Kia Rookie Ladder
Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Ja Morant leads way as NBA suspends its season

Ranking of top 5 rookies in the NBA

Drew Packham, NBA.com

Mar 12, 2020 12:10 PM ET

Ja Morant has helped Memphis emerge as a playoff-caliber team this season.

What’s next in the Kia Rookie of the Year race?

For now, all we know is the 2019-20 NBA season is suspended until further notice due to two Utah Jazz players testing positive for COVID-19.

With so much uncertainty, it is unknown how all of this will impact the Kia Rookie of the Year chase. What is known is that, as of right now, Memphis’ Ja Morant seems to be a virtual lock for the hardware.

Sure, Zion Williamson was putting up insane numbers in his return (23.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg in 19 games), but it may end up being too little, too late.

 
NBA TV's experts discuss the Kia Rookie of the Year chase.

Morant has the Grizzlies in the playoffs and has been far and away the best rookie through 65 games of the season.

He’s been composed. He’s been clutch. He’s been dazzling, and he’s simply been a game-changing revelation as he’s separated himself from the pack.

There are a lot of unknowns and much to be determined, but one thing’s for sure: Morant – as of right now -- is your Kia Rookie of the Year.

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Editor's note:  Since this is our last look at the Ladder for the foreseeable future, these rankings will take into the season more as a whole, rather than placing extra weight on recent play.

 

1. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

 
Ja Morant reflects on the impact he's had on the Grizzlies this season.

Last edition: No. 1 

The Grizzlies will enter this hiatus as the current No. 8 seed in the West, and Morant is a major reason for that stunning spot in the standings. Many thought the Grizzlies were doomed for the Draft lottery, but Morant has changed that narrative. This week, Morant had one of his best shooting games, going 4-for-4 from beyond the arc in Memphis’ 118-101 win over the Hawks. He finished with 24 points, and helped get the Grizzlies back on track after a 25-point rout in Dallas.

 

2. Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat

 
Kendrick Nunn burst on to the scene as a thrilling rookie for Miami.

Last edition: No. 4

Nunn earns this No. 2 rung thanks to his overall body of work this season. In 62 games (all starts), Nunn has averaged 15.6 ppg on 44.8% shooting (36.2% on 3-pointers). The undrafted rookie has struggled lately, but put up 24 points on Wednesday, hitting a career-high six 3-pointers in a loss to Charlotte. The Heat will be in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoffs, and Nunn will be front and center.

 

3. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

 
Stan Van Gundy breaks down why Zion Williamson has become a force in the NBA.

Last edition: No. 3

Williamson gets passed up on our list is simply due to his limited action. Eighteen games just isn’t enough to put him past a 62-game starter like Nunn. Still, what Williamson has done in those 18 games is mind-boggling. He’s been dominant in averaging 23.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg while shooting 58.9% overall. He’s been a game-changer for the Pelicans, and helped turn them into a surprise playoff contender in the West. This week was no different as he helped New Orleans close out this part of the season with back-to-back wins over the Heat (17 points, 6 rebounds) and Timberwolves (23 points, 7 rebounds).

 

4. Coby White, Chicago Bulls

 
Coby White went on an amazing scoring late in the 2019-20 season.

Last edition: No. 4

White’s hot streak continued this week as he averaged 22.3 ppg and 6.3 apg in three games. He also got his first career start, scoring 20 with five rebounds and five assists (and, um, nine turnovers) in a 108-103 win over the Cavs. "It was some little tweaks here and there with my first start. I had the ball in my hands a lot tonight," White said afterward. "It's unacceptable as a point guard [to turn the ball over], but at the end of the day we got the win, so I've just got to keep working on it."White has now topped 20 points in eight of his last nine games, and, outside of Williamson (25.2 ppg), has been the best scoring rookie since the All-Star break (24.7 ppg).

 

5. RJ Barrett, New York Knicks

 
Knicks rookie RJ Barrett talks with Steve Nash about his rookie season.

Last edition: No. 5

This is a tough decision, as Rui Hachimura has a solid case for this spot. Barrett, however, has shown signs of improvement over the last month to give him the edge on Hachimura (who also missed several weeks with a groin injury). Among rookies, Barrett is the fourth-best scorer (14.3 ppg), while grabbing 5.0 rpg (5th among rookies) and got his shooting percentage over 40% with a March in which he’s shot 44.8% from the field (averaging 18.7 ppg this month). It has been a tough season for Barrett and the Knicks, but the potential is there, and his improvement should give fans hope.

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Just missed the cut:

Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards
Season stats: 41 games, 13.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.7 apg, 47.8% FG, 27.4% 3FG


Tyler Herro, Miami Heat
Season stats: 47 games, 12.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.9 apg, 41.4% FG, 39.1% 3FG


Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies
Season stats: 50 games, 12.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.4 apg, 62.3% FG, 40.4% 3FG
 

De'Andre Hunter, Atlanta Hawks
Season stats: 63 games, 12.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.8 apg, 41.0% FG, 35.5% 3FG
 

Eric Paschall, Golden State Warriors
Season stats: 60 games, 14.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.1 apg, 49.7% FG, 28.7% 3FG

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(All stats through Wednesday, March 11)

Send any questions or comments to my  email  or find me on Twitter  @drewpackham .

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