It’s that time once again where we rank the top rookies on the hardwood. While most NBA frosh are still adjusting to the pro game these five have been on their game.
1. Paolo Banchero — Magic
The 2022 No. 1 overall pick has been stellar in his rookie campaign. After getting off to a fast start, the former Duke Blue Devils star missed seven consecutive games due to injury. Since his return he’s been on a tear, leading a rebuilding Magic team.
This past weekend, Banchero outplayed the Celtics dynamic duo of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in a weekend sweep by the Magic in Boston. In Friday’s contest Banchero went for 20/5/5 on 60 percent shooting. He followed that up with 31/6/3, including a career-high six triples on Sunday.
This season he’s averaging nearly 22 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and one block and one steal per game.
These are the kind of shots superstars make.
Young rookie, team trailing by 2 in crunch time, shot clock winding down, on the road against the best team in the NBA, reigning DPOY in your face, doesn’t matter.
— The Sixth Man Show (@SixthManShow) December 19, 2022
2. Bennedict Mathurin — Pacers
The Pacers seem to be rebuilding, but the surprise play of Mathurin has helped them to a .500 record and in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Mathurin has been a force on both ends of the floor, averaging nearly 19 points per game and 37 percent from deep while taking the top perimeter assignment on defense.
Mathurin has so much more room to grow, and the belief is he’ll be an all-league defender sooner than later. Mathurin could be a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year as well.
3. Jaden Ivey — Pistons
With the news of star guard and 2021 No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham being out for the season with a shin injury, Ivey will now be the focal point of opposing teams’ scouting reports. Thus far the former Purdue Boilermakers star has handled it pretty well averaging 15.0 ppg, 4.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists.
Blessed with Russell Westbrook and Ja Morant kind of athleticism, Ivey excels in the open court. When the game slows down, his lack of range shooting shows up, but he’s working on that part of his game. Once he becomes a better shooter (41 percent), he could average 20-22 points per night. Either way, he’s a cornerstone piece for the rebuilding Pistons.
4. Jabari Smith Jr. — Rockets
Smith’s season didn’t get off on the right foot, as the former Auburn Tigers star struggled to find his niche in H-Town. Playing with guards like Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. can stymie you as well, as they’re score-first guards who have the ball often.
But since then Smith has been good, and in his past six games he’s been dynamite, shooting 53 percent from the field and 53 percent from three on nearly three makes per game. Smith’s defensive abilities don’t get enough love, and he’s one of the better young defenders in the league.
In a loss to the Spurs last week, Rockets head coach Stephen Silas praised his prized frosh for his 23-point effort on 9-for-13 shooting and 4 of 7 from three.
“He was great. When the ball was moving, he got good looks. When I put him at the five, he was able to get some pick-and-pops. He played a good game.”
5. Keegan Murray — Kings
The surprising Kings have been solid all season. Led by star guard DeAaron Fox and center Domantis Sabonis, first-year head coach Mike Brown has pushed all the right buttons thus far. As the Kings look to end their league-long 16-year playoff drought, Murray is a huge piece to that puzzle. The 6-foot-9 stretch four’s versatility allows Brown various mix-and-match lineups to maximize his starters and bench with the Kings uptempo play.
Murray has become a solid shooter from deep at 35 percent, a welcome sight for the Kings.