Rookie Rankings
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

2021 NBA Rookie Rankings: #4

April’s NBA rookie rankings come at a tumultuous time for the class of first year players. The presumptive Rookie of the Year, Charlotte Hornets point guard LaMelo Ball, is likely out for the remainder of the regular season; the trade deadline opened up court time for some rookies, whilst limiting opportunities for others, and of course, we’re at that stage of the campaign where the fabled Rookie Wall comes into play – this season perhaps more than any other. With that in mind, let’s take a look at NBA rookie rankings: #4.

(Some housekeeping: Ball may have done enough to claim this year’s ROY, but given he hasn’t played for a month, he’s not featuring in these rankings)

1. Anthony Edwards (Last ranking: 2)

Minnesota Timberwolves

Notable stats: 17.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.1 spg

Edwards, still a teenager until after the completion of the finals, has already become a genuine first option. Yeah, it’s for one of the worst teams in basketball but that’s besides the point. As a 19 year old, on a team with a superstar in Karl-Anthony Towns, an All-Star in D’Angelo Russell and a legitimate 20 point scorer in Malik Beasley, Edwards is the man with the ball in his hands.

Much has been made of Edwards’ form since the All-Star break, but his current rich vein of form can be traced back to another date: February 22. That’s when Ryan Saunders was fired as head coach. His replacement, offensive sorcerer Chris Finch, has not only given his prized rookie the basketball, but he’s also put him in situations where he can expand his game without making the complex decisions that flummox so many first year players.

The Edwards/KAT pick and roll game is a joy to watch. KAT’s shooting opens up lanes for the rookie’s often violent drives to the bucket, but if you choose to wall off the paint, you leave the best shooting big in the NBA open for an easy read.

Edwards is a much improved, though still sub par shooter. Finch’s ability to use KAT, Russell and – when he returns – Beasley as auxiliary pieces to enable Edwards continued ascension is crucial to the Wolves future.

2. Saddiq Bey (LR: 5)

Detroit Pistons

Notable stats: 11.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 41/38/89 shooting splits

Bey, the 19th overall pick in the draft, keeps getting better and better. In just the past week, he’s chalked up a pair of 25 point games against the Nuggets (setting a Pistons record for most made three’s by a rookie) and Clippers, whilst being guarded by Aaron Gordon and Paul George. Not at all bad.

The 22 year old – happy birthday for last week, young man – is the prototypical 3 and D role player. He’s already an elite shooter, connecting on over 38% of his six attempts per game; he’s a nimble and pesky defender, who will only become more of an impediment as he develops NBA strength; he’s also proving to be far better than advertised at attacking off the dribble – an important skill as teams start to habitually run him off the three point arc.

3. Theo Maledon (LR: 7)

Oklahoma City Thunder

Notable stats: 9.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.4 apg, 36% 3P%

It’s been mentioned before in this column, but Maledon’s professional experience as a teenager in France is proving invaluable as an NBA rookie. The 19 year old has a smorgasbord of NBA abilities: he’s already a viable three level scorer, he’s defensively crafty, he’s patient as a playmaker, and he’s a very good shooter. What stands out the most about the Frenchman, though, is his passing.

Maledon is making every type of pass. His pocket passing after snaking the pick and roll is Chris Paul-esque. He swings the ball at exactly the right time. His cross court passing belies his age.

Maledon has stepped into the void left by an injured Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, giving this painfully young Thunder side a focal point.

4. Tyrese Haliburton (LR: 4)

Sacramento Kings

Notable stats: 13 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 5.1 apg, 1.2 spg, 48/41/84 shooting splits

Haliburton’s role in the Kings offense has changed somewhat in the last three weeks. Since being elevated to the starting lineup around a month ago, Haliburton has transitioned from the offensive anchor of the second team, to sharing playmaking duties on the first unit with resident star man De’Aaron Fox. The net result is a drop in Haliburton’s scoring – down by about three points per game over the past month – and a steep incline in his assist numbers, up to over six per contest in the past fortnight.

The move paid initial dividends, with the Kings winning wight of Haliburton’s first nine games as a regular starter. Since then, though, Haliburton’s shooting has fallen off a cliff and with it the teams fortunes. Since that initial hot streak, the Kings have lost seven straight games, with Haliburton posting 42/31/72 shooting splits over that run. Most concerning, the rookie is only attempting a single free throw per game in that span, his aggression notably curbed as he tries to find his place alongside more credentialed offensive talent.

If Haliburton can once again find his stroke and his aggression, he’ll hold his ranking. If this run is an indication that he’s hit the wall, he’ll drop like a stone.

5. Jae’Sean Tate (LR: 6)

Houston Rockets

Notable stats: 10.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.2 spg

The mature age bowling ball that is Jae’Sean Tate has been a bright spot in an otherwise woeful season in Houston.

Tate’s numbers will never be as gaudy as Edwards’, nor his play as flashy as Ball’s, but Tate – naturally, given his age – is by far the most consistent rookie in this class, and he might just be the best defender of the group, as well.

Tate is a classic glue guy. A jack-of-all-trades, he’s able to do whatever the Rox need him to do on any given night. If they need him to body up against a big man, he’ll do it; stay with a jitterbug guard, he’ll step up; hit the boards, gladly. His enthusiasm is infectious. He’s simply a delight to watch play basketball.

