NBA Rookie of the Year rankings: Mathurin, Banchero off to blazing starts
There’s a big enough sample of play to draw observations from now that a quarter of the 2022-23 season is in the books.
Some of this year’s top draft selections have shined as expected, while others have pleasantly surprised.
Here’s our ranking of the top five Rookie of the Year candidates.
5. Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz
Previous ranking: NR
It’s unlikely that many had Jazz big man Walker Kessler on their shortlist for Rookie of the Year to begin the campaign. Although he’s still relatively unlikely to take home the award, the No. 22 pick has still been impressive. He’s only averaging 5.8 points and 5.3 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game, but his 1.7 blocks per contest rank seventh in the league.
Kessler is very limited as an offensive player, taking zero 3-pointers and shooting just 56.8% from the free-throw line. But there’s no denying his immediate value as a rim-protector. If the 7-foot-1 giant can slowly work his way into more playing time, he may provide Utah with the impact it lost when it dealt Rudy Gobert this summer.
4. Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Previous ranking: NR
Jalen Williams recently became the third player in Thunder history to win Rookie of the Month honors. The 6-foot-6 guard has been in a groove lately, averaging 12.7 points, 3.6 boards, and 3.2 assists over his last 12 contests. He scored double figures on 10 occasions this season, including a career-high 27 points on 11-of-15 shooting last Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs.
Williams’ versatile skill set has made him one of the top scorers in his rookie class. The Santa Clara product finishes through contact around the rim, makes timely cuts, and displays a soft touch on floaters. Although Williams is shooting only 31.1% from deep, that mark should improve as the Arizona native made nearly 40% of his 3-point attempts last season with the Broncos.
3. Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons
Previous ranking: 5
Playing heavy minutes for a rebuilding Pistons squad, Jaden Ivey has put together a solid statistical season. Among first-year players, he ranks third in points per game at 15.9 and first in assists at 4.3. He also leads all rookies in minutes played, emphasizing the large role the franchise has already handed him.
The No. 5 pick could serve to improve as a shooter and an individual defender, but those are likely to develop in time. However, Ivey’s minus-8.5 net rating when sharing the floor with fellow cornerstone backcourt mate Cade Cunningham is perhaps a concern for Detroit.
2. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
Previous ranking: 1
Paolo Banchero may be putting up the best raw numbers of any player in the rookie class. A stat line of 21.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game is nothing to ignore. Only six other players – including Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Oscar Robertson – put up those numbers as rookies. That’s some elite company for the Duke forward.
That said, his lack of efficiency on the league-worst Magic are two key factors working against him. Banchero is hitting 46% of his field goals and just 25.8% of his 3-pointers on nearly four attempts per game. He’s also averaging almost as many turnovers as assists. His defense is a question mark as well. He’s near the bottom among Magic rotation players in defensive rating.
1. Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers
Previous ranking: 3
Bennedict Mathurin has been a key component of the Pacers’ early success. The Arizona product has formed a nice backcourt tandem with rising star Tyrese Haliburton, averaging 18.5 points, 3.9 boards, and 1.6 assists over 23 appearances. He ranks 14th in the Association in free-throw attempts despite coming off the bench.
Few rookies have matched Mathurin’s production. He leads all reserves in scoring and could become the second player in league history after Ben Gordon to capture Sixth Man of the Year honors during their debut campaign. The Canadian may also join Stephen Curry as the only first-year players to average at least 15 points and two triples while shooting 40% or more from deep.
Honorable Mentions: Shaedon Sharpe (Portland Trail Blazers), Jabari Smith (Houston Rockets), Keegan Murray (Sacramento Kings)