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2023-24 NBA Rookie Rankings: December

Chet Holmgren
(Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports)

2023-24 NBA Rookie Rankings: December

Another month into the NBA season and this year’s crop of rookies has continued to impress. The In-Season Tournament and its erroneous hyphen have rightly taken up much of the limelight since we last checked in on the NBA’s freshmen, but make no mistake, these young men continue to impress.

For those who are new to Vendetta’s NBA Rookie Rankings, these rankings reflect play only over the past month, not the entire season.

1. Chet Holmgren – Oklahoma City Thunder (Last Ranking: 2):

Yes, you could argue that Holmgren isn’t a genuine rookie, having had a year within the NBA ecosystem even if he couldn’t take the court due to injury. To this writer’s eyes, your first season in the court is your rookie year so whilst you can argue it, you’re not going to get me to agree with you.

It can’t be argued, though, that Holmgren has benefitted from a season of learning about all of the peripheral things that can affect a rookie: Travel, sleep schedules, diet, training, film work, etc. Could that be the reason why Holmgren has continued to thrive whilst most of the first-year players around him start to flounder as the magnitude of an 82-game season takes hold?

On the court, Holmgren has posted precious few lemons, though his efficiency has started to become a little more inconsistent. The 21-year-old has put up some brilliant lines, too, headlined by a 36-point, 10-rebound, five-assist effort – including a buzzer-beating trey to force overtime – as the Thunder took down the Golden State Warriors on their own floor.

Overall, Holmgren is averaging 17 points on an incredibly efficient 52/38/88 clip, with 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.4 blocks and close to a steal per contest. He is the very epitome of the modern NBA big man.

2. Jaime Jaquez Jr. – Miami Heat (LR: 8):

The reigning NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month has taken to this whole NBA lark, hasn’t he? Whilst he was, as an older rookie, expected to be able to contribute from the off, it’s fair to say that nobody expected this sort of impact from Jaquez just 20 or so games into his career.

Currently fifth on the Heat in scoring, the UCLA product scored in double figures in 16 of his last 17 games, including 11 straight. A spotty shooter at the collegiate level, Jaquez is currently connecting on 40.3 percent of his 3-point attempts. Can he maintain that? Probably not. What he can continue to do is play solid defense, make smart cuts and be a secondary playmaker. He’s doing all of these things at a far more advanced level than was expected.

Oh, he’s also a touch more athletic than we may have thought:

3. Victor Wembanyama – San Antonio Spurs (LR: 1)

Undoubtedly a generational talent, Wembanyama had begun to flag after a strong start to his rookie campaign. Wemby’s tender age, the increased levels of athleticism he’s encountering, the lack of a point guard to set him up, chasing around forwards on defense, the Spurs’ 17-game losing streak … there was a lot on the young man’s plate. Whilst his numbers were still good, there were more and more cracks starting to appear.

Coach Gregg Popovich did finally make a change to his line-ups to try and make things easier on their young phenom. Whilst it wasn’t the move that most were calling for in starting Tre Jones, he did at least add a guard in Malaki Branham to replace centre Zach Collins, moving Wemby to his natural position. How did he respond? Like this:

That game saw Wembanyama become the youngest player in NBA history to record a 20-point, 20-board game, beating Dwight Howard by just four days. Even before removing Collins from the starting line-up, Coach Pop had been staggering his to bigs a lot more. It’s no coincidence that Wemby has averaged 15 boards, 1.6 steals and 3.3 blocks since playing more minutes at the centre position.

4. Brandon Miller – Charlotte Hornets (LR: 5):

Miller has continued his hot start, allaying the fears that many Hornets fans had when they picked the sweet-shooting forward over Scoot Henderson. Miller has had opportunity thrust upon him, starting initially in place of Terry Rozier and the moment that Rozier returned from injury, LaMelo ball got hurt.

Miller, though still had to take those opportunities. So far this season, only Wembanyama has more 20-plus point scoring games and Miller is doing it on perfectly reasonable 45/40/82 shooting splits with an overall True Shooting percentage of 55.3 percent whilst taking on a far larger role in the offense than was originally planned.

5. Dereck Lively II – Dallas Mavericks (LR: 4)

Lively continues to give Dallas fans misty, water-coloured memories of Tyson Chandler. Holding down a starting centre spot for a team with genuine playoff ambitions is not easy, especially for a 19-year-old rookie. Whilst playing with a basketballing maestro in Luka Doncic surely helps his transition, Lively helps himself by knowing his role and sticking to it.

