NBA Rookie Power Rankings: Towns and Jokic Jostling for Top Position

Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Jokic are far and away the best rookies according to our nERD metric.

Two weeks ago, Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic stole away the top spot in our power rankings from Karl-Anthony Towns, the center for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Since then, the two have duked it out, competing for the number one spot.

Behind them a trio of big men with decidedly different playing styles make up the next three spots of our list, compiled by nERD. Let's take a look.

5. Kristaps Porzingis

nERD: 0.4

Several weeks ago, it was Kristaps Porzingis who was battling Towns for the number one spot. Since then Porzingis has fallen off his torrid pace. In five games in February, he's actually posted a negative Net Rating differential, according to Basketball-Reference. Now for the season, Porzingis has Offensive and Defensive Ratings of 103.

The most recent of those games was head coach Kurt Rambis' first game as coach, a loss to the Wizards. While it's hard to make a full judgement based on one game, Porzingis took 14 shots, two more than his season average. He also took six three-pointers, almost twice the number he averaged under Derek Fisher. Porzingis' Usage Rate against the Wizards was about four percentage points higher than his season average. Could this be a trend going forward? It's definitely something to keep an eye on. 

4. Willie Cauley-Stein

nERD: 2.2

In our last power rankings, I talked about Willie Cauley-Stein's increased importance on Sacramento's offense. As February begins to float by, it's clear that was no abnormality. In three of the four games Cauley-Stein has played this month, he's scored at least 13 points, while shooting a combined 20 for 26 from the floor. His blocks and rebounds went down during that period, but his offensive production can't be denied. Among players who have played at least 500 minutes this season, he's eighth in the league for Offensive Rating with a 122. The shortlist of players above him includes Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan and Stephen Curry.

Cauley-Stein knows what he's good at. 71 percent of his shots were taken at least three feet from the rim. He's also done a good job in pick-and-roll situations. As the roll man -- 13.5 percent of his touches come in such situations -- Cauley-Stein is averaging 1.23 points per possession, well above teammate DeMarcus Cousins who averages 1.04 as the roll man. That puts him in the top 20 among all qualified NBA players. 

3. Myles Turner

nERD: 2.4

Just ahead of Cauley-Stein is Myles Turner. Since being placed on our power rankings for the first time ever last week, Turner has continued to impress, posting his first two career double-doubles in the past two weeks. On the season, Turner is averaging just a shade under 10 points per game.

Since he earned a starting gig on January 28th, Turner has willed the Pacers to five victories in their past seven games. As a starter, he's averaging almost 15 minutes per game more than when he came off the bench. So while his per game numbers have shot up since earning a starting role, efficiency stats show he's actually tapered off recently. His Offensive Rating is down 14 points, and he's shooting almost seven percentage points worse. As Turner continues to start games for the Pacers, expect his per-36 stats to go down as his per-game numbers to continue to rise.

2. Karl-Anthony Towns

nERD: 5.7

After an extended stay at the top of these power rankings, Karl-Anthony Towns has now been second for two iterations in a row. Yet it's really no fault of his own. Town is playing some of his best basketball that he has all season. Since the last rankings update, Towns is averaging 21.5 points per game. He's now has double-doubles in each of his previous eight games, including a masterful 26-point and 17-rebound performance in a win over Chicago on Sunday. 

But what's particularly worrisome for the Timberwolves is that Towns is worse when he plays with Minnesota's other budding superstar, Andrew Wiggins.

Split FG% Points per Shot eFG%
Towns with Wiggins 53.7 1.18 55.0
Towns without Wiggins 58.5 1.30 59.4

Towns' efficiency numbers go way down when he has to share the floor with Wiggins. A similar, albeit not as obvious, trend occurs for the converse.

Split FG% Points per Shot eFG%
Wiggins with Towns 44.6 1.04 46.2
Wiggins without Towns 45.4 1.09 47.9

If a Towns-Wiggins combination is at the core of Minnesota's rebuilding process, then they may have to alter their playing styles in order to better each other. 

1. Nikola Jokic

nERD: 6.0

Since lighting up Toronto for 27 points and 14 rebounds, Nikola Jokic played four straight subpar games, shooting below 45 percent in all four games. Yet even still, his PER of 22.2 is second best among rookies, only a few tenths of a point beyond Towns. Surprisingly, Jokic has proved himself to be one of the best spot-up shooters in the league. According to, approximately 10 percent of his touches come on spot-up shots. He's shot 44.4 percent spotting up, just a bit below noted spot-up shooter, Kyle Korver. He also has averaged 1.17 points on spot-up possessions, right around what offensive juggernaut James Harden averages.

The Denver center has also been impressive defensively. While Towns and Porzingis get all the attention for stuffing the stat sheet with blocks, advanced stats seem to argue that Jokic has been just as effective defensively. 

Player Defensive Rating Defensive Box Plus Minus Defensive Win Shares Opponent's Difference in FG%
Jokic 104 1.9 1.2 -7.5
Towns 104 1.2 1.9 -5.4
Porzingis 103 1.1 2.1 -9.6

Aside from the fact that all these numbers are very good for any NBA player, much less a 20-year-old, Jokic clearly belongs in the conversation for rookie with the largest defensive impact.