2022-23 NBA Rookie Rank Vol. 3: Under The Radar Edition
In this edition of Rookie Rank, our own Nathan Grubel takes a look at not only the NBA rookies leading the way on his All-Rookie ballot, but those who have made smaller impacts under the radar.
Welcome back to another edition of the Rookie Rank here at No Ceilings!
Normally, this is where I highlight the play of the NBA’s best rookies and order them based on how I would vote on an All-Rookie ballot. The ten best players would make up my All-Rookie First and Second teams.
While you can still find my latest update below, that’s not all I wanted to focus on in this column.
Sure, there are meaningful updates to rookies who have been consistently getting minutes over the last few months, but there are a number of players who are either back-and-forth between the NBA and the G-League, or have been putting up awesome performances in the NBA’s “minor league” and are worthy of praise.
Therefore, I’ve made it a mission this time around to make this one of the most comprehensive rookie coverage pieces on the web, before I release my final ballot/rankings in April towards the end of the regular season.
I’m not going about ranking those who I’m discussing outside of my usual ladder, so you can find them below in no particular order.
So let’s not waste any more time. First, my updated ranking and then some under-the-radar highlights!
*All stats used courtesy of Basketball-Reference and Synergy Sports, and are accurate as of 2/18/23*
Rookie Rank Vol. 3
1. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
52 GP, 52 GS, 33.7 MPG
19.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 3.6 APG, 0.9 STL, 0.5 BLK, 2.7 TOV
41.9/28.1/75.3 Shooting Splits, 15.0 PER, 52.7 TS%
Despite some dips in his shooting efficiencies compared to the start of the season, Paolo Banchero has continued to help the Orlando Magic not only compete on a nightly basis but also win games in the Eastern Conference.
It’s not just about the scoring with Banchero. His passing ability in the halfcourt has helped open up opportunities for his other teammates, including Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter, and Markelle Fultz. Not to mention he can play off them as well, able to set screens up top, pop into a short roll, and act as a scoring or passing option from there.
Normally, rookies struggle to find their footing offensively in terms of variety. They’re given a role to play, and that is the basis of their game as they adjust to the speed and physicality of the NBA. Banchero has registered enough possessions in virtually every type per Synergy to be categorized by percentile.
The fact that he’s versatile enough to stand out in a number of areas, even if the efficiency isn’t fully there, is a strong argument in his favor along with the fact he’s started in every game he’s played. He’s looked to as a primary scoring option, trading duties back and forth with Wagner, and he’s done so while playing nearly 34 minutes a night!
Workload, consistent scoring output, and making an impact on winning are the ingredients to me as far as determining a Rookie of the Year in the NBA. Despite a strong push from the guy below him, Banchero remains the favorite to land in that spot for me come April.
2. Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers
60 GP, 6 GS, 28.2 MPG
17.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.6 STL, 0.1 BLK, 1.8 TOV
42.9/31.9/82.9 Shooting Splits, 13.6 PER, 56.1 TS%
Just as Paolo Banchero has made his team competitive in a loaded conference, Bennedict Mathurin helped to do the same for quite a while up until Tyrese Haliburton had to miss a few weeks of action.
The Indiana Pacers could’ve been a playoff team had the pace they were on through December held up as far as games won, which was a remarkable turn of events for a squad that was thought to be one of the few in the East to drive the bandwagon for the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. Mathurin’s consistent impact off the bench kept the second unit steady and gave Indiana another athletic scorer to slot next to Haliburton in closing lineups.
While he’s gotten more opportunities of late to show more one-on-one scoring ability, Mathurin was very much an off-ball threat for the majority of the year. He got a lot of his points by finding open lanes to cut into, getting out in transition, and spotting up from deep.
But to his credit, he kept working on getting more involved consistently going to the basket to where he’s now up to six (!!) free throw attempts per game AS A ROOKIE! Hitting on nearly 83% of them is one great way to up a scoring average.
During his sophomore year at Arizona, Mathurin took leaps as not only a driver but also as a live-dribble passer. Continuing to improve in that area of his game offensively will only add to his three-level potential as an offensive dynamo. Mathurin has the body control to finish around the rim, and the coordination and shooting mechanics to stop on a dime and pull up from the middle of the floor or from three.
Mathurin, one of the league’s best young wings, will only keep getting better. To his credit, he has as high of a ceiling as any in his class, and he could end up an All-Star within a few seasons.
3. Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder
53 GP, 40 GS, 29.0 MPG
12.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.2 STL, 0.5 BLK, 1.6 TOV
50.8/32.4/75.9 Shooting Splits, 13.6 PER, 57.9 TS%
Speaking of versatility, that doesn’t only apply to the top-ranked player this time around.
Jalen Williams may actually be a better definition of that word, as he’s quite literally been all that and a bag of chips for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Initially coming off the bench, Williams has slotted in quite well as a starting forward, and he has played up and down the lineup on both ends.
He’s 6’5”, but because of his ridiculous 7’2” wingspan, he’s played a number of minutes at the PF position, helping to contest shots down low and body up bigger forwards. Williams also has the instincts to play on the perimeter and man passing lanes. Able to navigate through screens (although that’s his weakest area defensively) and make life difficult for guards, there’s little that JDub can’t do defensively, especially factoring in how good he’s been as a rebounder pound-for-pound.
