[nextpage title=” “]
First issue of our weekly Nba rookie and sophomore ladder here at NcaaBasketball. The focus is on the 2015 rookie class, with the players now in their second year. This ranking considers all games played through Wednesday, November 2nd. Before we roll with the ladder, a quick word on who was left out of the top 5.
Nikola Jokic finished his rookie season with the Denver Nuggets as the third best rookie in the league behind Towns and Porzingis. Both in preseason and in this first week coach Mike Malone decided to start a big line-up with both Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic, a duo with huge potential if they ever manage to complement each other but that gave poor results in the small sample of minutes from last season. Things did improve, but not enough to crack the top 5 here, and the 50-point performance by Anthony Davis in the season opener did not help.
Devin Booker finished a rookie season to remember with the Phoenix Suns and was included in the All Rookie First Team, but the team isn’t really interested in getting wins. Booker just turned 20 and the Suns have two more teenagers at roster, they aim for the future – and for a lottery seed next June. Other members of the same draft class have prominent roles with their respective franchises while Booker is still an incredibly young and talented and inconsistent volume shooter who is totally ineffective on the defensive end. And that must be taken into account.
Justise Winslow was supposed to take a big step towards stardom, a much needed development after the Miami Heat lost Dwayne Wade in free agency. He was expected to show a more well rounded offensive game and maybe some progress on his jump shot, but that did not happen, or not in any relevant measure anyway. Of course, if he will have a prominent role with a Heat team on the way to a playoff seed, he will be back in the mix. Just not yet.
5 – D’Angelo Russell, G, Los Angeles Lakers
Coach Luke Walton cured D’Angelo Russell of plenty of his biggest issues and he looks really better on the court. The starting unit that includes Russell has a +5.4 Net Rating, as opposed to a team overall Net Rating of -7.6, and the team is much better when he and Julius Randle share the court. Last season he showed he could post-up smaller guards and that is happening again, although not as often as one would think. But the Lakers stayed in the game against all of their opponents, including in a loss against the Thunder that seems much worse than what it really was. The only bad loss was the Pacers game, where foul troubles and injuries were a big factor.
4 – Jonathon Simmons, F, San Antonio Spurs
Maybe Simmons should not be part of this ladder. In the end, he is a 27-year-old sophomore. But his impact off the bench was huge for the Spurs, and it goes way beyond the opening night win against the Warriors. He did score 20 points in that game and San Antonio took the lead when he and Patty Mills subbed into the game and never looked back, but he has been great on defense and when coach Greg Popovich pares him with Kawhi Leonard the Spurs are putting up best-in-the-league numbers on defense. In fact, despite coming off the bench, when the game is on the line he is on the court, as it happened with the game against Miami.
3 – Kristaps Porzingis, PF, New York Knicks
The best part of the New York Knicks in this first week, he seems to be much improved from last season. He is more at ease on offense, with the team even running plays specifically designed for him, and he seemed to have good chemistry on the floor with Joakim Noah. He averaged 18 points and 6 rebounds in his first three games. Everything was ready for KP to take over in New York. Then, team president Phil Jackson thought the team was not running enough sets from the Triangle Offense and suggested to his coach to make a few changes, and Porzingis found himself out of the flow of the offense. New York is a dysfunctional franchise, has been so for years, and might be wasting a huge talent and its only hope for the future.
2 – Karl-Anthony Towns, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves
KAT dominated the Rookie of the Year race last season and he will most likely be back at the top of his draft class quite soon, but for now, the Timberwolves have to prove they can win a few games that actually matters. As scary as it sounds, he is greatly improved when compared to last season, and he will be part of every highlights every game with some astonishing move, just like the one below. It is just a matter of time, and the Ricky Rubio injury might speed things up with a usage increase, before he takes over the team and the entire league.
1 – Myles Turner, PF, Indiana Pacers
There are plenty of reasons to justify Turner being number one, and not all of them are because of what Turner did. In no particular order, Turner played more games then Towns, and that must be taken into account when the total is three or four games. He played as well as Towns, at least in the wins, and only had one truly bad game in the Nets loss. He was effective on both sides of the floor, with a superstar performance in the opening night win against Dallas, while the loss had a lot more to do with collective defensive meltdowns than a single player’s fault. It is even surprising that the team is still playing at such a high level with a sub-par offense that raises a few questions on coach Nate McMillan. Yet, the Pacers are a better team compared to the Timberwolves as of right now, and coach Tom Thibodeau‘s team has to learn to play through Towns in crunch time of close games. Memphis rested most of its frontcourt in the Minnesota lone win. And finally, Turner started the season surrounded by questions on his expanded role, but proved that he can handle the responsibilities, especially on defense. He is the biggest surprise of the season and he should be rewarded for it.
