With the Kia Rookie of the Year award set to be announced on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT), we break down the stats for each of the three finalists – the Orlando Magic’s Paolo Banchero, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Jalen Williams and the Utah Jazz’s Walker Kessler – and compare how they stacked up against each other in their first NBA season.
As the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Banchero is where everyone expected him to be as a Kia Rookie of the Year finalist. In the NBA App GM survey, 79% of the league’s general managers predicted Banchero to win Rookie of the Year honors. Only two other players even received votes – No. 4 pick Keegan Murray (17%) and Jabari Smith Jr. (3%). Two names not listed there are the other two Rookie of the Year finalists – Williams (the No. 12 pick) and Kessler (No. 22, via Memphis and Minnesota).
Below is a visual recap of NBA.com’s Kia Rookie Ladder (a weekly column that ranks the top 10 rookies throughout the season). Banchero begins at the top of the list and never falls below third place. Meanwhile, Williams and Kessler are outside the top 10 to open the season, but eventually climb into the top 10 and steadily rise toward the top three by season’s end.
When comparing these three finalists on offense, we have a centerpiece player like Banchero that is asked to carry much of the team’s offensive load and his usage rate (27.2%) reflects that. He led all rookies in scoring (20 points per game) and shot attempts (15.6 per game), and his volume helped make up for a lack of efficiency (42.7% shooting).
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Kessler, who posted the highest rookie field goal percentage ever (72%). Kessler was a complementary offensive player for the Jazz (13% usage), tasked with being a finisher in the paint either on putbacks, drop-offs or lobs to the rim. Of the 414 field goal attempts from Kessler this season, only nine came from outside the paint, while 378 came within five feet.
Williams offers the Thunder versatility on offense. He clearly didn’t have to carry the offensive load like Banchero (OKC had All-Star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for that role), and he was tasked to score with much more variety than Kessler. Williams shot 57.9% on 2-point shots, both getting into the paint and working in the mid-range. He also shot 35.6% on 2.7 3-point attempts per game.
On defense, Williams led all rookies in steals (1.4 per game) and deflections (2.1 per game) and his steals ranked 17th among all players. Kessler dominated the rookie class in blocks (2.3 per game) as he finished ranked fourth in the NBA in blocks and fifth in rim protection, allowing opponents to shoot just 51.5% at the basket against him.
The three Kia Rookie of the Year finalists ranked first, second and third, respectively, in defensive win shares. Banchero led the way at 6.9, followed by Williams (5.5) and Kessler (5.1). We must note that Banchero’s advantage in minutes played – he led all rookies at 33.8 minutes per game – allowed him more opportunities to post stats on both sides of the ball. By comparison, Williams finished fourth among rookies in minutes (30.3 per game) and Kessler finished 11th (23 mpg).
All three of this year’s finalists for the top rookie honor showed flashes of brilliance as they began their respective NBA journeys. What will they have in store for us as sophomores with a year of experience to build on?