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5 – D’Angelo Russell, PG, Los Angeles Lakers

The choice here was between Russell and Devin Booker. As far as statistics go, they are quite similar


and both play for teams going through multiple bad seasons. Russell gets the nod here for two different reasons. One, his numbers are slightly better. Two, he plays for the Lakers, who actually look like having a plan and a coach who is developing young players within a system that might get them to success. Julius Randle (remember, he played only a handful of minute in his very first Nba game before suffering a season-ending leg injury and should be considered a second-year player) is their best player so far, but Russell and Brandon Ingram are the other two pillars around which the team will build. And Luke Walton’s plan is starting to take shape. The injury bug costed the Lakers a couple of wins in the last weeks, or their record would be slightly better and the buzz for a playoff spot would be real. All of the above cannot be said for the Phoenix Suns, and Booker is out of the ladder.

4 – Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets

We had an in-depth column on the Denver Nuggets early last month. A few days later, coach Mike Malone decided to change his starting lineup, moved Jusuf Nurkic to the bench, let Jokic start and re-united Gary Harris with Emmanuel Mudiay. The Nuggets went on to win 5 of the next 7 between December 15th and December 28th, while looking like a team who could separate from the bottom of the Western Conference. They followed a good stretch with 3 consecutive losses, including games against Philadelphia and Sacramento. However, the return into the starting lineup unleashed Jokic and his talent, who now looks like the player that finished 3rd in the Rookie of the Year race last year. The talent is there, and he could become the kind of defensive anchor around which teams build their defenses (despite being a so-so rim protector for his size). In order to do so, he will have to cut on his foul rate. He fouls when he gets frustrated at bad calls or at referees, he admitted as much in an interview with Zach Lowe for ESPN. The Nuggets are a +11.5 with Jokic on the floor, if his 6.4 fouls per 100 possession were to go down, the Nuggets would experience a huge jump in their performances.


 3– Myles Turner, C, Indiana Pacers

The Pacers’ season is well below expectations, although those were too high in the first place, and their coaching is still as bad as it was earlier in the season. But, despite (or maybe because of) their 19-18 record, nobody talks about Myles Turner as much as he deserves. The hype surrounding him is not even close to that surrounding his colleagues ahead of him in this ranking, but that is not an excuse. He is third in blocks percentage (6.9%) among centers, behind only Lucas Nogueira and Joel Embiid, and he shoots 40% from behind the arc (albeit on 1.6 attempts per game). As for the rest of his game, he did not reach the level of the rest of the crop yet, and might not reach it at all. But that’s beyond the point. He can score, he can rebound, he can block shots and shoot from behind the arc, and his averages are good and the sample size is not that small. The question might be what his impact on a franchise really is, because he seems a couple of steps below his colleagues on that. That might be the only doubt about him.


2 – Kristaps Porzingis, C, New York Knicks

There’s plenty of talks about Porzingis, hence why BN rarely does. At some point, praising him or talking about how hopeless the Knicks are seems redundant. But then, here we are. In short:

  • “He can shoot, he can make the right plays, he can defend, he’s a 7-footer that can shoot all the way out to the 3-point line. That’s rare. And block shots—that’s like a unicorn in this league”, Kevin Durant on Porzingis when the Latvian was in his rookie year.
  • The consensus on Porzingis’ ceiling is “Dirk Nowitzki plus Rim Protection”.
  • He already is the best player for the New York Knicks. Yes, even with Carmelo Anthony on the team.
  • 20.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.9 blocks, 40% three-point shooting, 24.3% Usage Rate.
  • He is 7-3 and he does this, in traffic, on the move.


1 – Karl Anthony Towns, C, Minnesota Timberwolves

Towns’ future is not in question, but the Timberwolves are still a mess on defense. Growing pains of a young roster filled with potential, but a Tom Thibodeau-coached team is expected to bring a different attitude on that side of the ball. The duo of Towns and Gorgui Dieng is playing roughly 28 minutes per game, and that pairing is forcing Towns out of the paint on defense. Protecting the health of a franchise player and preventing him to fight centers every night is obviously important, but Towns might be more effective by staying in the paint. And defense is the team only issue so far, because the offense has been good. If and when their defense will be fixed, maybe by moving Towns in the middle and unleashing his inner Kaiju, we will know what kind of monster is going to storm the league. The scary thing in all of this is Towns deserving the top spot of the ranking.

Quote by Nba Rookie & Sophomore Ladder