A quick note: This Rookie Ladder is essentially a running “rookie of the year” tab. Certain weeks were not, are not, and will not be weighed more heavily than others because they are more memorable or recent. Rather, each edition will provide an update on how the list of top-10 rookies stands on the season to date, one week at a time. Furthermore, neither age nor draft position will affect a player’s prospective standing here. As long as said player qualifies as a rookie, he can be as high or as low on this list as his play dictates. With that said, enjoy the first edition of HoopsCritic’s “NBA Rookie Ladder”, brought to you by The Committee (of one).
NBA Rookie Ladder
|1. Karl-Anthony Towns||PTS||TRB||AST||STL||BLK||TOV||TS%||FG%||3P%||FT%||MPG||NET RTG|
Just eleven games into his career, 19-year old Karl-Anthony Towns has already proven far ahead of the learning curve. Holding opponents to 37.5% shooting (9.7% lower than usual), rebounding and converting free throws at rates less than 10 players in the entire league have managed, and pacing all fellow rookies in player efficiency rating, there’s simply not much the early favorite for ROY hasn’t been able to do. Go ahead and add another tally mark in the ‘University of Kentucky’ column.
|2. Jahlil Okafor||PTS||TRB||AST||STL||BLK||TOV||TS%||FG%||3P%||FT%||MPG||NET RTG|
Logging a rookie-leading 33.7 minutes per contest, the Duke product, predictably, has posted high-volume numbers less than efficiently on a team sorely lacking in supporting talent. While his on/off numbers are staggeringly putrid, Okafor is playing on a team with maybe two active players truly capable of complementing him offensively. He’s finishing around the rim frequently, if not particularly well, and has not been a complete liability defensively. However, if he’s to live up to his potential in a league largely trending away from players of his mold, the big man must be able to assert himself around the rim, on both ends of the floor, consistently and efficiently enough to offset small-ball matchups teams will surely look to exploit against him. For better or for worse, this team isn’t going anywhere soon, and, for someone already able to overpower players on a semi-consistent basis, Okafor has more than enough time to catch up to NBA speed.
|3. Willie Cauley – Stein||PTS||TRB||AST||STL||BLK||TOV||TS%||FG%||3P%||FT%||MPG||NET RTG|
Boasting the highest on/off net rating of any rookie on this list, Willie “Trill” Cauley-Stein, unsurprisingly, has done the bulk of his offensive work around the basket. He’s converted on 77.3% of his shots within three feet of the hoop, gotten fouled at a fantastic rate for someone who actually pulls the trigger quite rarely, and, like most big men of his archetype, converted about half of his attempts from the charity stripe. Unlike his 7’ peers, however, Cauley-Stein’s defense has juxtaposed his offensive impact: teams have converted almost 7% more of their shots with Cauley-Stein defending within 10 feet of the basket (a number, by all reasonable indications, bound to regress), and 4% worse with Cauley-Stein hounding them at greater distance.
|4. Kristaps Porzingis||PTS||TRB||AST||STL||BLK||TOV||TS%||FG%||3P%||FT%||MPG||NET RTG|
Single-handedly razzling and dazzling (hat tip to the one and only Walt “Clyde” Frazier) initially cagey New York Knick fans into a frenzy, Kristaps Porzingis has flashed his immense potential via put-back dunks, an aspiring dream shake, more put-back dunks, and a climactic game-winner that, while waved off in Charlotte, remains alive and well in Knicks fans’ hearts. For the moment, the 19-year-old lanky Latvian is doing just a little bit of everything. While he isn’t scoring particularly efficiently, he ranks 3rd amongst all rookies in volume, and has routinely flashed the potential to both stretch the floor out and game his opponents around the basket. Combine that with a top-three PER amongst his peers, a stellar rebounding rate, a consistent motor, and an ahead-of-the-curve knack for nailing rotations and blocking shots, and it’s little surprise why hungry Knick fans are salivating over this young stud.
|5. Nemanja Bjelica||PTS||TRB||AST||STL||BLK||TOV||TS%||FG%||3P%||FT%||MPG||NET RTG|
The most efficient scorer of any first-year player logging at least 20 minutes per game, the 27-year old “rookie”, hailed as a point forward, has paired his stellar shooting with top-10 marks amongst all of his peers in both rebounding and assist rate. He’s been unsustainably hot around the rim and from long-two-point range, but with three-pointers making up more than 40% of his shot attempts, Bjelica should only have to convert on about 35% of his attempts from behind the arc to continue to score at an above-average rate overall. While his ceiling, by virtue of his age and role on a team oozing with young talent, may be a bit lower than most players around him on this list, Bjelica has been able to contribute immediately and efficiently to a team sniffing the top third of the league in offensive rating. Look for that to continue throughout the year.
