2022-23 NBA Rookie Rank Vol. 1
Our own Nathan Grubel has released the first edition of his rookie rankings for the 2022-23 NBA season.
Who said this wouldn’t be a good NBA rookie class??
If there’s one thing I love in basketball as much as scouting the next talent wave to crash the NBA Draft party, it’s watching those same players grow into the men they’re supposed to be in the league.
Rookie seasons are filled with a massive amount of ups and downs. Not only are players trying to find their footing with their new teams, playing up in competition against the best basketball talent in the world, but they’re also trying to navigate a new chapter of life as professionals. I can only imagine what it takes to do what they do on a daily basis, which is why I’m incredibly patient with guys in their first or second years in the NBA.
Try to compare what they’re going through to if you were to start a new job. Sure, you may have some skill and experience in the selected field, but does that mean you’re going to be a superstar within your first month on the job? First six months? First year? We’re always learning and figuring out how to become better at our crafts and optimize our workflow to better suit our needs as well as our employer’s desires. NBA rookies are trying to do the same, while also handling the pressure of fan bases and financial expectations.
So with all of that being said, the purpose of “Rookie Rank” is to highlight these young players who are standing out amongst their peers. Obviously, there will be certain aspects of their game illustrated throughout the year that require improvement, but the goal of this exercise is positivity. There are always things to be worked on; the job is never finished, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate achievements as they happen along the way.
One of those “achievements” is NBA Rookie of the Year, which is always a fascinating race to catalog, and the reason why this column will exist throughout the season.
Each month, I’ll give an update as to who comprises my current ladder as well as provide a few honorable mentions who may earn writing in future editions of my ranking.
Time to dive in to the first edition of “Rookie Rank” starting with a young star who has already emerged before our very eyes!
*All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference and Synergy Sports, and are as of 11/14/2022*
1. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
11 GP, 11 GS, 34.6 MPG
23.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 3.6 APG, 46.1/25.6/76.9 Shooting Splits, 19.3 PER, 55.6 TS%
Even though Paolo Banchero hasn’t been part of the Orlando Magic’s last few outings, he’s already laid the groundwork to win the Rookie of the Year award in dominating fashion.
Averaging nearly 24 PPG, Banchero has proven he’s one of the league’s most dynamic scorers at the forward position, and he’s doing it in a myriad of ways.
At a bruising 6’10” and 250 pounds, Banchero can play bully ball against the best NBA defenders. Whether it’s getting downhill and bowling over guys who are in his way, or backing someone down in the post to take advantage of a mismatch (95th percentile on post-up scoring), it’s tough to physically throw Banchero off his game even at this level. There’s very little that teams can do to stop Banchero when he establishes position in the paint; he already rates in the 72nd percentile scoring at the rim.
Away from the basket, Banchero has brought the creative playmaking ability that scouts loved about him in college to the pros. Putting up almost four assists a night, Banchero’s passing has helped his fellow Magic teammates in a big way. Playing alongside score-first guards in Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs, Banchero takes the pressure off them to initiate the offense, while also being capable of running inverted pick-and-roll sets with any guard on the roster AND with bigger forwards such as Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter.
Overall, Banchero ranks in the 55th percentile scoring out of pick-and-roll, which is an impressive mark for a rookie who has had as much responsibility coming in as he has.
The versatility of Banchero in the halfcourt has unlocked an impressive amount of lineups that the team has already gone to, with both Banchero and Wagner playing “point” and even trotting out lineups with as many as FOUR players 6’10” or taller! Few teams can match the size and length combinations that the Magic front office has clearly prioritized putting together in recent years, and now the team has a legitimate go-to offensive option to put the pieces around.
Now the offense isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, as Banchero rates poorly on jumpers and isn’t shooting an efficient mark from distance. He’s looked comfortable stepping into three-point shots on the break or stepping out beyond the arc, but it’s still a weakness of his at this point. That being said though, I’m perfectly fine with him wanting to do most of his damage inside the arc. The less he falls in love with the outside shot, the more pressure he can put on defenses to sink in and contain his efforts around the basket, opening up passing angles for Banchero to kick back out or dump off to help his teammates get buckets of their own.