If Tate can continue to improve on his outside shooting – he’s dropped to 31% on the season – he’ll have a long NBA career as a malleable, energetic bench option.

6. Aleksej Pokusevski (LR: Not Ranked)

Oklahoma City Thunder

Notable stats: 7.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.9 apg

After the most glacial of slow starts, the rail thin Pokusevski is finally making an impact for the Thunder.

Poku’s introduction to NBA life was almost comical. He attempted 56 three’s – making only 10 – before even attempting a single free throw, earning himself a month in the G-League. He was a changed man upon his return. Since being elevated back to the big club, he’s put up 12.2 points, 6.1 boards, 2.7 assists and 1.7 blocks. He’s still shooting woefully overall, but encouragingly he’s hitting 35% of his treys since being coming back from his G-League assignment.

There is clearly something for the Thunder to work with in Pokusevski. What he could turn into is anyone’s guess. A legitimate 7 footer who weighs less than prime years John Stockton, the Serbian has a tantalising array of skills that, when combined with his unusual physical make up, could be revolutionary. Given that this is a fair representation of Oklahoma City’s next few seasons:

we’re going to get all the Poku we can handle.

Strap yourselves in.

7. Jaden McDaniels (LR: NR)

Minnesota Timberwolves

Notable stats: 6.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.0 bpg, 36.1 3P%

With the 28th pick in the draft, the Wolves look to have found themselves a player.

The 6’9” McDaniels has been a defensive revelation for the rejuvenated Wolves. He’s long, quick and surprisingly physical for a skinny rookie. Importantly, on a team that really doesn’t have any defensive options that can at least hold their own at the other end of the floor, McDaniels is willingly taking on anyone and everyone, night after night.

His stats don’t stand out. They never will with the offensively gifted teammates that he has – there simply are not enough shots to go around. But he has, on occasion, really jumped off the page with the ball in hand.

His jumper looks smooth, though – if you’ll allow some technical analysis for a moment – he tends to lean his body away from the basket when shooting, rather than towards the target. That may explain his less than stellar splits, despite the good looking stroke. He’s flashed a solid game both as a playmaker and finisher when attacking the closeout.

McDaniels had some scouts whispering mini-Durant comparisons in college. This writer sees more than a hint of Jonathan Isaac in the Wolves 20 year old forward.

8. Chuma Okeke (LR: Not Ranked)

Orlando Magic

Notable stats: 6.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.2 apg

Okeke is the rookie that perhaps benefited most from the trade deadline, with Aaron Gordon’s departure opening up all the court time that the 22 year old could handle – he’s averaging over 10 minutes more on the court since the deadline. Okeke has made the most of his chances. A recent three game dip in form followed a seven game run of 18.3 points, 7.1 boards, 3 assists and 1.3 steals a night.

Okeke came into the league as a player that could do a little of everything. His shooting has perhaps been better than advertised, thought everything else he brought to the table was expected. It was just in such small quantities.

With a clear runway, Okeke’s development, alongside that of fellow rookie RJ Hampton (unlucky to miss out on the top 10) and big man Mo Bamba will be the Magic’s priority. With Isaac and Markelle Fultz to return next season, the Magic suddenly have a young and very interesting group to build around.

9. Desmond Bane (LR: 9)

Memphis Grizzlies

Notable stats: 9.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 48/45/81 shooting splits

Desmond Bane just keeps on doing his thing. Despite the fact that his Grizzlies seemingly run a 62 man rotation each night, and the fact that he really should be starting over Grayson Allen, Bane continues to produce.

He’s proving to be a reliable bailout option for Ja Morant, who certainly appreciates the spacing that the rookie (who is more than a year older than Morant) provides. As well as a deadly catch and shoot game, Bane continues to prove himself a solid three level threat, as well as a willing and physical defender.

10. Patrick Williams (LR: 8)

Chicago Bulls

Notable stats: 9.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg,1.3 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.7 bpg

Williams is the anti-Okeke. Like the Orlando man, Williams’ circumstances have been altered by a mid season trade. Usually, this creates opportunity either through an established teammate being moved, or the rook himself finding new pastures. In this case, Williams’ opportunities have dried up through the acquisition of a man – Okeke’s old teammate interestingly – that doesn’t even play his position.

Nikola Vucevic will undoubtedly help the Bulls in their pursuit of a first playoff berth in the post Jimmy Butler era, but the immediate impact on Williams is less than ideal. With Vooch hoovering up touches, and the offense now squarely centred on his pick and roll dance with Zach Lavine, Williams has become an offensive afterthought.

With both Lavine and Vucevic on the floor, the prized #4 pick is averaging 5.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and less than one assist – it goes without saying that these numbers are all far below his output prior to the trade. The flip side is that he is being asked to focus on his defensive duties, a task to which he’s taken on most maturely. He’s become a lock down defender in April, averaging over two steals per contest.

(For what it’s worth, that should count as a block AND a steal)

That said, with a bevy of rookies standing on the outside looking in to our Top 10, Williams’ place in this list is in serious jeopardy.

Just outside the top 10: James Wiseman (Golden State), RJ Hampton (Orlando), Immanuel Quickley (New York), Isaiah Stewart (Detroit)

Dropping out from the last rankings: LaMelo Ball (Charlotte), Immanuel Quickley (New York), Kenyon Martin Jr (Houston)

SHOP!