Offensively, Williams has done everything from handling the ball to acting as a screener to set up an opportunity for someone else or to roll and pop for his own bucket. An adept cutter, rim finisher, and heady playmaker, Williams fits the modern NBA so well.
Williams is likely to continue getting better as a spot-up shooter, and he is a consistent three-point shot away from knocking on the door of All-Star in a few years. Yes, I mean that quite literally. We loved Williams at No Ceilings, as I personally thought his floor was solidified as a steady role player in the league.
But I didn’t see this coming so quickly. I’ve seen plenty of examples of on-ball ability to where it wouldn’t shock me if some even called him a “point forward” for the Thunder. His passing jumped off the screen in college at Santa Clara, but the gravity he’s been able to command in just his rookie year has been fascinating to watch.
Keep climbing, JDub.
4. Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings
55 GP, 53 GS, 29.5 MPG
11.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.7 STL, 0.5 BLK, 0.9 TOV
44.2/41.5/79.4 Shooting Splits
No, his game still isn’t sexy. But it’s highly effective for ANY player in the NBA, let alone a rookie!
All Keegan Murray has really been asked to do is shoot the rock as soon as he touches it; either that or keep it moving within the flow of the offense. He’s done that incredibly well for a team that’s near the top of the Western Conference.
Murray rates in the 53rd percentile or higher in each of his top play types offensively (besides transition). You can work him off screens or handoffs, get him going to the basket on cuts, or let him space the floor for everyone around him and shoot the hell out of the ball. Murray’s off-ball equity is something I would venture to say a lot of teams wish they had, especially given his youth and contract value.
There are still areas of his game that need improvement, as he isn’t a high-level rim finisher yet at this level, and his defense has been worse than what he showed previously at Iowa. But he’s still alert and aware of what’s going on around him on both ends; he just needs to become better at proactively positioning himself to make a play or contest vs. being reactive and getting left in the dust because he isn’t the quickest or longest player at his position to recover.
Even if Murray doesn’t further blossom into an on-ball scoring wing similar to a Tobias Harris, he’s an effective spacer, ball mover, and rebounder. He likely will serve just fine in a team defensive role. That’s an effective glue guy worthy of a selection this high in a re-draft down the road, especially as he further hones his craft.
Well done, Sacramento, for drafting a talent who was the right fit in the short term, but also has the value necessary to build WITH in the long term.
5. Jalen Duren, Detroit Pistons
51 GP, 26 GS, 25.2 MPG
8.6 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.6 STL, 0.9 BLK, 1.2 TOV
65.3/0.0/61.1 Shooting Splits, 16.8 PER, 65.9 TS%
I wouldn’t have guessed a few months ago that I would move Jalen Duren ahead of his teammate Jaden Ivey in these rankings, yet here we are.
Duren has been that impressive on both ends of the floor as one of the most RELIABLE players up and down the Pistons roster.
As a baseline, Duren is 6’10”, 250 pounds, and springy getting off the floor to utilize his length to challenge shots around the basket and finish lobs.
When evaluating prospects for the draft, sometimes we (meaning me) still find ways to underrate how athleticism can add to immediate impact in the league. No, Duren doesn’t possess the greatest box-out technique in the world, yet he’s had an incredible season as a rebounder. And I’m not sure his timing and anticipation blocking shots are on par with that of Chet Holmgren last year at Gonzaga, yet he still has a 3.2% block rate as a rookie.
Duren jumps higher and further than any other big man in his class, which also puts him in excellent company when comparing him to bigs around the NBA. If he isn’t a 7-footer with the bulk to bang down low for days, he has to have the edge in the speed and verticality departments. He certainly does, and he’s no slouch in the strength department either.
What really woke me up to Duren’s case, though, was his dominant performance against the San Antonio Spurs a few weeks ago. Showing real touch in the post, defending in space, and unmatched activity on the boards, Duren put on a show that is telling for what the rest of his career will look like.
He’s essentially Andre Drummond 2.0 for the Pistons, which is ironic because of Drummond’s tenure with said franchise. Drummond was a rock for the Pistons for a number of years, and there’s a chance Detroit found a potentially better version in Duren.
It’s a lofty comparison, as Drummond is one of the best rebounders I’ve seen in my time watching basketball, on top of his high-level finishing and flashes of ball-handling and playmaking off the bounce.
Duren has those talents, with a skills package trending in the direction of Bam Adebayo in Miami.
Talk about talent. If this race ended today, he’d get the last spot on my First Team All-Rookie ballot.
6. Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons
55 GP, 54 GS, 30.1 MPG
15.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 4.6 APG, 0.9 STL, 0.2 BLK, 2.8 TOV
42.0/33.2/72.5 Shooting Splits, 12.2 PER, 52.7 TS%
Jaden Ivey has had a better rookie season than he’s going to get credit for having.
I wouldn’t put his highs quite on par with the names ahead of him, but he’s also had to play a role that’s one of the most difficult to adapt to when playing up in the NBA.
Ivey, essentially the team’s point guard due to Cade Cunningham missing the majority of the year to injury, has had to develop on the job. Tip of the cap to him as he’s fought through his own inefficiencies and struggles in a number of areas to continue growing as a lead ball handler.
Coming out of college, Ivey’s upside was perceived as playing on the ball to take advantage of his rim pressure. Ivey is a blur getting to the basket, and that much has translated as expected.
But coming off those screens at the top in pick-and-roll actions was what scouts wanted to see continued work on—making the right decisions, using that start/stop to throw defenders off balance, and reading the next levels of the defense to kick out, skip, and pass the ball where it needs to go apart from just hitting the roll man in stride.
