2022-23 NBA Rookie Rankings: March
This is it, folks: our final NBA rookie rankings for season 2023.
It must be said that this class has been pleasantly surprising in both its quality of play and its depth, a concern once 2nd overall pick Chet Holmgren was lost for the season without playing a single second.
Paolo Banchero, despite struggling somewhat of late, has come as advertised and is surely the favourite to take home the Wilt Chamberlain Trophy as the season’s best rookie. Jabari Smith has shown flashes despite being surrounded by a circus in Houston. Jalen Williams and Kessler Walker have already emerged as 10 plus year starting calibre players.
Tari Eason and Jeremy Sochan are definition of do-it-all role players; Andrew Nembhard has stepped in as the obligatory ‘2nd round senior made good’; Jaden Hardy has shown electric scoring capabilities. Tari Eason and Jeremy Sochan, both of whom share the default setting of ‘wreck shit’, are a delight to watch.
Despite some trepidation about this season’s first year players, they’ve proven a talented bunch and, frankly, a lot of fun to both watch and write about.
A reminder that this ranking isn’t inclusive of the entire season. Rather, it’s simply a judgement on how the players have performed since our last rookie rankings.
1. Jalen Williams – Oklahoma City Thunder (LR: 1)
The rise and rise of Jaillen Jaylin Jaylon Jaylen Jaelen Jalen Williams has been meteoric.
From barely seeing the court at the beginning of the season, the swingman is #2 with a bullet on most Rookie of the Year rankings. He tops our monthly ladder for the second consecutive month.
Defensively he remains a solid player, especially for a rookie, with 1.8 combined steals/blocks. That number has jumped to 2.4 since the calendar turned over.
Offensively he’s taken massive strides of late, thanks to nothing more than a mastery of fundamentals. Williams has averaged an even 19 points on over 55% shooting since the All-Star break thanks to his ability to use simple but supremely effective footwork to eke out enough space to make finishes that look easy to the untrained eye, but are in fact quite intricate.
Williams leads all guards in field goal percentage (that’s not just among rookies (we’re talking the entire NBA) thanks to his intuitive cutting and elastic finishing around the rim. He’s already established lovely chemistry with both Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey. He’s also shooting the deep ball with some consistency too, connecting on 1.5 threes per game at an excellent 48.4% clip in March.
2. Walker Kessler – Utah Jazz (Last Ranking: 2)
Let’s play a little game of ‘Compare the Pair’, shall we?
See if you can name the players by their post All Star break production:
Player A is our rookie ladder leading Walker Kessler. But who could Player B…uh…be?
Those with keen eyes and a keener sense for this writers dark humour will have figured out that Player B is in fact Minnesota Timberwolves centre Rudy Gobert, the man the Jazz moved for (in amongst a truckload of other assets) Kessler. It makes for interesting reading.
Alongside his well-documented defensive influence, Kessler’s offensive impact has been a pleasant surprise. He is unusually mature for a rookie, understanding his limitations and playing within them perfectly.
Kessler isn’t going to beat anybody off the bounce or drill step-back jumpers. What he does, though, is screen hard, roll harder, and time his cuts perfectly. He’s already showing development in his touch around the basket. If he can develop a few go to moves around the hoop that he can use to pulverise smaller defenders – something Gobert never managed to do – then look out!
3. Keegan Murray – Sacramento Kings (LR: 3)
Murray has continued to produce since the All-Star break, maintaining his place in our rookie rankings.
Whilst he still leads all rookies in three point makes (2.5 per game) and percentage (40.4%), he has slumped to merely good 36.9% from deep since the All-Star Break. That said, he’s still a reasonable chance to finish his rookie year as the best rookie perimeter scorer in history, based on makes and efficiency.
He continues to mix it up for a Kings team that, whilst not always effective defensively, always play hard, with almost two combined steals/blocks per game since the All-Star hiatus.
4. Paolo Banchero – Orlando Magic (LR: 7)
After a rough month or so, Banchero has started to find his footing again.
Since the All-Star break Banchero has posted 20.5 points on 52.2% true shooting, an uptick of about four points and 8% from his numbers in the weeks prior to the break.
Most encouragingly Banchero appears to have rediscovered his outside shot, hitting just a shade under 35% from deep through his past 10 appearances.
Banchero still gets to the charity stripe like a seasoned veteran, his 19.7 shooting fouled percentage ranking 4th in the entire league (per Cleaning the Glass).
