NBA Rookie Power Rankings: Nikola Jokic Takes Over the Top Spot
It seems as though as soon as I called out the NBA's rookies two weeks ago for hitting the rookie wall, the rookies broke through and began performing at a high level again.
This week, all five of our rookies have nERD scores above 1.5. For comparison, last week, we only had three who were even above 1.0.
We've also got a new leader at the top and a new face at number three. Let's take a look at the best rookies through half a season of play.
5. Kristaps Porzingis
Except for an unexceptional nine-point performance way back on January 1st, Porzingis has been in double figures every game in 2016. His performance has been so great recently that Kevin Durant called him a unicorn because of his unique size and skill. Porzingis' scoring numbers are actually pretty similar to Durant's rookie season. Durant posted 21.1 points per-36 minutes. Porzingis is a little off from that (17.8), but his efficiency numbers are actually slightly better than Durant's (52.4 percent True Shooting Percentage versus 51.9 percent for Durant.)
Defensively, he's made highlight reels for his seemingly impossible blocks. But his defense is more than just flash. He's currently fourth in the NBA in Block Percentage, and his blocks actually help out his team considerably. The Knicks are able to corral 56.5 percent of his blocks compared with 47.8 percent for league leader Hassan Whiteside.
He's been dominant near the rim, ranking in the top 10 in the difference between what a shooter usually shoots from a particular spot and what he shoots when Porzingis is guarding him. Porzingis is holding opponents to over 10 percentage points lower than their usually shooting percentage within six feet.
4. Willie Cauley-Stein
After taking more than seven shots in just one of his first 26 games, Willie Cauley-Stein has attempted at eight or more shots in four of his last five games, scoring 51. In three of those last five games, he scored more than 10 points, marking the only three times he's done that all season. Minutes-wise, he's similarly seen his role on the team increase.
Interestingly enough, Cauley-Stein plays much better with fellow center DeMarcus Cousins on the floor as well. Across this recent five-game stretch of games with Cousins, Cauley-Stein is averaging 1.23 points per possession on 60 percent shooting. When Cousins goes to the bench, Cauley-Stein's numbers drop to 1.10 points per possession and 50 percent shooting. Perhaps not surprisingly, the combination of Cauley-Stein and Cousins is incredibly important to the surging Kings.
In the past five games, with the pair of dominant big men on the court, Sacramento has scored 1.106 points per possession. In the minutes the Kings have played without the pair, the team has averaged a paltry 0.80 points per possession. While this is a small sample size, look out for the duo for the rest season, especially if Cauley-Stein continues to get the opportunities allotted to him of late.
3. Myles Turner
Coming in at number three is a new face: Myles Turner. Though he has not started a single game this year, Turner has played efficient minutes averaging 8.9 points on 56.8 percent shooting in 16.8 minutes per game. The center sports an impressive PER of 20.5. Turner has been a beast inside, making 80 percent of his field goals within three feet of the hoop. Despite this success, he's taken just 27 percent of his shots near the basket.
Turner has developed a tendency to drift away from the basket; about 41 percent of his shots have been shots from farther than 16 feet away. He's actually been very successful at it, connecting on 50.8 percent of shots 15-24 feet away from the basket. That's good for fifth in the league among qualified players.
With six straight double-digit games under his belt, expect more big things from Turner all season.
2. Karl-Anthony Towns
For the first time all year, Karl-Anthony Towns isn't in first in our power rankings. But that's not Towns' fault, who's actually played some of his best basketball lately. With 20 points and 10 rebounds in three of his last five games, Towns has continued to show why he was taken first overall by Minnesota. He's now in the top 20 in the league in PER and the top six in field goal percentage. He arguably had his best game of the season when he scored 27 points, pulled down 17 rebounds and blocked 7 shots in the Timberwolves' loss to the Pelicans last week.
In addition to averaging 11.9 rebounds per-36, Towns' Rebounding Rate has placed him among the best in the NBA. He's collected about 27.2 percent of defensive rebound chances when he's on the floor, comparable to Cousins and Tyson Chandler. No other qualified rookie is within six percentage points.
1. Nikola Jokic
Dethroning Towns was no easy task. But thanks to a stretch of solid performances from Nikola Jokic, Towns' grip on first place is no more. So let's see how Jokic did it.
Last week I said that if Jokic were to start for the Nuggets on a consistent basis he'd see his performance drop substantially. Of course, Jokic went out there and proved me wrong. In seven games since then (six of them starts) he scored 80 points and shot 59 percent. His season averages now stand at 9.0 points and 5.4 assists per game, nothing spectacular. But advanced analytics love him. Besides being the best rookie in nERD, Jokic is also 12th in the entire NBA in Box Plus Minus and 9th in Offensive Rating. Toss in a top 20 rank in Win Shares per 48, and it's clear that there's something about Nikola.
Russell Peddle recently broke down how Enes Kanter is an advanced analytics anomaly. Jokic is very similar. Advanced stats love him mainly because he's been so efficient. He's fifth in the league with a True Shooting Percentage of 61.9 percent. Playing in just 19 minutes per game, Jokic is averaging 5.6 shots per game. Yet he has shown the ability to maintain his efficiency with increased volume. The big man has taken at least eight shots in 10 games this year. In those 10 games, he's made 54.9 percent of his shots.
If Jokic remains the starter the rest of the season, he'll get a chance to prove to everyone that he's no anomaly. He'll likely continue to get a higher Usage Rate the more he starts. Will his efficiency remain among the best in the league? Only time can tell.