[nextpage title=” “]
The 2016 draft class was devoid of major talent past the first two spots in the draft, and Ben Simmons, the #1 overall pick, is out for the season with a foot injury. A quick word on those who did not crack the top 5.
Wade Baldwin showed some potential on defense and in running an offense, but he had long stretches where he was non-existent on the court or just a plain negative, with his worst game coming against the Knicks. He will be part of the rotation and will have the ball in his hands until Chandler Parsons stays out with a knee injury. This is the time where he will have to prove he belongs to the rotation and will not ride the pine for the season.
Hield and Ingram did not disappoint, they simply proved to be two rookies who must get used to the Nba. Hield is more likely to adjust during the season and climb back into the top 5, while Ingram will have to work on his body before he can truly play against professional athletes. Moreover, coach Walton is stressing defense and playmaking in his development and actually gave him minutes as a back-up pointguard, although it was an emergency situation. They both need time, but they are going to be really good. And Hield scored 18 points in a Pelicans loss on Wednesday. He will get there.
Side note on Kris Dunn: the Rubio injury will make him a starter, and that is likely to get him a spot in the top 5 next week, but so far, the hype surrounding him is back to earth. He is a rookie with great potential, who makes rookie mistakes. But he is also shooting 4-for-8 from three-point range, and that should help spacing the floor.
5 – Jakob Poeltl, C, Toronto Raptors
He has the unenviable task to come off the bench behind Valanciunas and replace Bismack Biyombo, who was very good last season, especially in the Cleveland series in the playoffs. He was supposed to be the third center behind Lucas Nogueira, but the Brazilian is injured and he became the first real big off the bench. He is averaging 3 points and less than 5 rebounds per game, but he showed his court vision from the high post and even a good baseline jumper, although he missed most of his attempts. He fights to get rebounds and plays hard on defense around the basket. If he had to show some progress in his pick-and-roll defense, he will lock his role off the bench over Nogueira.
4 – Domantas Sabonis, PF, Oklahoma City Thunder
He is the starting power forward for the Thunder and averages about 15 minutes per game. He started the season after strong showings in Spain, especially on defense, but when the game truly mattered, he struggled. Granted, the Thunder have spacing issues and he finds himself playing far from the basket. He still gets involved in Dribble-Hand-Offs at the top of the key or in the high post and he made moderate use of his already good court vision. With the trade that shipped Ersan Ilyasova to the 76ers, his biggest challenge for minutes in the backcourt is Joffrey Lauvergne, but he should be able to keep his share. He was projected to be one of the rookie truly ready to contribute, but he was a mild disappointment so far and if he will not prove he can do more he will find himself out of the top 5.
3 – Pascal Siakam, PF, Toronto Raptors
Siakam was thrown into the starting line-up after Jared Sullinger suffered a foot injury, but he played better than expected. He brought his physicality and athleticism to the game, proved to be reliable and consistent on defense and plays as the garbage man on offense, recycling possession that seemed already lost. He is not doing anything spectacular, but it is enough to be this high in the ranking.
2 – Jaylen Brown, F, Boston Celtics
One big mistake in the last minute of the Bulls game that costed a win to the Boston Celtics. Beside that, very good games where he played hard on defense, hustled for the ball, attacked the rim on offense looking for fouls and finding his spots in the post. His first instinct is still to attack the paint, and teams will soon force him to shoot it rather than allow him to roam freely, but he might still be in the ranking for two different reasons. First, he is playing against second units, and even in the Celtics second units he will not be a second or third option once everyone is healthy. And second, coach Brad Stevens is playing him as small-ball power forward, a line-up that plays to his strength and opens up the court for him much more than what he used to find in college games.
1 – Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers
20 points in 20 minutes in his first game. 17 points, 6 rebounds and 1 assists on average and the feeling that whenever he plays he is surrounded by inadequate players. A familiar feeling in Philly, but Embiid is everything he was supposed to be and then some, and even if he had to stay on a minute restriction the whole season he might still be the Rookie of the Year. He is good enough to imagine him playing on a minute restriction for the rest of his career and still have a huge impact, much like Bill Walton with the Celtics in the 70s. As for now, the 76ers keep losing, although it doesn’t look like they are doing it on purpose this time around, he managed to be introduced as Joel “The Process” Embiid
in the Atlanta game got Dwight Howard in foul trouble with a few veteran moves and attacked close-outs just like any 7 feet guard with multiple foot surgeries would.