Ivey still has a ways to go in that department in terms of efficiency, as he rates in the 37th percentile in pick-and-rolls including passes. Sitting below the 20th percentile overall in offensive efficiency, there’s a lot of flair and pizazz when it comes to Ivey’s offensive attack, but not enough substance behind it YET.
He’s shown flashes of creativity as a passer and is one hell of a weapon to have in transition. As he gets better with his floater in the paint or mid-range pull-up, his overall offensive attack will blossom into what was promised before the draft.
As for Ivey’s defense, it’s fairly non-existent yet. He’s still getting caught on screens constantly, and ball-watching too often. Ivey may never become an All-Defense caliber guard, but there are ways he can and should be able to improve given his speed and length to recover and play angles to create deflections, contests, and turnover opportunities.
I expected Ivey to go through some growing pains as a rookie guard, but that doesn’t mean his high ceiling has evaporated into thin air. Point guards and centers have difficult jobs in today’s NBA, as the number of callouts that need to be made along with the number of decisions that have to be processed in short order is staggering.
The best things in life take time. Be patient, Pistons fans; you have a great one in Ivey.
7. Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz
57 GP, 23 GS, 21.3 MPG
8.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.4 STL, 2.1 BLK, 0.8 TOV
71.2/0.0/54.4 Shooting Splits, 21.0 PER, 69.8 TS%
Another Rookie Rank column, another absurd stat line in terms of efficiency from Walker Kessler.
Still sporting a PER over 20 for a rookie, Kessler’s impact is felt every time he sets foot on an NBA floor. That one sentence alone is more than I could say for 80-90% of rookies historically in the league.
His role is simple, yet so, so effective: hit the glass on both ends, protect the rim, and finish anything close to the basket.
What more could an NBA team want out of their rookie big man? He’s a brick wall for opposing ball handlers to try and navigate through on their way to the rim. Kessler is a mountain of a man, and good luck trying to go into his body to get a shot off.
That’s what guards are taught when having to go against the trees: go into their body and take the shot to them. Well, that didn’t work with Kessler in college and it still isn’t in the NBA.
His technique and instincts have him on pace to become one of the league’s most storied shot blockers EVER. That’s as high of praise as anyone could give out in a piece like this.
And if he EVER figures out how to shoot consistently from the outside, then he could blow a Brook Lopez 2.0 comp out of the water.
I put Duren ahead of Kessler for the time being, more so because I wanted to reward him for an under-the-radar great season that’s gone a tad unnoticed because of how bad the Pistons have been as a collective in a race to the bottom for Victor Wembanyama. I could easily flip this and have Kessler on my final ballot for First Team All-Rookie.
Matter of fact, I’d wager on that to happen in a few months. Kessler is one of the best stories league-wide, and he’s still getting better.
8. Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio Spurs
48 GP, 45 GS, 25.9 MPG
10.0 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.8 STL, 0.5 BLK, 1.7 TOV
44.8/26.2/69.3 Shooting Splits, 10.7 PER, 50.6 TS%
Yes, it’s true, I’ve used spots within the Top 10 to showcase other guys worthy of praise this season. That very reason led to Jeremy Sochan spending some time outside of my main ranking earlier on.
Well, not anymore. Don’t mess with the Sochan!!
He’s essentially started all year long for the San Antonio Spurs, and more notably Gregg Popovich. Coach Pop has a fickle way of showing affection to rookies, as they usually don’t see the floor a lot.
Sochan has bucked that trend in large part due to his defensively versatility and effectiveness in transition. Sochan can make a play on defense, and handle the ball sprinting to the other end to get a basket. The Spurs are arguably the worst halfcourt offensive team in the league, in large part due to their youth. So why not play guys who can feed into transition offense opportunities?
And that “sales pitch” for inserting Sochan into the starting lineup from the jump has begun to really pay off, as he’s been able to develop the other parts of his game including his playmaking.
“Point Sochan” took Twitter by storm a few months ago, and he’s recently had some scoring outputs in a more ball-dominant role to really fuel that fire. Sochan is better than advertised at getting to his spots, finding the right man, or finishing the play himself. He’s far from the usual spot-up PF who you’d find on the floor to finish possessions in today’s NBA. Sochan makes things happen with the ball, and the fact he has as much craft as he does at 19 is pretty wild.
A great threat to catch and drive or operate from his own at the top getting downhill, Sochan has taken his game to another level with his post-up play. His ability to turn, face, and knock down the middy J, or use that as a threat to get a step and finish around the basket has been awesome to watch. Throw in when he’s able to use that same footwork to execute a dump-off pass and it’s Spurs basketball exemplified.
No, he’s not lighting the world on fire from deep yet. And that jumper still needs to come a ways for that to be true. But the fact he’s found ways around his lack of outside shooting ability to still remain effective on offense is what every young player should strive towards.
Don’t just dwell on what you CAN’T do. Problem solve, and find solutions to earn the time to round out your other skills. Sochan has done that this season, and has displayed his high-level potential all year long.
9. Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets
55 GP, 55 GS, 29.9 MPG
12.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.5 STL, 1.0 BLK, 1.5 TOV
38.9/30.3/79.4 Shooting Splits, 10.1 PER, 50.3 TS%
I’ve left this spot for Jabari Smith Jr. based on the fact that he’s started in every game he’s played, and he has held it down as one of, if not the best and most versatile defenders for the Houston Rockets.
