2023-24 NBA Rookie Rankings: November
The Vendetta Sports NBA Rookie Rankings are back for another season and man, oh man is this an exciting draft class to examine.
The headliner of this class is obvious, though the addition of a red-shirted high-pedigree pick from last year’s crop of draftees makes it a much closer run thing than many anticipated. This group is littered with superb young players who, in most other years, would be top-three picks but had to settle for mid-lottery slots this time around. Let’s not sleep on the incredible depth of this class, either.
This might be the most fun I’ve had ranking rookies yet … and it’s only going to get better.
1. Victor Wembanyama – San Antonio Spurs
The Great Gallic Hope has been well worth the wait.
Despite less-than-ideal circumstances, Wembanyama has proven to be every bit the generational talent that was promised. He already has a signature performance to his name after hanging 38 points and 10 rebounds with three treys and a pair of blocks on Phoenix in just his 5th NBA outing.
He’s averaging 18.6 points per game despite the fact that he’s not yet playing his natural position on anything near a full-time basis. He’s also playing with a sophomore wing with no jump shot as his point guard – it’s no surprise that Wemby looks far more assured when paired with the more traditional point guard stylings of Tre Jones.
Defensively, Wembanyama is already in the top handful of defenders in the sport, radically altering the dimensions of the court for offenses that are still ill-equipped to deal with him. When he pulled a Mark Eaton on OG Anunoby, I straight out giggled!
Again, Wemby is playing out of position on defense, forced to chase around forwards instead of sitting lower and erasing mistakes on the backline. When the Spurs move their prodigy over to the five full-time, it’s over.
Like practically every rookie ever, the giant Frenchman will and has had his ups and downs. The high, though, is so damn high.
2. Chet Holmgren – Oklahoma City Thunder
After missing his rookie year due to a foot injury, Chet Holmgren is another who has proven worth the wait. Whilst he has an undoubtedly lesser degree of difficulty to that of Wembanyama, Holmgren’s been most impressive as the puzzle piece that makes the Thunder jigsaw look awfully complete.
Holmgren is posting a nightly 15.5 points – on hyper-efficient 53/44/91 shooting splits, if you don’t mind – 7.8 boards, 2.6 assists, 2.6 blocks and 0.9 steals.
Those, in just about any other season, would be Rookie of the Year numbers. This season, though, such a deep and talented rookie class means we have to look for the nuances. The fact that Holmgren gets to play in a streamlined role on both ends of the floor, surrounded by ascendant stars in Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams, not to mention an All-NBA calibre player in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, pushes Chet to 2nd place in these opening rankings of the season.
3. Ausar Thompson – Detroit Pistons
A hyper-athletic small forward, averaging a double-double with a ton of steals and blocks, a healthy amount of assists, and absolutely no whiff of ever making a jump shot? At long last, we have another Andrei Kirilenko!
Thompson has been everything the Pistons had hoped plus a whole lot more in the opening month of his career. The 5th overall pick is an almost total outlier of a player in the modern NBA, as this tweet (this…um…X? Seriously, fuck you Elon!) from @extrastatmuse explains nicely:
The shooting concerns that surrounded Thompson coming into the league are very real: He’s currently shooting a truly 4-of-27 from deep. His 72.2 percent free throw percentage suggests there is a reasonable ceiling to him in that regard, though.
Defensively, Thompson is already a beast. In just his first dozen contests as a pro, he’s drawn the primary assignments on (deep breath): Jimmy Butler, Damian Lillard, Zach LaVine, Brandon Ingram, Steph Curry, Gilgeous-Alexander, Tyrese Maxey, Devin Booker and Dejounte Murray.
Whilst he’s not quite locking that calibre of player up just yet – the fact that he’s leading the NBA in total fouls indicates that he’s still picking up the nuances of guarding elite players – he’s certainly making them play their best cards.
4. Dereck Lively II – Dallas Mavericks
The beanpole Mavs centre, who won’t turn 20 until mid-February, is the classic eye test player. His numbers (9.1 points, 7.1 boards and 1.1 blocks) are decent but won’t jump off the page at you. When you watch Dallas play, you can see exactly how important he is to the structure of a team that is competing for 1st place in the super competitive West.
If, though, you need empirical proof, try this: Lively has missed one game so far and in that match, Toronto outrebounded Dallas by 12 and outscored the Mavs by 32 in the paint.
