Rookie Power Rankings: Paolo Banchero claims the top spot again
After some bumps and bruises, the top of the current rookie class looks to be back on track and is performing at a high level over the past two weeks of the season.
Several high draft picks recently experienced some minor setbacks with injury or on-court struggles, but appear to have gotten back on track and are impressing once again. Elsewhere, others selected later in the draft are also putting up strong performances.
To make sense of it all, we took a look at the best recent performances of these first-year players and ranked them in the latest edition of the Rookie Wire Power Rankings. The rankings are not for Rookie of the Year purposes but, rather, to illustrate the best players week to week.
Tari Eason, Houston Rockets
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Last Rank: 7
Stats: 8.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals
Eason is posting 8.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and one steal over his last seven games. Included in that span was his first double-double with 13 points and a career-high 10 rebounds versus the Warriors. He is flourishing on the defensive end of the floor and is first in the rookie class in steal percentage (36.7) and seventh in block percentage (25.0).
He is on pace to become the first player to average at least eight points, five rebounds and one steal in fewer than 19 minutes per game in a single season. Though Eason averages fewer than 20 minutes a game (18.6), the 17th pick is making a tremendous impact on games off the bench and should only continue to stand out in that role.
For more coverage on the Rockets, visit Rockets Wire
Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Last Rank: 3
Stats: 15.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, four assists, 1.1 steals
Ivey is in the midst of a shooting slump since missing three games due to knee soreness. He is shooting just 34.2% shooting from the field and 25% from 3-point range in six games since returning but is staying productive in that stretch, though. He is averaging 12.3 points, 3.2 assists and three rebounds, and has scored in double figures in each game. Ivey is affecting games in a variety of ways and is helping create great looks for his teammates with his ability to drive into the paint. It appears as though it is only a matter of time until he can get back on track shooting the ball.
Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz
Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Last Rank: N/A
Stats: 6.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.9 blocks
Though his overall numbers may not jump off the page, Kessler is averaging 10.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks over his last six games. Included in that span is a career-high 20 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in a win over the Pacers on Dec. 2. Kessler currently leads the rookie class in blocks and is sixth among all players in the NBA (50). The 7-footer has been a force in the paint on both ends and is emerging as one of the most productive rookies. He seemingly plays his role well and does a lot of things that may not show up on the box score. That ability is proving extremely valuable for the team to this point of the season.
Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Last Rank: 5
Stats: 10.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists
Williams was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month after averaging 10.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists in October and November. Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault challenged Williams to continue that production into December and the 12th pick looks to be doing just that. He is posting 11.6 points, 2.8 assists and 2.6 assists in five games this month on 54.3% shooting from the field. Williams plays with poise and maturity well beyond his years. He is emerging as a dynamic playmaker for the Thunder and is settling in after missing four games at the start of the year due to a facial fracture.
For more coverage on the Thunder, visit Thunder Wire
Andrew Nembhard, Indiana Pacers
D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports
Last Rank: 10
Stats: 8.9 points, four assists, three rebounds and one steal
Nembhard recently dropped a career-high 31 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds on Dec. 5 in a win over the Warriors. The 31st pick became one of just three rookies this season to score 30 points in a game and is the third first-year player over the last 20 years to record at least 30 points, 10 assists and five 3s in a game. The performance earned high praise from Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle, who said Nembhard will go down as a top-10 rookie in the class. Based on his early play, we’re inclined to believe him.
AJ Griffin, Atlanta Hawks
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Last Rank: 6
Stats: 10.1 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals, one assist
Griffin did it again. He hit another game-winning shot on Sunday and became the first rookie since Toni Kukoc (1993-94) with multiple game-winning buzzer-beaters in the same season. The degree of difficulty on his most recent shot somehow topped the first one, but he once again came through for his team in the clutch. He is looking to be a player the Hawks can count on nightly, either as a starter or off the bench. Griffin may be the second-youngest player in the NBA at 19 years, 111 days but the 16th pick sure doesn’t play that way.
Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Last Rank: N/A
Stats: 11.6 points and four rebounds
Murray was mired in a shooting slump recently but looks to be breaking out of it in a major way. The fourth pick was averaging 7.3 points and 4.3 rebounds on 16.1% (5-of-31) shooting from 3-point range in seven games from Nov. 15-30. Over his last six games, Murray is posting 14.7 points and 4.3 rebounds on 48.7% (19-of-39) shooting from beyond the arc. He recently exploded for a career-high six 3s on Dec. 9 in a win over the Cavaliers. Needless to say, Murray appears to be reverting to the play that created his quick start to the season, which would be a welcomed development by the team.
Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
Last Rank: 3
Stats: 12.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, one block
Smith continues to perform at a high level of late after snapping out of a cold snap early in the season. He is posting 13.6 points and 6.9 rebounds on 48.5% shooting from 3-point range over his last seven games as the Rockets are 4-3 over that span. He has also played a key role on defense and has helped the Rockets hold the Bucks and Suns under 100 points in consecutive games. Behind his recent resurgence, Smith leads the rookie class in total 3s (56) and is fourth in scoring and 3-point percentage (36.8). The early shooting woes are seemingly behind Smith and the third pick is settling in on the court, as a result.
For more coverage on the Rockets, visit Rockets Wire
Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Last Rank: 1
Stats: 17.6 points, four rebounds, 1.5 assists
Since our last rankings dropped, Mathurin was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month after averaging 19.2 points, four rebounds and 1.5 assists on 40.3% shooting from 3-point range in October and November. He continues to perform at a high level and is a key reason why the Pacers (14-14) are eighth in the Eastern Conference.
Like Paolo Banchero, Mathurin has shown an uncanny ability to get to the free-throw line as a rookie. He is 23rd among all players in the NBA with 5.8 attempts per game. Earning those trips has become a big part of his game in the early going and the sixth pick has flourished in converting some very difficult attempts. Look for Mathurin to continue to thrive in that area.
Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Last Rank: 2
Stats: 21.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists
Banchero is back in the top spot and is seemingly in a groove since returning from an ankle injury. He is averaging 19.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 10 games back in the lineup with seven 20-point games in that span. In fact, Banchero recently joined Michael Jordan and Zion Williamson as the last two players to record 15 20-point games over his first 20 games.
The No. 1 pick currently leads the rookie class in scoring and double-doubles (5) and is third in rebounding and assists. He also ranks sixth among all players in free-throw attempts (8.6 per game) after proving to be a force in the paint with his size. Banchero continues to dazzle on a nightly basis and is your current Rookie of the Year front-runner, as a result.
Story originally appeared on Rookie Wire
Source: Yahoo Sports