This year’s rookie class has lived up to most of the hype that was surrounding it, but with any rookie class there are always a few guys who come out of nowhere and start making people talk about them. As expected, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor are dominating and jockeying back and forth for the number one spot on the ladder.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota – If this had been written prior to last week I would’ve had Jahlil Okafor as my number one but KAT put together an outstanding week of play last week. During a four-game stretch he averaged 10.5 rebounds & 15.5 points along with three steals and four blocks. The Wolves went 0-4 but lost to quality opponents in Charlotte, Golden State, Indiana and Memphis. KAT is the leading rookie in rebounding, blocks and has posted a positive +/- in six of Minnesota’s first ten games.
2. Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia – The leading scorer of all rookies is doing nothing less than what was expected of him coming into this season. Already this season he’s scored 20+ points in six of Philly’s first ten games, giving him the second most games of that nature for a 19 y/o since LeBron James had eight such games in 2005 for Cleveland. Jah was seen as the best offensive rookie coming out of his class and he’s shown why this season, but his defense was questioned coming out of college and he seems to be playing better defense – at least in the realm of rim protecting and shot blocking – than he was in college. In 38 games last season he blocked 54 shots, he’s on pace to have around 70 through his first 38 NBA games which is really going to help him in lieu of his mediocre rebounding ability. Okafor has added a nice mid-range jumpshot to compliment his extremely proficient post game and make him an even better scorer.
3. Kristaps Porzingis, New York – The Zinger, the putback dunk king, the second coming of Christ to many Knicks fans, has really come to be loved by many of the same fans that were booing him on draft night. Beyond his exciting putback slams, he’s been playing very solidly as of late and has could possibly battle Okafor and KAT later in the season for the ROY award. He’s second in rebounds per game among rookie with 8.4 and is one of two rookies to average 10+ PPG and 8+ RPG; the other being Karl-Anthony Towns. Did anyone expect this from Porzingis? I definitely did not. I was expecting a stretch-four who was going to shoot the lights out, not someone who would have three posters in three games. If Porzingis can find his shooting stroke, along with everything else he’s displaying, I fully expect there to be a three person race for Rookie of the Year at the end of the season.
4. T.J. McConnell, Philadelphia – Instead of D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay I picked… T.J. McConnell? Yes, I picked T.J. McConnell. He has more assists than both of them, plays more minutes than them, shoots a better percentage than they do and has more steals than they do. And he’s undrafted. He isn’t a preeminent scorer, but he doesn’t need to be because he can feed Okafor in the post. He is, however, an exceptional playmaker which is evidenced by his 11th best AST/TO ratio and him having three games of 12+ assists this season.
5. Nemanja Bjelica, Minnesota – If he doesn’t win Rookie of the Year, he has a chance to claim the award for having the hardest name to pronounce. Does Bjelica have any numbers that jump out at you? No, he doesn’t. But he does have an element of consistency about him and, much like all other European bigs, he can step out and shoot the three. Still relatively unknown, but he has posted four double-digit scoring games and accumulated multiple contests with eight, nine or ten+ rebounds. Just based on his play style, he could be a key cog for KAT to win ROY with the way Bjelica spreads the floor, giving Towns more room to operate inside.
*All stats via Basketball-Reference.com*
*Featured photo via New York Knicks*