Defensively, Banchero rates out as below average; by the eye test, though, I do think he’s held his own in a number of areas playing on the ball. It’s tough for smaller wings to take him off the bounce around the basket, as he’s one of the more physically imposing forwards in the league. When he’s engaged, he can keep pace with guards and bother perimeter shots. He has even shown some rim-protection capability when he’s been one of the lone bigs in a small-ball lineup.
Everyone who was shouting Banchero’s name to be taken with the first overall pick looks incredibly smart as of today. I had stated he was the one prospect out of the options near the top who had the best chance to serve as a team’s primary offensive option. Banchero has demonstrated that ability and more as a rookie, as he’s only scored fewer than 20 points TWO TIMES during this first stretch of the season! That’s INSANE for a player his age, and I would expect more of the same in the months to come as he gets healthy.
2. Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers
12 GP, 0 GS, 28.2 MPG
19.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.3 APG, 45.6/45.3/83.1 Shooting Splits, 17.2 PER, 62.5 TS%
If it weren’t for Paolo Banchero in this draft class, Bennedict Mathurin would have my vote as the favorite for Rookie of the Year.
Despite not starting in one game so far for the Indiana Pacers, Mathurin has been averaging close to 20 PPG on incredibly efficient shooting splits. Most notably, his three-point percentage has been sky-high for a first-year player—AND it’s remained high on real volume!
One would expect Mathurin to have to adjust to the NBA line and therefore shoot a lower mark than over 40% since he’s taking 6.3 three-point attempts per contest, but that just hasn’t been the case. Mathurin has dazzled with a variety of perimeter makes both self-created and not, rating in the 89th percentile on all jump shots.
On dribble jumpers, Mathurin rates in the 97th percentile, and the ratings are nearly identical whether those looks are guarded or unguarded. It hasn’t mattered if the defense gets a hand in his face. Mathurin has remained scorching hot and knocks down anything he looks at. When the Pacers have run sets for him to get an open shot, AKA off screens, Mathurin has taken advantage of those looks as well rating in the 86th percentile.
A threat in transition as well as in the halfcourt, Mathurin’s scoring repertoire has been really impressive for a young wing. The one area I will want to monitor for improvement offensively relates to his at-rim finishing, where he rates in the 29th percentile on layups. He’s made a killing on spot-up looks from distance, but until he’s able to finish better than 45.9% on two-point attempts, he may not be able to take his scoring effectiveness to quite the same heights as Banchero.
Mathurin’s defense hasn’t been nearly the same bright spot that his offense has, but that’s to be expected from young perimeter players. Bodying up bigger wings, switching, and adjusting to the speed of the game can have some negative effects on any rookie defender, and I’m confident that Mathurin will eventually adapt given his quickness, length, and competitive motor. After all, few players in this class want to come out and shove the ball down their opponent’s throat like him.
Despite being drafted outside of the Top 5, Mathurin has played with the type of mean streak that has led analysts to ponder if he has greater upside than those drafted before him. I can’t wait to continue tracking his development over the coming months.
3. Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons
13 GP, 13 GS, 31.4 MPG
15.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.8 APG, 44.6/35.1/72.5 Shooting Splits, 14.9 PER, 54.4 TS%
Starting all 13 of the games he’s played in, and taking part in nearly 32 minutes of action each night, Jaden Ivey has accepted the challenge of being Cade Cunningham’s second-in-command for the Detroit Pistons.
At times, Ivey looks the part of someone who should be on equal footing with a player like Cunningham. His scintillating brand of offense strikes fear in opposing defenses even at this level, as once he gets going to his right off that initial burst, it’s hard to contain Ivey. And if he’s already got a full head of steam on the break? Forget about it; Ivey is getting all the way to the cup and likely finishing that play with a bucket in his favor.
The incredible speed of Ivey is what left scouts wondering if he should’ve been the fourth pick to the Sacramento Kings instead of fellow rookie Keegan Murray. Yes, there were some real questions with Ivey surrounding his shooting, defense, and playmaking as a lead ball handler. But the equalizer that is his speed might’ve somehow been slightly overlooked, and the Pistons are taking advantage of all of his physical gifts.