Defensively, the rookie is proving adept at hedging at the point of attack on the pick and roll whilst using his speed to recover and contest shots. His averages of 8.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks (13th in the league) would lead most rookie classes; he’s just unfortunate to share the stage with a pair of potentially generational bigs and a wing who plays bigger than he is (more on him shortly).

On offense, Lively’s most obvious impact is as a roll man for Luka, yet he’s already flashing some really advanced skills on the roll. The big man is making some seriously good reads on the catch, able to hit corner shooters on both sides of his body and find cutters in stride. He’s also doing something that has almost become a lost art for young bigs: mashing smaller opponents.

He isn’t afraid to pick on guys his own size, either:

6. Keyonte George – Utah Jazz (LR: New Entry):

Seen as a classic combo guard at Baylor, Keyonte George is quickly making a name for himself as a playmaker in Utah. He is leading this rookie class in assists, to the point where he is almost lapping the field; his 120 total assists are a mile ahead of second-placed Jaquez on 65.

Since emerging from Utah’s quagmire of a guard rotation to become a starter, a group this writer calls the “circle of averageness,” George has posted 12.7 points, 5.9 assists and 3.4 boards. Sure, his efficiency is dreadful, but with Lauri Markkanen sidelined, defences are keying in on George betting that no other Jazzman will consistently make a shot.

7. Ausar Thompson – Detroit Pistons (LR: 3)

Thompson started his rookie campaign with a bang. It’s a shame his team fell flat on its face.

With the Pistons currently on a 21-game losing streak, coach Mailing It In Monty Williams decided to take his prized rook out of the limelight for a period, bringing him off the bench for four games where, as to be expected, he sucked. Upon being reinstated into the starting five, Thompson scored 20 points on 8of-10 shooting – he even made a 3-pointer – with six boards, a steal and a block.

Whilst he still can’t shoot – Thompson has connected on just seven of his 49 3-point attempts – he contributes in just about every other way. He’s a fantastic rebounder and is already a solid on-ball defender, admittedly miscast as a primary stopper given he’s just a rookie. He’s a weapon in the open floor.

8. Bilal Coulibaly – Washington Wizards (LR: 7):

In what is becoming a circus of a season in the nation’s capital. Wisely being kept away from playing against too many starting units, the still supremely raw Frenchman is quietly putting up decent numbers.

In December, he’s averaged 13.2 points, 5.8 boards and 1.6 steals whilst scoring in double figures in five straight games and counting. Whilst his current clip of 42.4 percent from beyond the arc is probably unsustainable, it’s encouraging that his offense is this far along.

At the other end of the court, Coulibaly has all the makings of a defensive playmaker. He possesses excellent footwork and a natural anticipation, has active hands and takes pride in his defense.

9. Brandin Podziemski – Golden State Warriors (LR: New Entry)

Podziemski was profiled as a bit of a Luke Kennard type: not particularly fast or strong, but clever, with good size and a great jumper. He’s already better than that.

Whilst his first step isn’t exactly lightning, Podziemski measured a 39-inch running vertical at the draft combine and combined with his excellent nose for the ball, has seen his rebounding – a strength at the collegiate level – translate to the pros. He’s also the rare rookie who seems to instinctively understand how Golden State plays under Steve Kerr. He’s a superb mover away from the ball, an underrated playmaker and, of course, a dangerous spot-up shooter.

He showed out in his last outing against the star-studded Phoenix Suns.

This bloke is a baller … and a perfect Warrior.

10. Scoot Henderson – Portland Trailblazers (LR: New Entry):

Henderson hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts in his NBA career. Frankly, an injury suffered in early November that kept him out for nine games might have been a blessing in disguise.

Henderson has looked far more assured since returning and it can’t be coincidental that after starting every game prior to getting hurt, he’s been a reserve in every game since.

Scoot Henderson: starter vs reserve.

Scoot will grow into his game. He’s simply too talented not too. It might be a longer road than many, this writer included, had imagined.

Dropping out: Jordan Hawkins (New Orleans Pelicans), Cason Wallace (Oklahoma City Thunder), Marcus Saasser (Detroit Pistons)


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