I get the shooting slump that he’s been in virtually all season long. Just when I thought he was rounding the corner in December/early January, he continued to fall into his inconsistencies from deep. Given that his jump shot fuels his offensive game, it’s hard to find positive things to talk about on that end if the shot isn’t falling (a prospect’s worst nightmare).
BUT when it IS falling, he brings balance to the Rockets’ offense in the way few other players do on that roster.
Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green have been erratic at times as lead ball handlers, and their lives only become more difficult if they can’t trust the shooters they have spacing the floor around them to knock down the shot off a kick-out.
That notion puts more pressure on either Porter Jr. or Green to finish that play themselves, which is usually a bad decision when they’re caught in no man’s land. When Smith can hit shots consistently though, it means defenses can’t play as far off him, leaving more room for either guard to work around the basket. If the defender helps off the weak side, Smith can drill that open jumper to make them pay.
The more you watch NBA basketball, the more it becomes clear that spacing is at a high enough premium that the hype and discussion are all justified. We are removed from the era where defensive specialists have the same value that they once did.
Players have to be able to defend their position (or ideally multiple positions) AND hit perimeter shots. That’s why Smith went as high as he did in the draft. He offers a blend of both worlds at his best, with upside that he’s started to tap into off the dribble and around the basket.
Given that he’s played a valuable role for Houston, questionable consistency aside, I find it difficult to just remove him from my ballot altogether, even if ANY of the honorable mentions below have a legitimate argument to be made and are worthy of their own ballot.
Smith still has a bright future ahead of him as a two-way piece to build with long-term.
10. Andrew Nembhard, Indiana Pacers
53 GP, 41 GS, 27.1 MPG
8.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.0 STL, 0.2 BLK, 1.7 TOV
42.4/33.9/86.7 Shooting Splits, 8.7 PER, 51.7 TS%
Last but certainly not least on my balloted ranking, Andrew Nembhard has continued to drive the argument home that he should’ve been a first round pick.
Nembhard, not just a backup PG or spot starter, has filled in for his fair share of starts and has held down the fort for the Indiana Pacers with defense, timely shot-making, and creative playmaking.
His passing touch is NOT to be understated, as he can deliver the ball on a rope any time he wants. For any pass that needs to be made out of the pick-and-roll, Nembhard can deliver it. That type of ball movement is what has helped Indiana’s offense overachieve this season.
When it comes down to the roster construction, Tyrese Haliburton and Nembhard have both played a massive part in helping the effectiveness of the offense because they are the types of lead guards ideal to work with the lineups at hand.
The Pacers have a lot of players I would classify as play “finishers” and not initiators. Having not one but TWO guards who can manipulate defenses and deliver the ball in a variety of situations ensures that the offense doesn’t grind to a halt and that every off-ball option can get the ball where they need it.
Throw all of that in with Nembhard’s ability to space the floor, defend multiple positions, and rebound for his size, and he’s one of the more complete guards in his class.
Sure, his percentile rankings have come down a bit since he was first introduced heavily into the lineup, but it’s a tall task to ask any rookie to rank highly amongst their newfound peers. I operate on the basis of celebrating when a rookie ranks in a good-to-great percentile per Synergy’s metrics, and not dismissing them when they are “poor” in any one particular category. Rather, evaluate the context and identify the areas for growth and opportunity.
Going off that notion, there are not many things that Nembhard flat out CAN’T do on the floor. That type of value, especially on his contract, gives the Pacers incredible flexibility in shaping the roster moving forward.
Nembhard is here to stay for a long time. Well done, Pacers, for identifying the talent and actually selecting this young man.
Tari Eason, Houston Rockets
58 GP, 3 GS, 19.4 MPG
8.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 0.9 APG, 1.1 STL, 0.6 BLK, 1.1 TOV
44.4/34.5/75.8 Shooting Splits, 15.7 PER, 52.2 TS%
There are a handful of games where if you flip them on, you’d walk away saying Tari Eason should absolutely be mentioned amongst the league’s best rookies.
Then there are others where you’d say that he’s got a decent way to go in terms of locking down a consistent starting position.
Still struggling from the same finishing issues in traffic that I pointed out last season when the hype built around his incredibly high two-point marks, Eason’s play has been up and down at times because of it.
If he isn’t spacing the floor better than advertised, then getting downhill and finishing plays around the rim is exactly how you’d want to utilize him. Yes, he gets open looks at the basket because of his quick, long strides. But if he’s met by multiple defenders or challenged by a towering center, then he’s not always able to slam it home or get the layup to go.
And if he gets too deep into the defense, Eason isn’t always looking to pass out despite having better touch in that department than he’s given credit for sometimes.
That area of concern along with his attention span defensively on certain possessions are really the only main gripes I have about his game. There just aren’t enough NBA players, let alone peers in his draft class, who can force turnovers as often as he can and create chaos on both ends.
He’s still shooting around league average from deep, and he’s converting 75% of his free throws. Also, he’s a highlight reel when he can slam it home.
Until he’s consistently better than the 14th percentile finishing at the rim, though, he won’t take his game to the next level (unless he becomes a much better mid-range shooter).
Still plenty of room to grow, the Rockets were right in taking a swing on Eason. He has a myriad of pathways to outplay his draft stock, and it’s fair to say on occasion he has during his rookie year.
