NBA Rookie Power Rankings: Kaminsky Climbs the Charts
As the new year gets closer and closer, the NBA's rookies are starting to take shape with their teams.
Hot starts have either cooled off or continued, and some slow-starters have emerged after some initial growing pains.
Here, we continue to look at which rookies have been the best this year, based on our nERD metric, which indicates how many wins above or below .500 a player would make an average team over a full season.
Since Adam Bronfin’s last installment two weeks ago, there has been a lot of movement from players both up and down in our rankings -- and even some making their first appearance in the top five. We continue to limit the consideration to players who have averaged at least 15 minutes per game to this point in the season.
Here are this week's rankings as we close in on the new year:
5. Kristaps Porzingis
When talking about the fact that players have moved up and down in these rankings, the biggest change is the New York Knicks' first-round pick. Kristaps Porzingis was tied with Karl-Anthony Towns as the best rookie in the NBA two weeks ago with a nERD of 4.9. Since, both players have gone in opposite directions.
In the last two weeks, Porzingis is averaging just 7.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game while shooting a mere 29.0 percent from the floor. These two weeks include an 0-for-6 shooting night at Portland with no points, and an 8-point, 4-rebound performance on 3-of-9 shooting against the NBA’s worst team, the Philadelphia 76ers.
There are times it seems Porzingis spends a little too much time shooting from beyond the arc, which could be part of the reason for the inconsistent play. Shooting slumps will happen over the course of an 82 game season, especially from a rookie. He is shooting just 30.5 percent from three. Despite that number, he still has a True Shooting Percentage of 51.3 percent on the year. This could lead you to believe that, if he would get into a rhythm on a given night starting inside the arc, it may lead to more confidence to shoot from other areas on the floor.
When watching Porzingis, you can see that he is going to be a very good player in this league. Even on some nights where he struggles to score or rebound, he impresses with some of his passes and even ball handling. But it looks as if he has hit somewhat of a wall here in December.
4. Frank Kaminsky
We welcome the former Wisconsin Badger to the rookie power rankings for the first time. Frank Kaminsky and the Charlotte Hornets have been one of the better stories in the Eastern Conference this season, as they are in the mix for a playoff spot with a 15-12 record just before Christmas. Kaminsky has gone from very little playing time to start the year to becoming a main piece in their nightly rotation.
An interesting aspect to the Hornets this season is that a second unit of Kaminsky along with Spencer Hawes, Jeremy Lamb, Jeremy Lin and one starter in Marvin Williams is one of the most productive lineups that head coach Steve Clifford has thrown out on the floor this season. That five, which the Hornets are using more and more of as the season unfolds, is operating well. Per 100 possessions, it is +21.6 in point differential, +4.1 in rebound differential, and +3.2 in turnover differential, according to Basketball-Reference.com. All of which are the best of any lineup the Hornets have that have logged at least 50 minutes together.
Kaminsky has been a huge part of that, especially in the last month. He has shot 42.7 percent from the floor, averaging 7.1 points and 4.4 rebounds while making just under one three-point shot per game. Defense has also been a big reason for his increase in playing time as the season has unfolded. Clifford stated last week that he believes Kaminsky’s defense is further along than anticipated.
3. Willie Cauley-Stein
It’s not very often that a team drafts a player not only to help for the future but also fit an immediate need. For the Sacramento Kings, Willie Cauley-Stein has done just that. It should not be as surprising that the former Kentucky standout has been able to do this, as he is older than many others who were drafted around him at the age of 22. But his ability to complement DeMarcus Cousins with rebounding, interior scoring and rim protection has been big for the Kings this season. So much so that he started in 14 of the team's first 20 games.
However, Cauley-Stein has not played since December 5th as he continues to sit out after dislocating his right index finger. He is expected to miss six weeks total. Through those 20 games he played in, he averaged a very impressive 12.3 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per 100 possessions while shooting 60.9 percent from the field. That sort of production, despite the missed time on the floor, still has him in our top five, and he will be there to stay if he continues at that pace when he returns to the floor.
2. Nikola Jokic
The Denver Nuggets seem to be having a very good problem at the center position. Second year player Joffrey Lauvergne (2.3 nERD) and rookie Nikola Jokic (3.6 nERD), who are battling one another for minutes, continue to be very productive players inside. That doesn’t include Jusuf Nurkic, who is yet to play this season while recovering from offseason knee surgery.
The rookie from Serbia and Montenegro, Jokic, has been a bright spot and pleasant surprise for this Nuggets team after being selected in the second round in the 2015 NBA Draft. He has started seven games out of the 25 he has appeared in to this point and is displaying an impressive offensive skill set. Per 100 possessions, Jokic is averaging 23.1 points and 14.4 total rebounds along with a True Shooting Percentage of 60.8 percent, which is the best on the team among players who average more than 10 minutes per game.
Lauvergne missed most of November due to injury, which saw Jokic settle into a nice role with the team. By the end of the month, he was putting up some very impressive numbers. His production declined some when Lauvergne returned to the floor in late November, but in the last 10 days, it looks as if Jokic has taken his play up a notch with this competition he is having with his fellow center. He has been significantly more productive, averaging more minutes, points and rebounds per game despite coming off the bench.
We will see what is in store for Jokic once Nurkic comes into the mix, which is expected to be in January, but if trends stay the same, we could come to expect Jokic’s production to elevate as competition from within the Nuggets roster surfaces.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns
While this piece is meant for evaluating which rookies have been the best for their own teams so far this season and not as a predictor for Rookie of the Year, it is safe to say that, through two full months of games, Karl-Anthony Towns is by far and away the leader in the clubhouse for that award. Two weeks ago, Porzingis caught him in nERD and was the talk of the NBA, especially amongst rookies. Since then, Towns is averaging 19.4 points and 9.9 rebounds per game while shooting 55.5 percent from the floor for Minnesota. It has moved his nERD up from 4.9 to 6.8 on the season.
Through 28 games, only Brook Lopez has more points per 36 minutes among starting centers, and the difference is by 0.1 (20.7 for Lopez, 20.6 for Towns). His rebounding per 36 minutes has been impressive, too, at 11.9 which is 13th among centers who have played in at least 20 games. The offensive stats are what stand out, but his defense has been light years ahead of what we would expect from a 20 year old at this level. He sports a Defensive Rating of 100 and averages 3.7 blocks per 100 possessions, which is eighth among players who have appeared in at least 20 games.
While the 11-17 record will not compete with the best of the West now, what the Timberwolves are putting together with Towns along with Andrew Wiggins and company could be very special in the years to come. Towns is on his way to becoming one of the better big men the game has to offer.