 45.3 percent. He’s shooting 33.3 percent on 3-pointers and ranks sixth in steals and eighth in blocks. It has come while riding a minutes roller coaster of seven, 17, 12, 23, eight and 13 the last six games.

10. Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets

Last week: not ranked

The guy who went four full games and 66 minutes without a field goal, going a combined 0 for 16, is making up for it. Murray has scored in double figures in five of the last eight games and is at 43.9 percent overall, 46.7 percent behind the arc and 12 points the last six outings. He is still shooting just 37.1 percent, but that is good for 18th among rookies while also ranking third in scoring (9.9 ppg), third in 3-point percentage (42.3 percent), seventh in minutes and 10th in assists. If he keeps anywhere close to this pace, the No. 7 pick will fly up the charts.

Dropped out: Willy Hernangomez (5), Kris Dunn (8), Buddy Hield (9), Wade Baldwin IV (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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