AJ Griffin, Atlanta Hawks
55 GP, 11 GS, 20.4 MPG
9.3 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.7 STL, 0.1 BLK, 0.6 TOV
47.7/39.4/86.7 Shooting Splits, 12.8 PER, 58.5 TS%
Look up the word “touch” in the dictionary, and you’ll find a picture of AJ Griffin.
There’s no other way to define what his offensive game is built around outside of saying he has elite touch.
From distance, from the midrange, in the lane on floaters: the number of soft makes I can go back and watch from Griffin on Synergy is incomparable to any other rookie in this class. The limit does not exist.
It’s why I’ve had him ranked on my ballot in the past and may ultimately have him there when it’s all said and done. How efficient he’s been as a wing scorer is tremendous, and Griffin certainly looks the part of a mainstay for the Atlanta Hawks.
Sure, there are lapses from him defensively, but generally, he can recover because of his strong frame. It’s still difficult to muscle Griffin off his spot on either end, and that strong base and balance have certainly helped him in the shot-making department when it comes to how often he converts on his runners.
Serving as an off-ball shooter and secondary or tertiary creator, Griffin will have a home in the NBA for a long time should his defense continue to improve. More of his athleticism has come back to him since the injuries he suffered in high school and early college.
Overall, I’ve been very impressed with Griffin’s first NBA season and expect plenty more from him in the near future.
Dyson Daniels, New Orleans Pelicans
39 GP, 11 GS, 19.9 MPG
4.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.9 STL, 0.3 BLK, 1.1 TOV
44.5/33.3/62.1 Shooting Splits, 9.3 PER, 52.5 TS%
Dyson Daniels, already a promising perimeter defender in the NBA, has started to live up to the hype of being drafted in the lottery.
While his offense can leave some to be desired from a scoring perspective, he’s still shot the ball better than expected as a rookie, AND he’s made an impact as a secondary playmaker within the offense.
Very prone to redirecting the ball off the catch, or executing a dump-off pass on the move, Daniels takes advantage of his height to see over the defense, court awareness, and long strides to get to his spots and make plays for others.
Having a guard with his size, ball handling, and passing abilities helps bolster the New Orleans Pelicans’ second unit, and even offers up some versatility when he gets run with the starters.
As he hones his on-ball scoring repertoire, Daniels has plenty of time to grow into the type of PG he played as with G-League Ignite. And if he can develop into the Pelicans’ long-term option at the position, it would prove beneficial to pair him in the backcourt with a defender like Herb Jones, as those two can defend around score-first forwards like Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and Trey Murphy III.
Shaedon Sharpe, Portland Trail Blazers
57 GP, 5 GS, 20.3 MPG
7.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.4 STL, 0.2 BLK, 0.6 TOV
47.9/35.6/66.7 Shooting Splits, 10.3 PER, 56.5 TS%
Worthy of mention in any column around the NBA rookies, Shaedon Sharpe has played a complementary role all year long to a much better degree than I initially expected.
He’s converted on his deep shots, offered glimpses at his potential as an on-ball creator, and has defended all over the perimeter when called upon.
It’s really just the inconsistency that has prevented him from maintaining a spot in my ranking. There are games where he feels invisible on the floor on both ends, which isn’t necessarily his fault.
Portland is trying to make the playoffs to take advantage of Damian Lillard’s prime, meaning that a lot of the offense runs through him, Anfernee Simons, and to an extent Jerami Grant and Jusuf Nurkic. Depending on the lineup, there just aren’t a lot of touches left for Sharpe to get the run he could if he were on another team like some names ahead of him.
But still, watching his tape back, he does take advantage of opportunities to make plays on both ends when the chance is there. Cutting backdoor, leaking out in transition, spotting up from deep, and defending on the ball are just some of the ways he keeps himself involved within the flow of the game. Sharpe’s upside is tremendous, and he could end up one of the most well-rounded wings amongst his peers within a few years.
Immediate return notwithstanding, it strikes me that the Trail Blazers made the right choice in the lottery taking Sharpe.
Under The Radar Rookie Highlights
Mark Williams, Charlotte Hornets/Greensboro Swarm
11 GP, 27.9 MPG, 22.2 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 1.0 AST
64.8/50.0/65.5 Shooting Splits, 69.8 TS%
Starting our under-the-radar spotlights in North Carolina, Mark Williams has not had the start to his NBA career that one would’ve hoped for.
After struggling to stand out for Charlotte’s Summer League squad, Williams didn’t really get NBA burn for quite a while. Playing with the Greensboro Swarm for a good chunk of the team’s regular season and G-League Showcase run, Williams started to assert himself as the type of big man who warranted lottery consideration.
At over 7 feet tall, Williams has the size, length, and athletic ability to rebound on both ends, protect the rim, and offer rim protection and lob-catching ability that all NBA teams are looking for in a modern big man. His coordination, awareness, and instincts at his size were considered top-shelf at Duke, but it takes big men time to get up to speed in the league.
Now, after embracing his role as a garbage man offensively in the dunker spot, while navigating how to succeed in drop coverage in the pros, Williams has earned time with the Hornets after a blistering stint in the G-League, averaging a double-double on his way to rating out in the 97th percentile offensively, and swatting away a bunch of shots.
With the Swarm, he showed not only his ability to crash the glass, but also his footwork as a roll man, his post-up ability over mismatches, and even some range on his jump shot!