Despite is recent struggles, Banchero is just about a mortal lock to be named Rookie of the Year.
5. Jabari Smith Jr – Houston Rockets (LR: 8)
After starting his rookie year struggling to achieve damn near anything on an NBA floor, Smith has picked it up since the calendar flipped over. Defensively he’s been showing more and more flashes as a long limbed, agile, potential lock-down player. His offense, though, still had a lot of catching up to do.
Don’t look now, but maybe that corner has been turned, too.
Since the All-Star break the 3rd overall selection has been finding the basket with more regularity. In March he’s averaging 15.5 points per game (against a season average of 12.5) with a recent three game swing – one of those a shock win over Boston – seeing Smith score 20+ points in three straight games for the first time.
It’s taken a little while, but it looks like Houston have themselves one hell of a player.
6. Tari Eason – Houston Rockets (LR: Re-entry)
Eason was desperately unlucky to not make the February edition of these rankings. In March he’s busted down the double doors.
Eason, on pure talent, was considered a top 10 pick by many draft experts. He had, however, one major flaw: an inability to remember plays. Fortunately for Eason, the lack of structure that permeates throughout the Rockets organisation may actually be helping him (he’s possibly the only player in the league who could make that claim) as he’s simply been able to go out and play basketball.
Defensively, Eason has been a standout (by rookie standards) all season long. His steal numbers (1.2 per game) have been very good and his ability to envelop ball handlers gives off the faint aroma of a young Kawhi Leonard. Eason’s offensive rebounding is already elite.
Where he’s improved of late is with ball in hand. Eason’s is shooting an even 50% from the floor and 39.3% from three in March. He’s also improved his feel when attacking off the bounce. Whilst he’s not and likely never will be a high level playmaker, Eason’s started to find a comfort level when breaking down his man and getting to the basket.
7. Jaden Ivey – Detroit Pistons (LR: 4)
With Cade Cunningham out of the picture since early in the season, Ivey has had to bear a huge load for the rebuilding Pistons and, after a strong rookie campaign, he finally looks to be out of gas.
Whilst his counting stats are pretty much in line with what he has produced over the course of the season, his efficiency has plummeted. His True Shooting percentage has fallen to its lowest point of the season at a time where his usage rate has climbed to its highest. On the court, it makes for a tough watch.
He’s still working his tail off and still makes a jaw-dropping play every other game, but Ivey’s one player that must be begging for the season to end.
8. Jeremy Sochan – San Antonio Spurs (LR: 9)
The only thing keeping Sochan from climbing higher up this edition of the rookie rankings is his intermittent absences over the past month.
To be fair this might not be Sochan’s fault as the Spurs fire up the ol’ tank but the fact remains that he’s missed five of his team’s 12 contests since the All-Star break.
When he has played, he’s been fantastic. Since the All-Star hiatus, Sochan has poured in 17.4 points per game, along with 8.2 boards and over a steal per game.
Sochan recently gave Express News an interesting insight into his approach to the game.
“I just fill roles,” Sochan said. “At Baylor, my role wasn’t to score. It was to be the energy guy, to be able to do everything on the floor. Just be energy really. I got an opportunity from the start here and I’ve been able to showcase what I can do.”
9. Jaden Hardy – Dallas Mavericks (LR: New entry)
Hardy has for sure benefitted from the intermittent absences of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, but credit to the explosive 20-year-old for grabbing his opportunity with both hands…and then letting it fly from deep.
Since the All-Star break, Hardy has a couple of games where he’s played less than 10 minutes. In literally every other appearance he’s scored in double figures.
He unloaded on Memphis to the tune of 28 points (five three pointers) and eight boards, just days after hanging 22 on those same Grizzlies. Hardy then put up another 22 against the Spurs before a 20 point in 18 minutes effort against, you guessed it, Memphis.
If the Mavs played the Grizz every other night, Hardy might already be an All-Star!
10. Mark Williams – Charlotte Hornets (LR: 10)
Despite missing the past five contests through injury, Williams retains his place in the top 10 on the rookie rankings.
The big Dookie has averaged close to a double-double since the All-Star break, putting in some fantastic performances, including a monster 18 point, 20 rebound effort against Bam Adebayo and the Miami Heat.
Not a whole lot is going right for the Hornets though this season. They have, though, found their centre of the future.
Dropping out: Jalen Duren, Bennedict Mathurin.