NBA Rookie Power Rankings: Towns Grows His Lead

In the new year, Karl-Anthony Towns continues to extend his lead over all other rookies. Is anyone close?

The NBA's rookies have hit the rookie wall.

After about two and a half months of NBA basketball, only four rookies have positive nERDs, and of those four, only three are above 1.0. (That means that only three rookies would add a full win over .500 on a league-average team as a starter.)

The compact, fast-paced nature of the NBA is beginning to catch up with them, as fatigue is likely settling in amongst rookies throughout the NBA. Defenses are beginning to figure out the young guys and render them ineffective.

Still, which five rookies are most effective this season?

5. Larry Nance Jr.

nERD: -0.4

Making his first ever appearance on our power rankings is Larry Nance Jr. That's right, a player with a negative nERD is on our list (suggesting he's a below league-average player).

Nance has been solid for the Lakers this season, posting averages of 6.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.

Among rookies who have taken at least five shots per game, Nance is second in field goal percentage, connecting on 53.8% of his shots. This is partially due to his success at the rim. Nance has made 68.1% of his shots from within five feet, according to That's third best amongst rookies who have taken at least two such shots per game and places him with some of the best players in the entire NBA.

For comparison, LeBron James is shooting 67.5% and Anthony Davis is at 67.0%. 

After not starting in any of the Lakers' first 15 games, Nance has been a starter in each game since then. If you look just at his starter numbers, his stats are even better -- 7.9 points per game 6.4 rebounds with 55.4% shooting.

Of course, any analysis of a Lakers' player would not be complete without looking at how the player performs with and without Kobe Bryant. Remarkably, Nance plays better with the star, as opposed to the rhetoric that Bryant has been almost parasitical this year, making everyone worse around him. With Bryant, Nance is shooting 57.1% with 1.16 points per possession. When Bryant's on the bench, the rookie's numbers drop to 50.6% and 1.07.

4. Kristaps Porzingis

nERD: 0.8

It seems everywhere you look, there's a highlight of Kristaps Porzingis doing something amazing. There's his put-backs dunkschase-down blocks and ridiculous threes. But since this is a numbers-focused site, let's look at his amazing statistics instead.

The list of players who have averaged at least 13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 made three-point field goal per game is very short. Just Porzingis, Serge Ibaka and Raef LaFrentz have posted those numbers. If Porzingis can rebound just a little bit better for the rest of the season, he could be the first person ever to average 13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and a made three-ball.

I recently talked about how Porzingis has been instrumental in the Knicks turnaround from last year. That's even been truer of late. The Knicks have won five of their last six games -- the lone defeat coming as a one-point loss to San Antonio. In that time period, Porzingis has averaged 18.7 points and shot 48 percent.

3. Willie Cauley-Stein

nERD: 1.5

After missing almost all of December with a dislocated finger, Willie Cauley-Stein has returned slowly for Sacramento. The defensive-focused center was out for 14 games with the injury. They say you don't know what you got 'til it's gone, so let's look at the Kings sans Cauley-Stein to assess his true impact. 

Sacramento won 6 of 14 games during that time period, which is actually better than their record of 9-14 with him playing. If we look closer at the numbers, Cauley-Stein's impact on the team appears to diminish.

In the games for which Cauley-Stein was injured, the Kings held opponents to a field goal percentage almost three percentage points lower, according to In fact, in the team's first month and a half of the season when Cauley-Stein was playing, opponents shots 70% on shots within three feet. In the games he missed, opposing teams shot 60%.

While the Kings didn't rebound as well in Cauley-Stein's absence, it's clear that without him, the team actually played better. Obviously, this is due to several factors and the center's absence is just one of them, but it will be an interesting thing to keep an eye on as Cauley-Stein returns to full strength.

2. Nikola Jokic

nERD: 3.5

Coming in at number two is Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. After coming off the bench for a number of games in December, Jokic has taken back the starting role in the new year, which, surprisingly, may actually be a bad thing. As a reserve, Jokic averages 9.2 points off 54.8% shooting in 18.6 minutes per game. When he starts, Jokic is averaging 7.3 points off 53% shooting in 19.2 minutes.

Dig a little deeper and advanced stats paint the same picture. He has an Offensive Rating of 107 as a starter and 118 as a reserve, per Basketball-Reference. Now that he's back as a starter, we could see Jokic's solid grip on second place in our power rankings slip away.

Interesting fact of note: Jokic must have something against the Spurs. In the two games he's played against San Antonio as a reserve, Jokic has totaled 45 points and 19 rebounds. 

1. Karl-Anthony Towns

nERD: 5.2

While the rest of the list has fluctuated over the course of the season, Karl-Anthony Towns has led each time our power ranking have been published. A few times, Towns and Porzingis were knotted at the top of this list, with eerily similar stats.

Since then, for the most part, Towns has kept up his stats, averaging 15.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. Most impressively, is that Towns is still shooting well, with a field goal percentage of 53.3% -- and he's shooting well pretty much from everywhere. 

Towns < 5 ft. 5-9 ft. 10-14 ft. 15-19 ft. 20-24 ft.
Field Goal Percentage 66.3 44.0 43.9 46.2 42.6
Rank Among Rookies 9 3 2 3 5

Among qualified rookies -- defined as players who have averaged at least one such shot per game, Towns ranks in the top-five for each distance, per It should be noted that, while his close-range field goal percentage appears to be his worst compared with his peers, Towns is taking 4.9 shots within five feet per game, 2 more than anyone ranked above him. 

Towns' efficient, relatively high-volume scoring is a rarity among rookies. There are only five players who have shot a higher percentage while averaging as many points as Towns. That list includes Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan. Not bad company to be in.