NBA Rookie Power Rankings: Willy Hernangomez Takes Over the Top Spot

We’re now pretty far into the second half of the NBA season, and the news is not good for one of the top rookies in the league. It was announced yesterday that Joel Embiid is done for the season with a meniscus tear. So, we'll now have to see if another rookie can step up and try to provide the excitement and tantalizing talent that we saw from Embiid over a mere 31 games this year.

However, we don’t merely use the latest hype to point out who is deserving of being one of the league's top five rookies, we use math -- specifically nERD. This metric measures a player's contributions, based on efficiency, and indicates how many wins above or below .500 a player would make an average team over a full season. You can read more about nERD in our glossary.

As noted last time, we’ve lifted the 15 minutes per game average as a requirement so we can add in players who are beginning to take on more prominent roles with their respective teams.

Without further ado, let’s see who our top five rookies are at this point in the season.

5. Malcolm Brogdon, SG, Milwaukee Bucks

nERD: -1.1

Malcolm Brogdon makes another appearance in the power rankings. He’s regained his footing over the past three games, averaging 17.3 points, 5 assists and 2 steals per night in that span. He’s also shooting 52.5% from the field during that stretch.

Brogdon started the last game, so maybe that will be a trend over the last 23 games of the season as the Milwaukee Bucks fight for the 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

4. Ivica Zubac, C, Los Angeles Lakers

nERD: -0.7

Ivica Zubac is another recent addition to our rookie power rankings. It’s a little hard to tell what’s going to happen to his playing time over the balance of this season. There is anticipation that he’ll take over the starting center position -- or at least starter's minutes -- but his playing time, as of right now, is still that of a reserve.

Zubac is producing 6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 50% from the field over his last 10 games. He’s also only playing approximately 15 minutes per game. So any large leaps of improvement are only likely to be seen if his role increases.

3. Juan Hernangomez, C, Denver Nuggets

nERD: 0.5

Juan Hernangomez stays in the power rankings for the second week in a row, but he has also seen his playing time dry up over his last five games. He’s averaging a mere 7.8 minutes in that span while contributing 4.3 points and 2 rebounds per game.

On the season, he’s averaging 12.3 minutes per night, but over his past 10 games, that had popped up to 17.1 minutes per game. We’ll have to see whether the loaded depth chart in the Denver Nuggets' frontcourt -- they recently added Mason Plumlee -- allows Hernangomez more time as the season winds down. Denver is fighting for the 8 seed in the Western Conference, so consistent playing time may not free up.

2. Joel Embiid, C. Philadelphia 76ers

nERD: 0.8

As mentioned above, Joel Embiid is done for the season due a knee injury. It's a sad state of affairs for someone who showed this season how special he can be.

We’re left wanting more from him, but we will have to settle for the taste of talent that we saw over a mere 31 games. Embiid averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.5 blocks during those games, and he put up those numbers on a mere 25.4 minutes per game.

Time will tell if Embiid can still wind up in the top spot in these rankings, but it will also be interesting to see whether he ends up as the NBA’s rookie of the year after playing a mere 31 games. The previous low number of games played by an NBA Rookie of the Year winner over a full season was 50 by the great New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing.

1. Willy Hernangomez, C, New York Knicks

nERD: 1.0

Guillermo Hernangomez is our new leader. Over his last 10 games, he’s been playing almost 26 minutes, while contributing 10.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1 steal per game.

Given the injury to Embiid, Hernangomez now has a chance to take a stranglehold in our rookie rankings, especially since Joakim Noah has been declared out for the rest of the rest of the season due to injury. That leaves Hernangomez, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle O'Quinn as your remaining bigs for the New York Knicks.

It looks like Hernangomez is going to be needed down the stretch, especially since the Knicks are just four games out of a potential playoff spot.