Williams has plenty to work with to provide efficient value offensively while still growing as a defender. As he gets better in space, Williams can cover a number of different areas on the floor—especially as he gets stronger to take on more bigs in the post.
Figuring out how to play off his teammates in a new environment, as well as time the cadences of opposing offensive players at the next level isn’t an overnight process. But Williams is figuring out what he needs to do to stay on the floor, and the Hornets will be better off for it.
Bryce McGowens, Charlotte Hornets/Greensboro Swarm
7 GP, 38.1 MPG, 25.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 5.0 APG
46.5/26.1/84.1 Shooting Splits, 66.0 TS%
Many were skeptical about how Bryce McGowens would translate to the pro game right away.
Known for his scoring ability inside the arc, both finishing around the basket and getting to the charity stripe, McGowens piled up points at Nebraska despite working through a number of glaring issues, from overall feel as a passer and creator to poor defensive awareness and technique.
Yet, athletic wing scorers with his size and length don’t come around as often as we’d like as scouts, especially pure scorers. McGowens proved in college he’s a bucket, despite the streaky outside shooting numbers.
At Summer League, McGowens got his fair share of points to pile up, but some of those previously mentioned issues reared their ugly heads. While he didn’t get off to a perfect start in the NBA, his G-League run with the Greensboro Swarm also went well just like it did for Mark Williams.
Averaging 25 PPG against pros on 66% True Shooting will get you another shot back up in the league. His performance against the G-League Ignite squad at the Showcase in particular stood out to me as far as just how high his ceiling is as an offensive talent.
His handle, stride, and smoothness all were on display as McGowens dissected any defense Ignite threw at him. Difficult to contain, if McGowens gets the step he wants on the defense it’s likely to end well for him, whether he gets all the way to the cup or gets squared for a floater in the paint. The way he can decelerate and rise up should prove handy as he continues to hone his skills as a secondary creator out of pick-and-roll as well as working out of hand-off sets.
McGowens still needs to improve as a jump shooter overall, rating in the 14th percentile per Synergy. Finding rhythm to his pull-up game, while also tightening his mechanics off the catch would go a long way in filling out the rest of his repertoire, because outside of seeing more levels of the defense as a passer, he has the natural talent you want from a player who could take some pressure off LaMelo Ball in the halfcourt.
Shooting as well as locking in on defense consistently possession after possession are two things I have confidence McGowens can continue to improve upon. And if he does, he could find himself averaging over 20 PPG in the NBA given the type of pace the Hornets love to play with. He has zero issues finding his own in transition, so now it’s a matter of polishing his skill in the halfcourt.
Malaki Branham, San Antonio Spurs
45 GP, 12 GS, 22.0 MPG
9.1 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.5 STL, 0.1 BLK, 1.0 TOV
44.5/31.5/77.8 Shooting Splits, 9.7 PER, 53.6 TS%
I had high hopes for Malaki Branham, whom I had previously stated was worth all consideration for a lottery selection in the 2022 draft, after Branham had one of the better rookie Summer League runs this past summer.
Averaging over 15 PPG in Las Vegas, Branham showed a little bit of everything offensively as to why I along with many others here at No Ceilings valued the type of player he could become both in the short and long terms.
Spot-up shooting, catch-and-drive game, and emerging pick-and-roll craft: Branham is a bonafide three-level scoring threat in the mold of bulkier wings like a Khris Middleton. His comfort level on his mid-range pull-up shot reminds me very much of Middleton, not to mention his overall pace and poise in the halfcourt.
It took Branham half a year to get going at Ohio State before he emerged on the national stage, but when he did his draft stock heated up and never cooled off.
Very similarly, it took Branham a bit to get going with the San Antonio Spurs, but he’s been much improved of late.
Since the turn of February, Branham is averaging 18.1 PPG on 51.8/41.3/71.4 shooting splits. An efficient slash line as a perimeter threat, Branham is doing it from all over the floor as he did in Big Ten conference play.
Finding most of his success out of pick-and-roll plays, as well as working off screens and cutting to the basket, Branham is lighting it up in ways very reminiscent of how I envisioned his early career could go.
Not necessarily a dominant offensive force from day one, the pitch I made about Branham was he could act as a fourth or fifth option within the offense in the short term while also having the talent to go off for 30 on any given night. I’d say recent games of 26, 27, and 23 points are very close to that proclamation.
Still figuring out when to take the best shots as well as balance finding his teammates, Branham has grown quite a bit in a few months of consistent NBA burn. The Spurs need any source of half-court offense it can get, meaning Branham’s hot streak is a welcomed addition.
Jaylin Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder
25 GP, 12 GS, 15.7 MPG
5.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.4 STL, 0.2 BLK, 0.6 TOV
46.7/45.0/66.7 Shooting Splits, 12.3 PER, 56.8 TS%
Watch the Oklahoma City Thunder’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers from early this month, and you’ll see why the organization drafted Jaylin Williams if you watch close enough.
Besides cornering the market on the “J. Williams” group in the 2022 draft class, Oklahoma City found another forward who fits into exactly what the team’s identity is on both ends: sacrificing to make everyone else better.
Starting on offense, Williams has served as a floor spacer and playmaker off the bounce for the Thunder in half-court situations. Every player in the best Thunder lineups can either shoot or take their man off the dribble to create a shot inside the arc or set up a teammate for a better look. At Arkansas, Williams showed a lot of those same flashes, knocking down face-up shots as well as operating as a playmaker out of the post or passing off a live dribble.
