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2023-24 NBA Rookie Rankings: January

NBA Rookies
(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

2023-24 NBA Rookie Rankings: January

We’re now right around the halfway point of the NBA season and in this edition of the Rookie Rankings, we see some new players emerge, including one in particular who warms this writer’s Aussie heart.

As well as adjudicating on the rookie class, I’ve also taken a look at the overall awards race, for those interested.

For those who are new to Vendetta’s NBA Rookie Rankings, these rankings reflect play only since mid-December, not the entire season.

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

The move to centre on a full-time basis has done wonders for Wembanyama. Now that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has decided to start Tre Jones – a living, breathing point guard – next to his Phenom, the No. 1 pick has really taken off. In the four games he’s played with Jones in the starting line-up, Wembanyama has posted 23.3 points on 51/30/89 shooting splits, 10.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and an even three blocks per game.

For those that missed it, Wembanyama’s first matchup with the league’s previous alien from across the pond was everything we could have hoped:

The Frenchman leads all rookies in points per game, total rebounds and total blocks. He is now 2nd in the entire NBA in Defensive Rebound percentage at 30.7 percent, per Basketball Reference.

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

In just about any other year, Holmgren runs away with the Rookie of the Year trophy. Yes, he’s clearly benefitting from playing with a successful team that very specifically needed his precise skillset, but it’s still on the player to produce and that is exactly what Chet has done.

Over the past month, Holmgren has averaged 19.4 points on 60.5 percent shooting, in addition to 3.1 assists and 2.6 blocks. His rebounding numbers have fallen away (6.3 over his past 15 games against 7.6 beforehand) but that could be attributed to a combination of rookie fatigue and his role as a floor stretcher on offense. He’s connected on 31 treys in his past 15 matches.

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

That’s consecutive Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month awards for the lusciously locked Miami forward. The Heat expect to be contending for the title each and every year and Jaquez showed that he’s able to perform when the lights are brightest when on Christmas Day he scored a career-high 31 points – with 10 boards thrown in – in a win against the Sixers.

He’s an older rookie, so he may not get dramatically better than what he is now, but that’s fine. If you can get a potential 3rd starter on a contending team with the No. 18 pick, you come away from the draft pretty satisfied.

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

Miller’s shooting was expected to translate to the pros right away. His ability to score from all four levels was supposed to take a little longer, but has looked good to this point. Miller’s physicality and defense were not supposed to show themselves this early, yet Miller has looked increasingly comfortable on defense even when given unenviable assignments like Jamal Murray or Devin Booker.

Miller has struggled over the past fortnight, culminating in a nasty fall against San Antonio. The fact that Charlotte has won just once in their last 16 games can’t be helping, either.

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

In amongst the turmoil that surrounds the crumbling Warriors dynasty, Brandin Podziemski continues to provide a glimpse into a positive future. In 15 games since our last check in, the 6-foot-5 guard has put up 10.9 points on 47 percent shooting (39 percent on threes) with 1.3 steals for good measure.

His role has been inconsistent as Warriors coach Steve Kerr searches for a winning formula and that clearly hasn’t helped matters for the rookie, but he has looked good as a starter, including tying his career high with 23 points in his last game, a start against Milwaukee.

6. Scoot Henderson – Portland Trailblazers (LR: 10):

It’s taken a while, but Scoot is finally starting to show us what he can do.

Since our last rookie check-in, the No. 3 pick has averaged 13.1 points and 5.1 assists and close to a steal a game. He’s still frighteningly inefficient, shooting 36.5 percent from the floor, though he has connected on an encouraging 37.9 percent of his treys over his last 17 games.

Encouragingly, the game at this level looks to be slowing down for Scoot. Teams are daring him to shoot. Whilst previously his drives had been fast but pretty wild, he’s starting to dictate his cadence to the defense, allowing him to get to his solid mid-rage game, or process the floor for open passes.

7. Cam Whitemore – Houston Rockets (LR: New Entry):

I was aghast when Whitmore fell all the way to the No. 20 pick in the draft. Sure, he’s quiet to the point of being withdrawn, but what would you expect from an 18-year-old introvert? His knees were a concern, but were not at Brandon Roy levels. He’s raw, but ever so talented. There will be a raft of teams regretting passing on the burly forward over the next few years.

That said, I wasn’t expecting that the first Rockets wing to make it into this season’s Rookie Rankings would be Whitmore. Not with Amen Thompson on the team. After spending time in the G-League, injuries to Thompson and Tari Eason have opened up minutes for Whitmore and he hasn’t let the opportunity slip, scoring in double digits in six of his last seven games, despite only breaking the 20-minute threshold twice in that span.

As that last line might suggest, Whitmore can flat-out score. At 6-foot-7, he’s too powerful for many small forwards and too nimble for bigger opponents. He has a nice passing game on the rare occasions that he looks to play make but right now Whitmore is a scorer. There’s more than a hint of Jerry Stackhouse about him.

8. Trayce Jackson-Davis – Golden State Warriors (LR: New Entry):

Despite his bloodlines (his father is former NBA hard man and All-Star Dale Davis) not much was expected out of Trayce Jackson-Davis, as reflected by his being picked No. 57 in the draft. After earning spot minutes through the first third of the season, the rookie has forged a spot in the rotation through sheer effort. Despite being a little undersized as a 6-foot-9 centre, Jackson-Davis is fortunate to have his father’s mass and strength.

Living primarily in the paint – he’s yet even to attempt a 3-pointer – Jackson-Davis has put up 11.9 points, on 74 percent shooting, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks since our last Rookie Rankings. Frankly, he’s already Kevon Looney’s equal as a player and it’s arguably only Kerr’s famous/infamous loyalty to his title-winning veterans that is holding the rookie back from assuming starter duties.

9. Keyonte George – Utah Jazz (LR: 6)

After starting 16 straight games through November and December, George missed some time thanks to an ankle injury and hasn’t broken back into the starting unit. That hasn’t negatively impacted his production, though.

Whilst he’s been up and down since his return, George has posted 11.4 points, three boards and 3.3 assists whilst making almost two treys a game in limited minutes. George wasn’t known for his playmaking coming out of college but he is currently 2nd in assists per game amongst rookies at 4.5 a night.

10. Duop Reath – Portland Trailblazers (LR: New Entry)

Back in September I reviewed the Northwest Division off-season moves and made a passing mention of my long-standing admiration for the game of Duop Reath. As an Australian, I’ll freely admit to some bias but I can say that having watched him play for a long time, the 27-year-old should have been on an NBA roster a long time ago.

An injury to Robert Williams and Deandre Ayton’s DOMINAYTON! failing to launch has given Reath more burn than he might have anticipated but he certainly hasn’t let his chance slip. In just 17 minutes a night, with a handful of starts sprinkled in, Reath has put up nine points, four boards and a single “stock” per game.

His best asset, without doubt, is his dead-eye shooting. Reath is connecting on 3.9 three pointers per 100 possessions, dropping them at a 36.4 percent clip. It’s taken a long time for the South Sudanese born big man to get here. He’s not going away any time soon.

Dropping out: Dereck Lively II, Ausar Thompson, Bilal Coulibaly

***

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