NBA Rookie Power Rankings: Cauley-Stein Is Back in the Mix

Willie Cauley-Stein is producing whether he's starting or coming off the bench, but where is he in the Rookie of the Year race?

With only 45 days until the NBA playoffs, the awards race can really start heating up.

But in the case of the Rookie of the Year category, there may be only one real candidate to most people: Karl-Anthony Towns.

However, he has his own competition in terms of the advanced stat debate. And when we look at the numbers, we see a once-familiar face rejoin the ranks.

Who makes the cut this time around in our Rookie Power Rankings?

5. Kristaps Porzingis

nERD: 1.1

While the Knicks continue their slide, Kristaps Porzingis maintains his solid performance. The 7'3" center average just a shade under 15 points per game in February. His rebounding and shooting numbers took a bit of a hit in the month, sliding below his season averages. Also to be noted, his Usage Rate was the highest in February than any other month to date. His season Usage Rate is now at 24.2 percent, which places him second on the team and fourth among rookies. 

While the Knicks have struggled, Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony have continued to play well together. According to, the duo forms the Knicks' best two-man lineup with a plus/minus of 0.7. Interestingly enough, among qualified two-man lineups, Porzingis and Anthony actually have the worst field goal percentage -- the Knicks shoot a paltry 43.9 percent when both of them are on the court. 

New York Knicks Splits FG% eFG% TS PPP %AST
With Anthony and Porzingis 43.8 48.4 52.3 1.074 53.8
Without Anthony and Porzingis 40.7 44.4 49.7 0.99 58.8

Predictably, the team plays much better with them on the court across the board. It should be noted that the percent of baskets that are assisted drops by about five percentage points when Porzingis and Anthony play together.

4. Myles Turner

nERD: 2.1

Like we did with Porzingis, we'll also look at how  Myles Turner plays with the best player on his respective team. There's actually not a huge difference between the Pacers with Paul George and Turner on the floor as opposed to when they're on the bench. This can mainly be attributed to the fact that George and Turner's playing styles just don't mesh that well.

Myles Turner Splits PPP FG% TS% USG
With George 1.12 51.3 54.3 19.1
Without George 1.16 56.1 57.0 26.5

The most important stat to take away from this is the Usage Rate. Without George on the court, Turner's Usage Rate goes way up to second on the team. When George is on the bench, Turner drops way to sixth. With Indiana sitting at 31-29, the pair of forwards will have to figure it out if the Pacers want to make it far into the postseason.

3. Willie Cauley-Stein

nERD: 2.7

Since our last rankings, Willie Cauley-Stein lost his starting gig. He's played under 25 minutes in each game since the All-Star break, averaging 8.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in that time period. He's seen his Offensive Rating skyrocket in the five games since the break. It's now at 138 -- up from 121 in the first half of the season.

For comparison, the current leader in Offensive Rating for the season is Tristan Thompson, who sits at 128. A glance at his starter/reserve splits reveals that he largely performs at the same level whether starting a game or coming off the bench, so we'll likely expect him to continue his averages of 6.5 points and 5.4 rebounds even after this demotion. 

2. Nikola Jokic

nERD: 5.4

Nikola Jokic has continued his assault on nearly every single meaningful advanced metric. Just take a look.

Player TS% PER Off Rating Win Shares/48 Box Plus/Minus Off Box Plus/Minus Def Box Plus/Minus
Nikola Jokic .596 22.0 117.4 .187 5.0 2.8 2.2
Rank in NBA 15 19 11 16 10 20 20

What he is doing is remarkable. Just remember that this is a guy who is playing fewer than 20 minutes a game and averaging all of 9.5 points and 6.1 rebounds. It's even more amazing considering that the Nuggets aren't that good. A lot of the time, a role player's advanced numbers are skewed if he's on a really great team (e.g. Boban Marjanovic and Enes Kanter). But not the Nuggets, who sit at 23-37. 

1. Karl-Anthony Towns

nERD: 5.6

Like Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns also is a frequent guest on statistical leaderboards. He ranks in the top 10 in blocks per game as well as in the top 20 in PER and True Shooting Percentage. We're actually going to focus on something in this week's power rankings that often goes overlooked about Towns' game: his rebounding. Aside from ranking in the top 10 in per game numbers (averaging 10.3 per game), he is also 10th in the league in Rebounding Percentage, the much more telling statistic. At 19.3 percent, Towns is rebounding much better than some of his peers, including DeMarcus Cousins and Pau Gasol, both of whom rank above him in the per game numbers. 

In February, Towns was one of the best rebounders, if not all-around players, in the league. In addition to averaging 11.8 rebounds per game, Towns also averaged 21.1 points. If he could average these numbers across the entire season, he'd join Cousins and Anthony Davis as the only 20-point, 10-rebound players in the league. In February, he's also dishing out 2.3 assists and turning the ball over just 1.7 times per game, both of which are the best he's done so far in a month. Towns is doing this all while shooting almost 54 percent. 

Given all this -- and considering his nearest competitor is averaging fewer than 20 minutes per game -- Towns is still the clear favorite to win the Rookie of the Year trophy.