Rookie Ladder (old archive)
Kia Rookie Ladder: Lottery picks beginning to show their skills
Buddy Hield, Kris Dunn and Marquese Chriss -- all Top 10 picks in 2016 -- are starting to prove why they were so highly regarded
The No. 6 pick is averaging 11.1 points and shooting 43.4 percent for the New Orleans Pelicans in December, a big bounce from the season-long averages of 8.4 ppg and 38.6 percent overall, respectively. The projections of being an NBA-ready shooter (who just turned 23 on Saturday) and after four seasons against major competition at Oklahoma, are coming into focus, at 52.1 percent behind the arc the last 10 games (25 of 48) and 61.9 the last five (13 of 21).
The No. 5 pick, also 22 when he arrived, also after four years at a prominent program (Providence) is at 49 percent from the field the last nine games, with a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the same time. He is still coming off the bench in Minnesota, no matter how many people wrongly assumed he would blow past Ricky Rubio on the point guard depth chart. Still, Dunn is heading in a good direction.
The No. 3 pick has been one of the dependable shooters all along, an anomaly in this season of rookies with mangled offenses, but has pushed that to making 50 percent of his attempts the last 10 games. While the minutes have been choppy recently – 22 minutes, 22 minutes and 18 minutes in one recent stretch, then right into 11, nine and eight — any amount of dependability is especially noteworthy for a one-and-done at California expected to need several more months to make an impact.
The top of the 2016 lottery, plus No. 8 pick Marquese Chriss in Phoenix, is re-joining the conversation for the best rookies, even if not all are in the top 10 yet and even if not the conversation for the very best of the rookies. That several of the biggest names are simultaneously on an upward trajectory is an important development no matter what. That’s particularly true in a season when the top of the charts are dominated by picks from past years or late first-rounders and second-rounders. It’s a step in the right direction for a class that can use the depth, and maybe even the name recognition.
To the rankings:
1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Last week: No. 1
The clear frontrunner is caught in Philly’s very public struggle to sort through the big-man rotation because of what could be months of lineup changes next to him. That Embiid has had an inconsistent December, the month that includes Nerlens Noel’s return from injury, makes the transition time for the 76ers at least a temporary topic worth watching in the Kia Rookie of the Year conversation. But Embiid is the one guy in the debate whose minutes won’t be impacted by the uncertainty and whose future in town is secure, so there is that sense of stability.
2. Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers
Last week: No. 2
Speaking of the big-man rotation in Philadelphia. The former power forward will be playing a lot more small forward, and maybe exclusively at small forward for long stretches, to get minutes now that Embiid, Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Ersan Ilyasova and Richaun Holmes are all in uniform. Defending the new position will be a particular challenge. While the fallout from the logjam almost certainly does not hurt Embiid’s chances to stay at No. 1, Saric’s hold on second place could be impacted by a reduced role.
3. Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks
Last week: No. 3
A recent slump — 9-for-24 shooting in his last four games — knocked him out of the top 10 in the league in 3-point percentage after a brief stay, but Brogdon remains the third-best rookie today. The potential minutes squeeze for Saric could be an opening for Brogdon to climb a spot, if he has another hot streak from the perimeter and his own playing time continues to inch up on a good team. Without the larger role of other newcomers, though, he is seventh among newcomers in scoring, third in assists, first in assist-to-turnover ratio, eighth in shooting and third in 3-point shooting.
4. Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
Last week: No. 4
Murray keeps the spot by attrition and as an incumbent who has not been outplayed. He is second in the class in scoring, seventh in 3-point shooting, 10th in rebounding and tied for ninth in assists, obvious selling points. But he is also shooting 34.9 percent in December and 36.7 percent in his last 10 games as part of the drop to 37.8 percent shooting overall. There is also the bad trend of playing 16, 13, 14 and minutes in four games before a 27-minute effort on Tuesday against the LA Clippers.
5. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
Last week: No. 6
The recent surge in blocks is a new look for Siakam, or most any rookie for that matter. Three blocks last Friday against the Hawks (in just eight minutes) tied his season high followed by four blocks on Sunday in Atlanta to set a new season high. Then, he followed that up with two blocks on Tuesday against the Nets, pushing him to 0.9 blocks per game in 2016-17. That isn’t much, except it instantly moved him into second place among rookies in a class severely lacking rebounders and shot blockers. Siakam is also fifth in rebounding, second in shooting and 10th in defensive rating.
6. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
Last week: No. 5
The one-time starting small forward and one-time starting shooting guard became the starting point guard Saturday in Cleveland and responded with nine points, 10 rebounds and nine assists against two turnovers. While it was only one game (and only because D’Angelo Russell was injured), it was another sign of Ingram’s versatility and high ceiling. Problem is, he can’t hit a shot. He has made less than 30 percent of his attempts in five of his last 10 games, is shooting 34 percent in December and 35 percent overall.
7. Isaiah Whitehead, Brooklyn Nets
Last week: No. 8
The continued climb while starting 14 consecutive games, before sitting out Tuesday against the Raptors with a sore left foot, is all the more impressive considering eight were against point guards with All-Star appearances on their resumé: James Harden, Damian Lillard, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Jeff Teague, Isaiah Thomas and John Wall. Whitehead’s response has been one of the best Decembers in the class as he’s averaging 8.6 points and shooting 49.2 percent. The No. 42 pick from 2016 is suddenly challenging for the rookie lead in assists.
8. Andrew Harrison, Memphis Grizzlies
Last week: No. 7
The return of Mike Conley on Friday, several weeks ahead of schedule, sent Harrison back to a reserve role. But after nine games of pretty much what the Grizzlies should have expected from the unscheduled promotion. Harrison’s shot remained a 10-car pileup. He’s shooting 24.4 percent in December to drag him down to 27.9 percent this season. Still he remains a dependable piece in Memphis as a distributor and ball handler. He is first among rookies in assists, second in assist-to-turnover ratio, first in steals, fifth in blocks and second in total minutes played.
9. Willy Hernangomez, New York Knicks
Last week: Not ranked
The second-best rookie center, behind Embiid, gets back in the top 10 with a run of at least seven rebounds in four of his last seven appearances while reaching double-digit rebounds in three of the five. “Appearances” is the key word — Hernangomez’s minutes remain the issue, at just 13.9 for the season and after sitting out two other games and logging two minutes in another in the same stretch since Dec. 7. But he is still third in the class in rebounding, fourth in blocks, first in shooting and 13th in scoring. If he plays, he produces, and now he is regularly breaking 20 minutes.
10. Marquese Chriss, Phoenix Suns
Last week: Not ranked
Though struggling from the field, Chriss is in the top 10 among rookies in four important categories: scoring, rebounding, shooting (despite the 39.7 percent the last 10 games) and blocks. That is enough to push him past several candidates for the final spot, with the reminder that the competition is getting tougher at the bottom of The Ladder. Chriss has played more than 30 minutes twice in the last four games and has at least eight rebounds in two of the four, earning a return for the first time since Nov. 9.
Dropped out: Domantas Sabonis (9), Rodney McGruder (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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