And speaking of the shooting, I’d say averaging 35% on over four attempts from deep is a great starting point for the rookie guard as he continues to diversify his offensive skill set. For as much as it was a concern coming out of college, Ivey has begun to silence the doubters while also suggesting there’s more upside to his perimeter game. He’s much more comfortable dribbling into a jump shot as opposed to firing off the catch, but as he continues to improve his arsenal away from the ball he’ll be that much more effective of a scorer. After all, the threat of the jump shot is what’s key to dragging the defense out and burning them for doing so every time with that elite first-step quickness.
While Ivey’s defensive prospects have fared worse than Bennedict Mathurin’s, there are fewer pieces around him to help him on that end of the floor as far as the Pistons are concerned, and it’s a young team in its own right. As those guys continue to develop chemistry with one another and manage callouts, communicate switches, and better recognize opportunities to help one another, I’m confident that Ivey will continue to improve in that area. He is averaging over a steal per game, which is more of what I want to see from him on that end. If he can make plays on the ball to get himself going on the break, that’s the best way for him to help his team win games defensively. Turning those opportunities into offense is what he does best.
I’ll be fascinated to keep checking in with Ivey, as the Pistons’ collective is a fun, upcoming squad that can get a win on any given night.
4. Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings
11 GP, 9 GS, 32.0 MPG
12.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.2 APG, 45.7/38.6/77.8 Shooting Splits, 10.4 PER, 58.4 TS%
He may not be the sexiest NBA rookie out there, but man, can Keegan Murray still get it cooking offensively.
Murray has put his stamp on the game by doing the same things that put him on scouting radars when he was at Iowa, averaging a near 59% True Shooting mark living off catch-and-shoot jumpers.
No, he isn’t in nearly the same role as he was in college, but when his number has been called he’s been able to answer by taking and making good shots. Shot prep, positioning, and awareness are all key parts of his game, and what makes him such a good off-ball weapon for the Sacramento Kings to have on the floor at any given time.
Murray rates in the 61st percentile on spot-ups and has his way with open looks from deep, but it’s his cutting that has really helped him get easy buckets around the basket. Murray is currently in the 85th percentile on cuts, as his heads-up movement without the ball has helped him take advantage of defensive lapses in very similar ways to what he did at the previous level, be it on a dive or an open jumper.
Murray is ready and willing to do anything he can to help his team win games. He rebounds for his position, moves the ball, and does the little things offensively.
Where there’s room for concern for me are two areas: at-rim finishing off self-created looks, and defense, where he hasn’t been a spectacular player either.
I praised his defensive efforts in college because he just always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. That hasn’t quite worked out the same way in the NBA, and he’s able to be beaten off the bounce as he doesn’t have quite the same lateral quickness as other forwards in his positional grouping. But he does play with effort, and as he gets more familiar with the speed of the NBA, I’d venture to guess we’ll see more of the defensive playmaking that scouts were familiar with from his Iowa tape.
As for the offensive question I have, I would also expect that issue to iron itself out gradually over the course of this season and his next few years in the league. Murray wasn’t billed as an isolation player able to create something out of nothing no matter the situation in college, nor should we expect the same from him right away in the NBA. But Murray is capable of finishing better around the rim on those attempts seeing as he’s 7-for-8 on cuts as mentioned above. Improving his transition finishing will also get those numbers up, even if it filling the lane a little more often as opposed to sprinting to the corners for those transition threes.
Ups and downs for Murray, but overall I’ve still liked what I’ve seen. There are a few guys behind him in this ranking who could jump him by its next edition though, so we’ll see if he can make the adjustments necessary to maintain this position.
