NBA Rookie Power Rankings: Who Started Hot?

A surprise at the top headlines the first edition of the rookie power rankings.

Welcome to the first edition of our NBA Rookie Power Rankings updates. All season long, we’ll be looking at the rookies who are performing the best, based on advanced analytics.

We’ll be using our nERD metric to evaluate which rookies have been playing the best for their teams. nERD indicates how many wins above or below .500 a particular player would make an average team over a full season.

Because we’re so early in the NBA season, we will limit our consideration to rookies who have averaged at least 15 minutes per game over the first two weeks of the. So, without further ado, let’s see who our top rookies are at this point in the season.

6. Brandon Ingram

nERD: -0.4

Brandon Ingram is playing for the surprising Los Angeles Lakers, who are off to a 4-4 start this season (after going 17-65 last year). They are playing a very balanced lineup with five double-digit scorers and nine players averaging between 20 and 28 minutes per game. Ingram is coming along slowly while averaging 20.4 minutes per game.

The second pick in this year's NBA draft is only shooting 36.4% from the field but is contributing 6.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game. Last night's game against the Dallas Mavericks is a good example of what Ingram has looked like so far: 2 for 5 from the field with 5 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block, 1 steal, and 1 assist. We'll see how he progresses during the season.

T-4. Joel Embiid and Kris Dunn

nERD: -0.3

We have a fourth-place tie to start the season, and it makes sense to talk about both players. After missing the first two seasons of his career due to various injuries, Joel Embiid has been an absolute boxscore stuffer for what unfortunately looks like another miserable situation in Philadelphia. Although Embiid is only playing 21.4 minutes per game, he is still averaging 17.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 2.6 blocks per game.

However, his team is once again without a win to start the year at 0-6. You may recall that the Philadelphia 76ers started 0-18 last year. Hopefully, they can avoid setting that record again. There is some hope, however, as Embiid seems like the real deal (if he can avoid further injuries) and the front runner for rookie of the year.

Kris Dunn started out the season playing backup point guard minutes in Minnesota. He averaged 17.5 minutes and 2.5 assists per game over the first two games. Then, Ricky Rubio was injured and has missed the past four contests. During that span, Dunn’s minutes have increased to 25.7 minutes per game, and he’s averaging 5 assists, 2.5 steals, and 3.7 rebounds per game.

Dunn’s shooting percentage over those four games has been abysmal at 25% from the field, but his other statistics are moving in the right direction. Last night in the Timberwolves' loss to the Nets, Dunn lost time to Tyus Jones (32 minutes, 12 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals), so we'll have to see whether Dunn can keep his starting point guard spot and increased minutes in the short term.

3. Jaylen Brown

nERD: -0.2

Jaylen Brown is playing similar minutes to Ingram (20 per game) for the Boston Celtics. Brown was a high draft pick this year (third overall), just like Ingram (second overall), and has slotted in as an everyday player for the Celtics. Brown is averaging 8.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game while shooting 46.5% from the field. He's been solid so far.

2. Pascal Siakam

nERD: 0.1

Pascal Siakam was a late first-round pick of the Toronto Raptors (27th overall), and he was probably not going to have a particularly prominent role until Jared Sullinger was sidelined indefinitely with a foot injury. At that point, the starting power forward position was up for grabs between Siakam and Patrick Patterson. Siakam received the starting nod through the first six games and has performed capably while playing 18.6 minutes per game and averaging 5.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

Patterson is still playing more overall minutes coming off the bench (30.7 minutes per game), but Siakam has kept his starting role. Most importantly, the Raptors are 4-2 overall and in first place in the Atlantic Division with Siakam starting.

1. Domantas Sabonis

nERD: 0.4

There is a certain expectation when a player is drafted and their father was also an NBA player. In this case, Domantas Sabonis is the son of Arvydas Sabonis. As some may recall, Arvydas played seven seasons in the NBA for the Trail Blazers (starting at age 31) and had respectable career averages of 12 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game.

His son, Domantas, was a star at Gonzaga and is now starting at power forward for the 6-1 Oklahoma City Thunder. Domantas had probably his best game of this young season two nights ago against the Miami Heat. He played 30 minutes, scored 15 points, and gathered in 10 rebounds while also making a career-high 4 three-pointers.

Overall, Domantas is averaging 7.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. However, over his last three games, he’s averaged 27 minutes, 11.3 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. We’ll have to see whether Sabonis can sustain this type of output and keep his number-one power ranking throughout the year.

And, over time, we'll see if he turns out to be better than his father. Check back in two weeks for another installment of Rookie Power Rankings.