|6. T.J. McConnell||PTS||TRB||AST||STL||BLK||TOV||TS%||FG%||3P%||FT%||MPG||NET RTG|
Ranking tops amongst all rookies in assists per game, assists per 48 minutes, assist-to-turnover ratio, and steals per game, the undrafted Arizona product has found himself a niche, in the name of grit, on this Sixer team. And lest the pending arrivals of guards Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten upend the momentum he’s built up, McConnell should hover around the bottom half of this Rookie Ladder for the bulk of the year. Until he becomes more comfortable pulling the trigger from the perimeter, however, his immediate impact on any sort of average NBA team moving forward should likely be in the form of 20 or some minutes per game off the bench. Most importantly, though, he has 71 more opportunities to finally attempt the first free throw of his NBA career.
|7. Myles Turner||PTS||TRB||AST||STL||BLK||TOV||TS%||FG%||3P%||FT%||MPG||NET RTG|
While Turner now faces a 6-week recovery period after surgery on his thumb, the big man, despite logging a hair under 16 minutes per game prior to his injury, showed quite a few flashes for a Pacer team sorely lacking capable bodies in the paint. With the former Longhorn guarding within 6 feet of the basket, opponents, on average, shot 7.6% worse from the field than usual. On top of his tangible defensive impact, though, Turner added a potentially intriguing, albeit regression-bound, perimeter game—he made 9 of his 17 shots attempts beyond sixteen feet—to a reliable 66.7% conversion rate on shot attempts around the basket. Ultimately, Myles Turner is the future of the Pacers at the center position, but as far as the short-term nature of this list goes, he’ll be fighting an uphill battle to retain his standing once his thumb heals.
|8. Justise Winslow||PTS||TRB||AST||STL||BLK||TOV||TS%||FG%||3P%||FT%||MPG||NET RTG|
The best perimeter defender on this list, Justise Winslow, less than an eighth of the way into his rookie year, has made his biggest impact for the Miami Heat on the defensive side of the ball, hounding opposing wings into shooting just 34% from the floor. His offensive game has lagged in comparison, but Winslow has nonetheless been able to make a necessary and positive impact for a Miami bench unit with more than its fair share of offensive talent. Ultimately, as his superb net rating serves to show, Winslow finds ways to contribute to the prosperity of the team, whether the box score serves as witness or not.
|9. D’Angelo Russell||PTS||TRB||AST||STL||BLK||TOV||TS%||FG%||3P%||FT%||MPG||NET RTG|
Despite starting all 11 games he’s appeared in, D’Angelo Russell, fresh off a single-season term at the Ohio State University, has struggled to see consistency in the minutes the rather consistently overbearing Byron Scott has given him. While the rookie guard’s relative ineffectiveness on the defensive end has been the main culprit—opponents have shot about 9% better while being guarded by Russell than they have otherwise–, he’s also had to deal with an offensive system prone to stagnation, a supporting cast of players who, quite inefficiently, but nonetheless frequently, probe and dominate the ball in search of their own looks, a significant lack of floor spacers, and just about no big men capable of finishing around the rim at an above-average rate. Pair such a misfit roster with the rookie’s own troubles asserting himself in a much quicker game, and you have the exercise in mismanagement that the 2015-16 Lakers have been to date. And yet, despite all of this, the 19-year-old rookie point guard remains a very talented player, who, while not yet all the way up to speed in the big leagues, has more than enough time to work towards his ultimate potential.
|10. Nikola Jokic||PTS||TRB||AST||STL||BLK||TOV||TS%||FG%||3P%||FT%||MPG||NET RTG|
Logging just 13.6 minutes per game, the 20-year-old Serbian big man’s numbers, quite unsurprisingly, lack in volume. However, in the relatively minimal floor time he actually has seen, Jokic has been able to make a consistently solid, positive impact. The bulk of this impact has been made defensively, where opponents shoot 9.4% worse with him in their vicinity. On top of being a big, burly body between offensive players and the rim, though, Jokic leads all rookies in offensive rebounding rate, converting the overwhelming majority of his shots near the rim, on which he shoots 63%, either off the glass—the Nuggets’ two point guards shoot 37% and 50% around the rim, respectively– or off passes, also largely via his guards’ penetration. As the season trudges along, the losses likely pile up, the fringe veterans clogging the rotation lose some of their lust, and Jokic progresses, the young center should have a fair shot at climbing a few rungs up this ladder.
Next Man Up:
|11. Larry Nance Jr||PTS||TRB||AST||STL||BLK||TOV||TS%||FG%||3P%||FT%||MPG||NET RTG|
An up-and-coming poster boy for the pogo-sticks-for-legs portion of the NBA, Larry Nance Jr recently leapfrogged his way out of Byron Scott’s rookie doghouse and into the Laker rotation. While the young leaper’s numbers lack pop in a way his hops don’t, he’s made a consistently positive impact, per-minute, on a team sorely lacking in players capable of doing as much. With just one ball to go around and more than enough hands for it to spend 40 to 60% of a possession in, Nance has gotten his looks where he can: off the glass, off a series of pick-and-rolls, and off drive-and-kicks. Converting on around 46% of his jump shots, the rookie’s complemented his increasingly notorious knack for finishing above the rim with an intriguing perimeter game. Ultimately, his ability to make positive plays without wasting too many possessions or touches trying to do so has helped him contribute to one of the few Laker units with a positive net-rating, and should help increase his minutes load as the year rolls along.