Let’s not get around: This is the latest Kia Rookie Ladder, our weekly ranking of league newcomers. A day ago, we have Hand the defensive player Dropped, a monthly roundup of players who excel at the end of the field.
What we don’t run—we’ve never run and probably never will—is a defensive novice ladder.
With rare exceptions, the best starters in a given season are noted for how they help their teams put points on the board and the numbers they score in more traditional counting statistics categories. Their defensive skills are usually less impressive.
“Playing the defensive level of the game definitely takes time,” one veteran senior scout told NBA.com. “Most of them come in as scorers and defensively, they have to catch up. It’s usually accepted that there’s a huge learning curve. Often they don’t understand the speed, effort, dedication and study that you need to put in defensively.
“Most freshmen are now two years out of high school. They’ve never seen anything like this.”
This season’s Rookie Ladder-focused class of 2022 is no different. If we were to rank new players precisely according to their defense, the top scores might look like this:
- Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz
- Dyson Daniels, New Orleans Pelicans
- Andrew Nimbard, Indiana Pacers
- Benedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers
- Paolo Panchero, Orlando Magic
Kessler’s rim protection and recoil were special. Daniels paints duty as the most dangerous scorer in their opponents, even in bad times. Nimbard outperforms his peers in deflections and charges drawn.
Blocker Kessler in the first quarter: ❌ ❌ ❌ ❌ ❌
– Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) January 8, 2023
Mathurin leads the pack in Defensive Win Stakes (0.100) with a Defensive Rating of 109.9. And Panchero, although his offense carries a nomination for Kia Rookie of the Year, defends 14.6 shots per game and limits those shooters to 1.1% less than their usual accuracy.
However, you are not likely to see rookies on All-Defense teams. Cleveland’s Evan Mobley and New Orleans’ Herbert Jones had the attention last season was notable enough.
“The nuances of defense are very difficult for a rookie,” said Detroit coach Duane Casey. How can you get physical. illegal defenses up to 2.9 [seconds] in the corridor. The things you can’t get rid of just on athletic ability. They are all things that young players have to learn.”
Casey and his staff have their hands full in developing defenders with a herd of new or existing rookies: Sadiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, Killian Hayes, Sabine Lee, Davidas Cervidis, Kid Cunningham, Luke Garza, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Doreen.
“Their heads are spinning,” Casey said. “Training camp goes by so quickly, you don’t really have a chance to learn it. And with us, the teams that rebuild, the games are where they learn and build their habits. In turn, it’s hard to win. But that’s how you have to grow the guys.”
The Cavaliers got their break from that with Mobley and, the previous season, Isaac Okoro. In fact, they designed a break.
“Finding two-way players was a priority for us,” said head coach JB Bickerstaff. Isaac has shown his ability to guard one-on-one and has a chance to translate instantly [to the NBA].
Evan is extremely rare, his defensive IQ and awareness. His brother [Isaiah, a Cavs’ two-way player] In the same way. I value his coaches and his parents. They both have a great feel on that end of the floor. They anticipate, see and understand things on a high level.”
Mostly, though, the rookie will take his block and chew his ass over what does and doesn’t happen on the defensive side.
Sam Mitchell, NBA TV analyst and former coach of the year with Toronto, laughed, “100%.”
“It’s a combination of several things,” Mitchell said. “First, the coaches can say whatever they want to say on defense. But at the end of the day, who gets paid? The guys who get to score.
“I tell my players all the time: The guy who picks up defensive concepts, gets on the floor faster. Because unless you’re a high pick, you’re not going to get 20 picks in the game. You’re going to be in a role.
“But even these players found out, if they score, their minutes go up.”
Most of the feedback they get—away from the gym—focuses on scoring, passing, rebounding and minutes. Family and friends are top scorers in the box, where the defense doesn’t really get caught.
“It’s easy to spot scoring,” said Mitchell. “But if there’s a player who plays good defense with the team and helps you win, you should go see the movie.