Lively was drafted as a project. He wasn’t meant to be an opening day starter. Yet, he’s playing his narrow role – protect the rim, rebound, catch lobs – with aplomb.
5. Brandon Miller – Charlotte Hornets
Well, well. The much-maligned 2nd overall pick (to be clear, I don’t believe that Hornets fans thought Miller would be a bust, rather they just really, really wanted Scoot Henderson. Spoiler: Scoot doesn’t appear in these rankings) might just be alright after all.
The Alabama product has looked totally at home be it as the Hornets 6th man or, when Terry Rozier went down, starting in a supersized backcourt with LaMelo Ball. Miller has scored in double figures every appearance bar one despite not yet finding a rhythm with his jump shot. Miller has instead scored through a combination of gliding drives and an instant connection with Ball in the open floor.
Defensively, Miller has shown signs, too, being able to hang with bigger guards and prove capable enough up and down the positional spectrum.
6. Jordan Hawkins – New Orleans Pelicans
Oh my, is that jump shot sweet!
His role has jumped around, depending on the availabilities of the oft-injured Pelicans backcourt, but no matter if he starts or comes off the bench, Hawkins remains ready to fire.
Hawkins’ 13.7 points per game average currently ranks 4th amongst this rookie class, which I think will surprise many who haven’t watched the Pellies play. He already has a 31-point performance to his name, connecting on seven three-pointers in a loss to Denver. He’s also scored 25, with another five treys, coming off the pine in a big win over the Mavericks.
Despite subsisting almost totally on deep jump shots, the UConn product is boasting 47/41/100 shooting splits. He’s also surviving on defense which is where he was supposed to struggle.
7. Bilal Coulibaly – Washington Wizards
Wemby’s wingman was supposed to be fresh-off-the-abattoir-floor rare and at pick seven, a major risk/reward project. After a slow start, where Coulibaly failed to score in double figures in six of his first seven games (he only reached 10 points in the other contest), he’s since looked every bit the polished top 10 pick that you might expect coming out of a major college program.
The Wizards are looking like a genuine Three Ringed Circus so far this season. There are simply far too many Jordan Poole lowlights to list here, so let’s take a look at otherwise solid pro Kyle Kuzma seemingly forgetting that you can’t press pause on an actual live game of basketball.
In that context, Coulibaly’s development is imperative to the Wizards’ future. They just have to hope that he doesn’t get infected with whatever it is that turns good professionals into liabilities as soon as they put on a Wizards uniform.
8. Jaime Jaquez Jr. – Miami Heat
Remember that unathletic 38-year-old fella down at the local YMCA who, for the life of you, you can’t figure out how to stay in front of? Well, he’s an NBA rookie carving it up in Miami, now.
extra in a Danny Trejo film out of UCLA moved into the Heat’s rotation almost immediately and has been entrusted with the start whenever Jimmy Butler saves his legs for another improbable playoff run.
Jaquez is posting solid numbers across the board: 9.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.1 steals. His past five contests, though, have seen him average 13.8 points, 4.2 boards, 3.0 assists and 1.2 steals, as Jaquez finds a comfort level in the NBA.
9. Cason Wallace – Oklahoma City Thunder
Wallace was drafted No. 10 overall with a reputation as a Jrue Holiday/Marcus Smart/Davion Mitchell-type defensive wall. So far that reputation has proven just about spot on as Wallace has, for a rookie at least, been very good at that end of the floor.
His jump shot, though, was a little bit of a question mark. Was his improvement in a single season at Kentucky real? Would he struggle with his shot in the pros? So far, the answers to those questions are an emphatic yes and a loud no!
After 12 games, Wallace is shooting a scorching, if unsustainable, 65/59/100, and whilst that’s not going to be maintained, he’s already answered perhaps the major concern that scouts had on him.
10. Marcus Sasser – Detroit Pistons
An older rookie, Sasser turned 23-years-old a month prior to making his NBA debut, it was expected that Sasser would be able to make some on-court contribution for the Pistons right from the jump and so it has proved.
Whilst he is yet to start a game, he’s quickly become a part of a rather crowded Pistons guard rotation where his ability to beat his man and especially his shooting has stood out. He’s only had three games scoring in double figures to this point but all have been big performances, including scoring 12 of his career-high 26 points in the final quarter against Milwaukee.
Yes, Sasser is small and not especially stout defensively but when your starting point guard is 6’6” surely you can afford to play Sasser ahead of Killian-bloody-Hayes?
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