When Williams has the shot falling, it’s difficult to defend against OKC because who else are you going to help off of to try and contain the pressure put on the rim by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, and Jalen Williams?
There are only so many options, and you certainly can’t help off any of that trio. Having a big who can muscle his way on the glass as well as stretch the floor to create easier driving lanes for the primary playmakers is a necessity in today’s NBA and a main reason why Williams’ draft stock soared especially after a good tournament run by the Razor Backs.
Capable of working out of handoffs, making secondary reads off short rolls, or simply shooting off the catch, Williams’ offensive versatility fits very well with the Thunder units.
Defensively, he’s still drawing charges at a similar rate to what he did in college. And even if it’s not the preferred defensive method by us here at No Ceilings, that man is still finding a way to end possessions in his favorite way. And that plays into the theme I set for OKC at the beginning: sacrifice.
Doing the little things on defense, always having someone to crash the glass, and making the extra pass to find a better shot or swing the ball back around to a trusted scorer. The Thunder motto isn’t about playing selfish basketball. And Williams has been selfless in his time with both the Thunder and the Oklahoma City Blue.
Look for him to continue having an impact in the NBA moving forward.
Jaden Hardy, Dallas Mavericks
31 GP, 0 GS, 11.8 MPG
6.5 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.3 STL, 0.1 BLK, 0.8 TOV
42.2/33.8/87.5 Shooting Splits, 11.8 PER, 55.5 TS%
Can we all agree that Jaden Hardy fell way too far in the 2022 draft?
Yes? OK good, we can move on.
Because what Hardy has been able to do in the G-League, as well as now up with the Dallas Mavericks, is too fun to ignore.
Scoring threats like Hardy are meant to be drafted inside the Top 20 because, at the end of the day, the game of basketball is about getting that ball in the hoop.
And if you look at Hardy’s shot chart from the G-League, well I’ve never seen anything like it (courtesy of Emilianonaiar8 on Twitter).
So basically, development from one year playing in the G-League to the next led to Hardy having two “weak spots” on the floor, which certainly carried over to his recent performance against the Utah Jazz when he was the go-to guard due to absences within the Mavericks’ lineup.
With pull-up craft, spot-up proficiency, and a knack for working off screens and handoffs, Hardy has as complete of an offensive game when it comes to scoring the ball as I can remember for a rookie.
He just has confidence that few players his age have. Hardy truly believes he’s one of the best shooters when he steps on the floor every night.
Where I’ve been impressed with him the most this year is how many shots he’s gotten around the basket, and what he’s done to finish those looks upon getting them.
Last year for Ignite, Hardy was picked apart for having a loose handle and lacking the burst to get to the rim. Clearly, he heard the noise and adjusted his game accordingly, as he’s taking better angles to get there. He always had the strength to finish in traffic; it was more so just arriving at the cup to finish.
He’s to the point where defenses have to respect his knack for getting to his spots inside the arc, giving him room to separate and create shots off the bounce, and Hardy has always been a threat on pull-up jumpers.
Continuing to find ways to better his passing attack coming off screens, as well as still learning how to take better shots on a consistent basis are two main areas for him to work on.
But the early results for Hardy are better than clearly a lot of NBA scouts expected. And now, he has the chance to continue developing into an awesome running mate offensively next to Luka Doncic.
Christian Braun, Denver Nuggets
54 GP, 3 GS, 15.4 MPG
4.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.5 STL, 0.2 BLK, 0.4 TOV
49.5/37.1/59.5 Shooting Splits, 9.8 PER, 56.4 TS%
A feisty piece of work on the basketball court (for lack of not wanting to say other words opponents likely say to him on a nightly basis), Christian Braun was one of my favorite draft prospects last cycle cause I believed him to be an excellent role player who could grow into a starter in the league.
It seems he’s on pace to do just that, having an underappreciated rookie season with the Denver Nuggets.
All of the attention on that team is towards the starting unit, and rightfully so. Denver is one of the best teams in the NBA and a true championship contender.
But depth is always important to have in the regular season, and Braun’s role is now amplified given the recent trade of Bones Hyland to the LA Clippers.
Since the beginning of February, Braun has scored in double figures in four games, essentially doubling that total on the season in a matter of a few weeks. That may not seem significant relative to a number of other rookies I’ve discussed in this column, but to do that on a team as deep as the Nuggets with playoff aspirations, I’d consider that to be quite the turn in his role with the squad.
Defensively, Braun always competes on every possession. He’s an engaged on-ball defender with the awareness and quick hands to play passing lanes and make timely rotations away from the ball to force turnovers. He’s a strong guard at 6’7”, giving him the ability to guard up and down lineups depending on the situation.
Factor in how he’s found his outside shot in the league, along with his transition game, and Braun has everything a team could want in a fourth or fifth option and glue guy.
If he can keep canning jumpers, and work on his handle to take advantage of his passing vision in the halfcourt, Braun has a pathway to NBA starter. When we eventually look back in a re-draft scenario, that could be more than enough to justify a higher selection than where he was taken by Denver.
TyTy Washington, Houston Rockets/Rio Grande Valley Vipers
13 GP, 33.3 MPG, 23.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5.4 APG
46.8/38.7/78.3 Shooting Splits, 62.9 TS%
After falling to the end of the first round, TyTy Washington had to my eye a surprisingly decent debut in Summer League. Washington showed the type of craft, poise, and shooting touch the Houston Rockets should’ve been targeting out of a backup point guard who could one day develop into a starter.