“And then we did a bad job as coaches. We turn a blind eye to players who score but don’t give us the same commitment in defence. We don’t stop defending when they’re young.”
Here are the ladder rankings for this week, which are determined mostly by offense:
This week’s top five in the 2022-23 Kia rookie ladder:
(All stats as of Tuesday, January 17)
1. Paolo Panchero, Orlando Magic
Don’t blame the big guy for the lack of suspense in the Rookie Rankings week to week. Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, and Carl Anthony Towns haven’t left much wiggle room in their ROY seasons, either. Another big fan: Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whose team lost at home earlier this month to Orlando and Panchero (25 points, 4-of-9 3-pointers). “The thing I didn’t realize until I saw it was how big it was,” Kerr said. “For someone who is so skilled and moves the way they do, you wouldn’t expect to see that much volume. A great combination. … They manage a lot of stuff.” [offensively] From which.”
– OrlandoMagic January 14, 2023
2. Benedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers
This is a fun statistic, an apples-and-oranges comparison that still tells us something about a Pacers rookie: Mathurin’s bench scoring average (17.5) is the highest in NBA history dating back to official rookie/reserve breakdowns (1981-1982), Among the players in at least 30 matches off the bench. It may not track perfectly — it’s a career stat, so Michael Jordan’s 33 games as a backup (16.7 ppg) count while his 1,039 not as a starter (30.5). But it speaks to Mathurin’s value and potential. (By the way, he averaged 14.8 dpi in five starts, so the key role from the Indiana bench would suit him.)
Benedict Mathurin making his first start @tweet.
26 points | 5 REB | 3 ast pic.twitter.com/FunOIPcyR7
– Indiana Pacers January 14, 2023
3. Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder
It’s been a steady improvement for Williams, who for months now has shown the same upward arc that has turned him, across three seasons at Santa Clara, into a lottery pick. His work in January so far: 12.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.8 apg while hitting 32 minutes per game. That includes his highly efficient 10-of-12 shooting for 22 points in Chicago on Friday (two days before his 0-of-9 in Brooklyn).
– OKC THUNDER (okcthunder) January 16, 2023
4. Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons
He notched his seventh 20-plus game on Sunday with 21 points against the Knicks as well as six rebounds and six assists. His foul count is up (4.3 per game for the week) and he needs to work on his mid-range game. But the rookie spilled some encouraging words from Pistons JM Troy Weaver to The Athletic on the team’s trip to Paris: “He’s determined that he wants to be successful as a player and as a person.”
Detroit Pistons January 14, 2023
5. Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz
Not just a jump, not just a jump – it’s a leap for Kessler into the top five after his amazing work at Minnesota: 20 points, 21 rebounds, four assists and two blocks for the Jazz 126-125 victory. He’s the first rookie in franchise history to see a 20/20 and the first in the league since Gorgui Dieng in 2014. Utah appears to have found a replacement for Rudy Gobert, saved millions and is nine years younger, with those other players and draft picks the Coyotes traded for gravy.
– Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) January 16, 2023
6. Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings
Get “Tough Love” training from trainer Mike Brown who has helped Tony Parker thrive.
7. Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets
LeBron stirred up and got Dad some pub Monday vs. the Lakers.
“You feel old, right?” 🤣
– NBA TV (NBATV) January 17, 2023
8. Jalen Doreen, Detroit Pistons
Excuse me! He didn’t make it to Paris with the Pistons It said due to the loss of the passport.
9. Andrew Nimbard, Indiana Pacers
Ranked among the Ravens: 3rd in assists, 4th in steals, and 2nd in 3FG%.
10. Jeremy Suchan, San Antonio Spurs
His 21+ 10+ nights = most by a Tottenham debutant since Kawhi (25) in 2011-12.
11. AJ Griffin, Atlanta Hawks
Nailed 3 of 5 from the deep to help defeat Pops’ Raptors again.
12. Dyson Daniels, New Orleans Pelicans
A week for a start: 26.2 mpg, 4.7 shots, 57.1% and 2 out of 5 from the arc.
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