NBA Rookie Rankings: Banchero’s shooting efficiency improving; Jalen Williams has potential Assist of the Year
The New Year is already two weeks old, and with the holiday season officially over, we’re now back in the saddle for the second half of the NBA schedule. If you missed it last week, I did a midseason check-in on the Rookie of the Year race, breaking down the top five candidates for the award. Paolo Banchero leads the pack — no surprise there — but that doesn’t mean the four other names behind him don’t have a shot at challenging him for that hardware.
With the first half of the season behind us, this is where we start to get into the territory of players hitting that “rookie wall,” as they start to feel the effects of a lengthy 82-game season. Shots may not be falling as much as they did at the start of the season and practices may become draining. But what matters is how players respond to that.
Now it’s time to break down this week’s Rookie Rankings. Keep in mind that these rankings will reflect a rookie’s performance on a week-to-week basis only, not the collective season. These aren’t Rookie of the Year standings, but rather a reflection on what the player has done over the past week.
Some of the efficiency we saw from Banchero at the start of the season resurfaced this week. He shot 50 percent in a 30-point outing in a loss to the Grizzlies and followed that up with a 45 percent night for 25 points in a win over the Warriors. It’s not like he’s getting better looks than he was a couple of weeks ago when his shooting percentage plummeted, he’s just making the shots right now.
Since the new year began, Banchero has seen some of his best shooting percentages, including 72 percent at the rim, and 47.6 percent from mid-range, the latter of which is his highest mark from that zone on the season. He showed off some of that improved touch from midrange against Golden State and Memphis, pulling up off the bounce and finding the bottom of the net.
I already mentioned that Banchero is currently the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, but when the second fan voting returns for the All-Star Game were announced earlier this week, he also gained some ground amongst East frontcourt vote-getters. While it’s still likely a long shot for Banchero to make the roster, he currently sits eighth amongst frontcourt players. We’ll have to wait and see where he ranks when coaches and players vote, but given the season he’s had it wouldn’t be completely outrageous to see him on the roster.
When I wrote about the Rookie of the Year standings last week, I mentioned how despite Ivey’s counting stats being amongst the highest in his class, his efficiency is on the low end, which knocked him down a few pegs on that list. Well, I doubt Ivey read what I wrote last week, but something certainly changed because he shot 50 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from 3-point range. His most impressive performance came in an 18-point outing against the Timberwolves, where he went 7-of-11 from the field, including 2-of-3 from deep.
He did most of his damage around the rim, which is typical for Ivey this season, but this week he showed improvement in his body control to get off more balanced shots:
…and utilizing his speed to better create space and stop on a dime for baby floaters, like this:
Ivey leads all rookies in drives per game this season (9.5), and his finishing rate has slowly started to improve since the flip of the calendar, which is an encouraging sign for the Pistons.
Murray isn’t going to win Rookie of the Year, but he’s been a complete star in his role for the Kings. He ranks in the 70th percentile in the league in generating points off cutting to the rim (1.400) and has become a reliable spot-up shooter for Sacramento. In three straight games, he made 4+ 3-pointers, and he’s one of just three rookies in NBA history to shoot over 40 percent from deep on at least five attempts per game.
The consistency Murray possesses with his 3-point shots is rare for a rookie, and his ability to knock down those shots at a high clip has become an important piece of Sacramento’s success so far this season. Time and time again we’ve seen Murray lurking in the corner, waiting in an active position to get the ball from the likes of De’Aaron Fox or Domantas Sabonis, and more often than not he delivers. Murray’s ability to move without the ball has shades of Klay Thompson’s elite ability to fly off screens and hit tough shots and cut at the right angle for easy buckets. But Murray’s doing it in the body of a forward, which makes what he’s doing even more special.
Every week it feels like Williams is doing something that makes you think he should’ve been chosen higher than his 12th draft selection. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more consistent rookie than Williams, who not only can score, act as a secondary facilitator and defend but does so many of the little things that rookies often miss.
Williams isn’t going to rush a shot with multiple defenders collapsing on him, but instead will kick it out to a teammate in the corner for a 3-pointer. There are so many young players in this league that would’ve probably challenged PJ Tucker at the rim on this play, but Williams sees teammate Lindy Waters III in the corner who nails the triple.
He’s always making the extra pass, even in the most unlikely situations, like this absurd assist midair to Luguentz Dort in the corner with one hand.
I genuinely don’t know how Williams had the ability to deliver a near-perfect pass off of what was supposed to be a lob dunk attempt by him. But the more you watch Williams the more he surprises you.
There’s no arguing that Duren is the best rebounder in this class but in a win against the Warriors we got to see one of what’s been only a handful of times where Duren showed off just how dominant he can be on offense, too. Most of his shots came off lob dunks, but he showed some expansion to his game with a baby hook shot over Klay Thompson, who had difficulty dealing with Duren’s strength when he would get switched onto the big man.
Duren went a perfect 8-for-8 from the field on 18 points and 11 rebounds, displaying how dangerous of a threat he is in pick-and-roll situations. He’s the exact type of athletic big man to pair with the likes of Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey. Someone those guards can throw lobs off a screen, will fight for offensive boards and defend down on the other end. He’s not going to put up monster numbers every night, but when the defense is blitzing Detroit’s guards, Duren is there to catch lobs while rolling to the rim, and that’s a necessary player to have when you have so many talented backcourt players who are going to be met with defensive pressure.