5. Shaedon Sharpe, Portland Trail Blazers
12 GP, 4 GS, 20.8 MPG
9.0 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.4 APG, 51.8/44.4/72.7 Shooting Splits, 11.8 PER, 60.1 TS%
Speaking of rookies who could challenge to move up a few spots, Shaedon Sharpe has looked awfully good in a more limited run for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Despite not playing a high-minute role for the team due to more experienced options in front of him, Sharpe has still gotten to start in four games and has made the most of when he’s been on the floor on both ends, quite frankly. For all that I’ve talked about defensive lapses and limitations for a few names in front of Sharpe, I think Shaedon has done a great job given his age at defending on the ball.
Sharpe's rating in the 50th percentile in total defense at this point as a teenager is a fascinating development for the Blazers. To be honest, I hated Sharpe’s defense from the high school tape that I watched and hoped for more. He’s 6’6” with a great build and top-tier athleticism, so he certainly has the physical tools to defend multiple positions on the perimeter.
After watching the tape from some of his time in the NBA, it looks as though he’s giving much better effort, making use of those tools to contest shots and not give up easy looks to his opponents.
Sharpe’s defense hasn’t been the only bright spot, though. His offense, particularly his cutting and perimeter shooting, has given him some really nice skills to work with as his role expands this year and beyond.
Whether it’s creating his own shot with the ball in his hands, or coming off screens or backdoors to catch and finish on the move, Sharpe has generated efficient offense shooting over 50% from the field overall, an impressive mark for a player his age.
Our own Corey Tulaba recently did a breakdown on YouTube going into more of his offensive game in-depth, so I highly recommend watching below to get a better feel of why Sharpe is on his way to passing a few of the names above him in the next edition of my ranking.
6. Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets
12 GP, 12 GS, 29.7 MPG
10.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 0.8 APG, 31.5/28.6/84.6 Shooting Splits, 6.8 PER, 43.8 TS%
Some people may be wondering why Jabari Smith Jr. still ended up this high in my ranking despite the incredibly noticeable shooting struggles.
To that, I say that I still very much so respect his effort and willingness to keep shooting and trying new things on the court while continuing to play a large number of minutes for the Houston Rockets.
Smith’s spirit hasn’t been defeated despite the shooting woes, and there are enough of them. I don’t need to get into any of his Synergy ratings offensively because the raw splits speak for themselves. But Smith is clearly still trying to adjust to what his role can be in the NBA.
There were a number of scouts who thought the best version of Smith was as a jumbo “3-and-D” wing that spaced the floor for everyone else while also being active in guarding a number of positions defensively. The self-creation issues on offense have in fact reared their ugly heads as they did in college, but his defensive effort hasn’t waned.
No, everything he’s done on that end hasn’t been perfect either. But Smith has kept competing on the glass and doesn’t die on defensive possessions. As he gets stronger, he’ll be able to better contain drives in isolation and challenge more shots at the rim. He’ll continue to learn from the film about how to read and react defending on the perimeter, which will help him recognize and understand the same angles he played well at the college level. He still isn’t the easiest defender to get around, and I expect to keep seeing improvements there.
Offensively, Smith will break out of the shooting slumps that have marred him since Summer League. He’s too good mechanically to continue shooting as poorly as he is on jumpers. Even if the at-rim finishing doesn’t trend upwards like a lot of evaluators hoped in projecting him as a top pick in the draft, the version of himself where he knocks down 40-plus percent on his triples and 85-plus percent on free throw attempts when he can get to the line is a player worth having—especially a player at 6’10” who has the upside to defend like he did at Auburn.
I’ve given Smith the benefit of the doubt in the earliest part of the season, and am intrigued to see where his story progresses next, because when he’s at his best, there aren’t too many guys his size who can match his full two-way output.
7. Jalen Duren, Detroit Pistons
11 GP, 0 GS, 21.4 MPG
6.5 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 0.4 APG, 55.4/0.0/38.5 Shooting Splits, 14.0 PER, 53.4 TS%
Posting eerily similar numbers to Andre Drummond when he was a rookie with the Detroit Pistons, Jalen Duren has produced in a lot of the same ways when he’s gotten opportunities.
Finishing a high percentage of his looks at the rim, Duren is a lob-catching machine and a capable roll man. If his outside shooting EVER would come around (although by the lack of attempts outside of the paint and the poor free-throw shooting that’s not an argument I’m willing to have quite yet), he could end up being one of the league’s most impactful centers at different points in his career.