Couple those offensive traits with his length and defensive effort, and to me, I would’ve thought for sure he’d get more opportunity up to this point in Houston.
Unfortunately, I was wrong.
Kevin Porter Jr. still has the starting reigns, Daishen Nix and Trevor Hudgins used a fair amount of burn at the position, and Jae’sean Tate’s best role on this Rockets squad may very well be point guard!
A logjam at the one spot led to Washington going down to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers to get some much-needed developmental time, except that stint didn’t last too long.
Exploding for 53 points in a win against the Stockton Kings, Washington had his full bag of tricks on display to remind the world why he was once considered a lottery pick at guard.
In 13 total games so far with the Vipers, Washington has shown touch on his floater, shot creation, catch-and-shoot ability, and timely passing—not to mention his footwork and set up for a step-back three out of the pick-and-roll. Chef’s kiss.
Touch is a great descriptor for Washington as it is with previously mentioned rookie AJ Griffin. Efficient from almost everywhere on the floor, Washington’s game just needs time to grow and mature in the NBA which I can only hope comes soon.
He has nothing else to prove in the G-League. Washington has earned the right to get minutes for the Rockets, and since the New Year, he’s gotten a number of games over 18 minutes played which is an improvement from October through December 2022.
No, he doesn’t have the separation and explosiveness of other guards in his mold. Outside of his length, he isn’t “plus-sized” as a lead ball-handler.
But the way Washington can change gears, take advantage of space, and still manage to hold his own defensively has me intrigued about his long-term potential as a backup and spot starter. There’s still a chance he breaks out in a way that Andrew Nembhard has and proves one day he’s capable of leading a team as a starter.
For now, it’s good to see him getting more chances to show how much game he has.
Jeenathan Williams, Salt Lake City Stars/Utah Jazz
39 GP, 27.0 MPG, 12.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.8 APG
52.9/42.4/77.8 Shooting Splits, 66.2 TS%
To round out this column, I wanted to bring a little attention to one G-Leaguer who was a draft prospect last cycle, and another who actually earned a call-up of late to the NBA (more on him later).
Starting with Jeenathan Williams, I’m surprised I’ve seen no one talking about his consistency as a G-League performer for the Salt Lake City Stars.
Williams, averaging 12.4 PPG on excellent shooting splits, has shown the type of game that he worked on and developed during his time at Buffalo in college.
So far, Williams is matching what is essentially his career averages over his four years with the Bulls.
His bread and butter is using his footwork and body fakes to get to the basket and finish inside. The threat of his outside shot certainly helps pull defenders out and gives him easier lanes to drive and lay it in, which is a welcome sight considering how much he improved as a shooter in college.
Williams went from barely sniffing an average mark from distance to converting on over 45% of his college triples at great volume.
Now, he’s a 40% shooter from range on essentially four attempts per game in the G-League.
A big, physical guard like Williams who can defend multiple positions, shoot on decent volume, and score on the break should get his opportunity one day soon in the NBA, and he could very well be a nice addition to the Utah Jazz roster next season. Given the likelihood that Jordan Clarkson will leave the team in the offseason, and Collin Sexton always being liable to injury, depending on the guard depth the team adds for next year Williams could get a shot to lock down a full-time roster spot. Or, he could get signed by another team looking to bolster its depth.
Either way, part of pro personnel scouting is figuring out who is worth a call-up from the G-League, and to my eye, Williams should be on a short list next offseason for at least a two-way deal. I had him pegged as a Top 100 prospect for a reason, and now he’s carrying over that same production to the next level up.
If he can build on the experience he’s getting playing against better competition on defense, there’s no reason why he couldn’t be the next name to come out of nowhere and find success in the NBA.
Jamaree Bouyea, Miami Heat/Sioux Falls Skyforce
32 GP, 35.3 MPG, 17.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 5.9 APG
51.0/30.3/69.4 Shooting Splits, 59.6 TS%
And last but not least, a guy who did in fact earn his call up to the big time from the G-League, Jamaree Bouyea!
Similar to Jeenathan Williams, I also had a Top 80-100 grade on Bouyea as a potential two-way contract target for NBA teams. After a great stretch in the G-League averaging over 17 PPG and 5.9 APG, Bouyea signed to a 10-day contract with the Miami Heat on February 8th, and we’ll be waiting to see what happens next with his contract situation.
His best game of the four over the course of his 10-day came against the Denver Nuggets where he scored 10 points, canned two triples, and managed to also come up with three assists and three steals.
While not the biggest player at his position, Bouyea earned plenty of buzz while in college at San Francisco because of his water bug-like quickness and shooting ability off the bounce. In some NBA minutes, and plenty of minutes with Sioux Falls, Bouyea has maintained the fact he’s shot-ready at all times, and he has plenty of shake to create shots for himself and others.
Bouyea may not be a guy who becomes a starter in the league because he’s not impacting the game defensively at a high level, but as a change-of-pace guard off the bench who only adds to a lineup’s spacing, Bouyea can make good things happen (especially after he’s taken space inside the arc for mid-range pull-up shots and floaters).
Hitting on more shots from deep as well as better balancing when to find others within the flow of the offense would give him a better chance to stick in the NBA, but as of now, he’s a good story to come from the “minors” this season.