Even as a rookie, he’s averaging 12.4 (!!) rebounds per 36 minutes. That’s quite the level of productivity on the glass, and it’s not just from snaring missed shots forced up by the opposing team. Duren’s nose for gathering up his own team’s bricks has been a welcome sight in Detroit, as his second-chance opportunities have helped his team stay afloat offensively while he’s been on the floor.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Duren’s rim-running, vertical spacing-driven offensive attack, as he is reminiscent of not just Drummond but DeAndre Jordan when he was at the peak of his highlight-generating powers.
Also, rating out in the 95th percentile in terms of total defense isn’t too shabby for the stud center either. His ability to guard one-on-one, protect the rim, and even switch a little bit on the perimeter has been a nice complement to whomever he shares the floor with at the other forward spot. I really want to keep seeing experimental minutes with Isaiah Stewart and Duren on the floor together. As long as Beef Stew keeps firing away from deep at an effective rate, they really help each other on both ends—but I won’t argue with the Bojan-Duren minutes either!
It looks like the Pistons have found its center of the future, and I can’t wait to keep watching the lobs between Duren and backcourt running mates Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey.
8. Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz
12 GP, 0 GS, 14.7 MPG
5.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 0.7 APG, 66.7/0.0/50.0 Shooting Splits, 20.7 PER, 65.1 TS%
Did ANYONE out there have Walker Kessler as the leading rookie candidate to have the highest PER rating amongst his peers through this part of the regular season?
No? OK, cool, because I also didn’t expect this to happen.
Well, actually, I didn’t expect the Utah Jazz to be one of the best teams in the Western Conference up to this point either, but here we are. For as much as it’s been about the veterans like Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson, and Mike Conley, Kessler has looked really good defensively in his minutes.
While he’s not playing an incredibly large role on the team, Kessler’s rim protection in his limited minutes has looked identical to his performance at Auburn.
Kessler swallows drivers whole should they choose to try and go into his body. When we talk about shot blockers, usually weak-side rotations are where a lot of clean blocks are generated. Kessler welcomes his teammates funneling him opportunities to defend drives, and just shuts down whatever comes his way. He keeps his balance, doesn’t bite on whatever BS the offensive player throws at him, and just plays the ball straight up and gets his hands on it.
Kessler is fundamentally sound defending around the basket, but obviously, there are certain holes when he’s pulled away from it. Kessler isn’t the fleetest of foot but the Jazz use him in specific coverages to where his strengths are highlighted far more often than his weaknesses.
Offensively, he’s been lights out three feet and in, and sits in the 100th percentile in transition offense. When Kessler has been able to roll or run at the rim in any capacity, he has caught that rock and jammed it home. I’ll take 68% shooting at the basket overall for a rookie big who still has plenty of room to fill out and get stronger.
He isn’t a leaper or a gazelle running up and down the floor, but Kessler just knows how to play the game. There was a time when he was the top big on my board after Jalen Duren, and the early returns suggest he’s the better investment over Charlotte Hornets rookie Mark Williams. I’ll still gladly hold on to my Williams stock, but Kessler has garnered the same respect from me that I had for him in his dominant Auburn campaign.
After all, any young center who can post a 9.2 block percentage with per 36 averages of 13.3 PPG and 12.9 RPG is a winner in my book regardless of where they were drafted.
9. Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio Spurs
12 GP, 12 GS, 23.8 MPG
7.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 49.4/20.0/57.1 Shooting Splits, 9.9 PER, 53.7 TS%
The 2022 NBA Draft’s most interesting man, Jeremy Sochan has quietly held onto a consistent starting role for the San Antonio Spurs.
I can’t comment enough on how rare it is for any rookie to gain that much playing time from Gregg Popovich. Coach Pop is always about playing the vets and letting the “prospects” learn the ropes from the sidelines. Sochan was thrust into the fire from day one because of his defensive ability, and overall the flashes have been encouraging for the youngster.
Certainly, there have been ups and downs defensively, as he doesn’t rate out well by the numbers. However, Sochan competes on that end and uses his length and agility to alter shots and contain a number of matchups in front of him. As with a lot of rookies, he needs to get better at defending away from the ball, and adding to his strength base will allow him less trouble when trying to body up bigger wings, forwards, and even some centers in smaller lineups. But Sochan plays hard, doesn’t give up on possessions, and still likes to rebound the ball defensively.
On the offensive side, he’s still very much about the transition game. It makes up the largest percentage of his attack on offense, with spot-up looks and cuts comprising the other larger slices of the pie. He’s been decent finishing around the basket, and he has had some really nice dunks already, but anything away from the basket hasn’t gone well for him offensively. The jump shot is still a ways away from being a nightly weapon for him, and until he’s more of a threat to stretch the floor he won’t have a ton of catch-and-drive opportunities as he could if the defense was more committed to closing out hard on the forward.
Still, any 6’9” forward who plays the game with his enthusiasm, can handle the rock and pass in transition, and defend multiple positions like he does projects to in time deserves a chance to prove himself on the floor. Pop is giving him that chance, and I expect Sochan to keep making the most of it as the year goes on.
10. Tari Eason, Houston Rockets
13 GP, 0 GS, 18.4 MPG
8.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 42.7/44.0/78.9 Shooting Splits, 18.0 PER, 51.7 TS%
Death, taxes, and Tari Eason finding a way to have a good PER off the bench.
Despite not starting, Eason once against has one of the higher efficiency ratings amongst his peers as a backup option. He operated the same way at LSU, being a super-sub for the Tigers and posting ridiculous metrics while doing so.
The numbers aren’t as staggering as they were last year, but I’ll take what he’s given the Houston Rockets up to this point. Also, as someone who had to walk back skepticism about Eason, I’ll say that I expect him to improve his spot in the ranking as the season goes on.
Shooting has actually been a bright spot for Eason, as he’s converted on a high percentage from deep and has continued to hit his free throws when he’s gotten to the line. Converting on shots away from the basket wasn’t viewed as a strong suit of Eason’s coming out of college, but he was also knocking those looks down in Summer League and seems poised to keep doing so in the NBA so long as those shots don’t creep up too high in volume while he’s still adjusting to the pro game.
What the callout is regarding his offensive game revolves around the scoring inside the arc. Eason rates in the 25th percentile in transition offense, and in the 5th percentile on layups; that’s not the Eason the numbers foretold would step foot into the league.
However, I took note of some things that bothered me about his finishing in college, particularly in traffic. Eason is a big forward who has the size, length, and vertical pop to finish over defenders. I found it a bit alarming though to see these high-efficiency ratings in the paint, yet the majority of those makes were uncontested. When Eason had to finish THROUGH defenses as opposed to over or around them, I didn’t see the level of touch that would indicate he’d maintain those marks when he first got to the NBA.
That notion of mine has held true, BUT I also fully expect that to correct itself in time as Eason gets better at taking different angles to the basket and hunting for more advantageous opportunities.
Defensively, he’s been a bit of a mixed bag and has gone back into gambling mode as opposed to what we saw in Las Vegas, where I was quick to discuss how he was a more measured, patient defender. When he can use his quick hands to poke the ball free and get out on the break, he looks as good as any other big wing or forward. But right now, he can be beaten on defense, and if he isn’t converting a high percentage of his looks offensively it’s easy to understand why he hasn’t gotten a larger role up to this point.
Still, I think Eason is the best wing/combo forward this team has on the roster and by the All-Star break, I still think he should be starting for the Rockets. A lineup of KPJ, Jalen Green, Eason, Smith, and Alperen Sengun is too much fun to pass up on both ends. When Eason’s offensive game gets clicking more than it is, especially the passing, he could mesh well with those other pieces and bring great value to Houston’s starting lineup.
Andrew Nembhard, Indiana Pacers
MarJon Beauchamp, Milwaukee Bucks
Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Jake LaRavia, Memphis Grizzlies
David Roddy, Memphis Grizzlies