2022-23 NBA Rookie Rank Vol. 4: The Final Ballot
Our own Nathan Grubel dives into the NBA's top youngsters in his final edition of "Rookie Rank" which outlines what his All-Rookie First and Second Team ballots would look like.
We’ve made it to the FINAL edition of Rookie Rank for the 2022-23 NBA season!
It’s been a whirlwind of a stretch of games since the last column I did, in which I not only covered some of the top names but gave plenty of insight into guys who haven’t gotten any coverage like Jamaree Bouyea and new Portland Trail Blazers signee Jeenathan Williams!
BUT…It’s time to lock back in.
NBA awards ballots were already due, and even though I don’t have one that’s the approach I’ve taken all year long when ranking the rookies. IF I were crafting an All-Rookie ballot, who would I be voting for?
So this final ranking is a reflection of how I would vote for my All-Rookie First and Second Teams, with the top three names making up my NBA Rookie of the Year voting.
Plenty of debating amongst myself and other individuals I spoke with for who deserved these spots, but I feel confident I ultimately made the right decisions here, valuing the role each player undertook as a rookie, along with production, efficiency, and impact on winning anywhere possible (even though rookies generally don’t lead to positive on-court value outside of counting stats).
With that being said, let’s not waste any more time and get into my last ranking of the year along with as always some honorable mentions at the end!
*All statistics and percentile rankings courtesy of Basketball Reference and Synergy Sports*
1. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
72 GP, 72 GS, 33.8 MPG
20.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.7 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 2.8 TOV
42.7/29.8/73.8 Shooting Splits, 14.9 PER, 52.9 TS%
I thought long and hard about going against the grain and choosing the player I ultimately ranked second in this exercise.
However, upon further review and going off of my OWN criteria which factors role into account, there wasn’t another choice for the top spot.
As the majority of voters have already declared, Paolo Banchero deserves to win NBA Rookie of the Year.
Going off of counting stats, he’s the only rookie who averaged 20 points a contest, while also chipping in his fair share of rebounds and assists. Sure, the efficiency numbers aren’t jumping off the page from any one area in particular, but Banchero’s case comes alive on film, not on the stat sheet.
To me, the award shouldn’t ONLY be about production and efficiency. Role and responsibility along with an impact on winning should factor in as often as possible with any award race. Banchero was the number one option for the Orlando Magic all year long.
Banchero missed only 10 games, and in each game he played in, he not only started but served as the guy who the offense ran through. And from a skill standpoint, what didn’t he show on the floor as a lead shot taker? After all, he scored 20 or more points 40 TIMES as a rookie! That’s MORE THAN HALF of the games he played in! That’s something that doesn’t happen often in a player’s first NBA season, and it doesn’t come without a diverse shot diet.
Finishes at the rim, mid-range jump shooting, three-point shooting, post-ups, rolls, cuts: Banchero registered possessions in every scoring type imaginable, while also taking over as a playmaker and distributor when the ball wasn’t in the hands of Markelle Fultz or Cole Anthony.
Banchero proved he could operate comfortably out of pick-and-roll sets with another big or inverted with a guard setting the screen up top. And when you have a force like Banchero handling the ball at 6’10”, it’s hard for defenses to wall him off and dictate results.
Did he miss shots? Absolutely. But Banchero was learning on the job and by default had to adjust to a volume role in the NBA, not against lesser competition. As he grows and better chooses his spots and opportunities, his physicality and skill will take over games and determine the outcome of a play more often than how the defense game plans for him.
And that’s why Banchero impressed me all season long. On film, he just looks like the next perennial All-Star the league has to offer—a do-it-all forward who scores, shoots, rebounds, assists, and has made strides on the defensive end as well.
While Banchero isn’t a lockdown defender on an island, he’s no pushover either. A team isn’t hunting a mismatch against a bruising big like Banchero. And in help situations, Banchero’s court awareness improved from start to finish.
With further study on his own rotations and place within the defense, on top of an improved knowledge base in terms of his competition from playing longer in the NBA, Banchero should cement himself as a bare minimum average defender. Given his estimated offensive impact and projection on that end, that’s enough.
Shot selection, shooting improvements, and emphasis on limiting turnovers will top his list of improvements to make over the next few offseasons. I’m confident Banchero’s trajectory points towards star, and that he’ll reach that ceiling sooner rather than later.
2. Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder
75 GP, 62 GS, 30.3 MPG
14.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 1.6 TOV
52.1/35.6/81.2 Shooting Splits, 15.6 PER, 60.1 TS%
Jalen Williams ALMOST got my Rookie of the Year vote.
It was a close call all the way up to the end, but JDub had one of the most memorable rookie seasons I can remember.
Sure, the story of the Oklahoma City Thunder was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who earned votes for not only Most Improved Player but also Most Valuable Player. But Williams was an easy choice for All-Rookie First Team after the run he went on post All-Star Break.
Since February 23rd, Williams scored 20 or more points 11 times and had far more games scoring in double digits than not. On top of his scoring output, Williams logged his share of rebounds, assists, and defensive plays to provide value on both ends of the floor.
And that’s really what stood out to NBA analysts and appreciators. The completeness of Williams’s game wasn’t expected to take shape so soon, if at any point. Scouts like us at No Ceilings saw the two-way upside of Williams which is why we valued him through the majority of the draft process. But even we likely didn’t see a path to star upside as opposed to more of a complementary piece who could do a little bit of everything.
Just like Banchero, Williams handled the ball as a secondary playmaker for most lineups, with his role sometimes involving bringing the ball up the floor as a point forward. As a scorer in the halfcourt, Williams played out of pick-and-roll, cut effectively to the basket, shot decently off spot-ups, and even got involved off movement. There really wasn’t much of anything Williams wasn’t asked to do offensively, which also ended up holding true on defense as well.
Williams scaled up and down the lineup, even playing as a power forward thanks to his 7’2” wingspan and strong build for a guard.
His feel for the game and timing on everything he did kept the Thunder humming on both ends. High IQ, low mistake players who can dribble, pass, shoot, and defend have All-Star upside even if they aren’t super athletes with crazy handles.
Williams isn’t the flashiest player, but he’s far more effective than the majority of his peers. And he brings up a great point to not always focus on drafting for the sexiest upside play, but just choosing damn good basketball players!
Pick any advanced stat you want to look at for rookies, and Williams is likely either leading in that stat or within the top handful of guys in that particular category. Throw in what he’s done counting stats wise even going back to January, and he’s as clear of a choice as it gets to finish as a finalist for Rookie of the Year.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching Williams help Oklahoma City get to the point where the team was making noise in the play-in. Williams impacted winning as much if not more than anyone in his draft class, so that along with role, responsibility, and efficiency all played a part in him ALMOST getting the top spot in my ranking and certainly deserving of number two.
3. Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz
74 GP, 40 GS, 23.0 MPG
9.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.4 SPG, 2.3 BPG, 0.8 TOV
72.0/33.3/51.6 Shooting Splits, 21.5 PER, 70.2 TS%
If someone wanted to argue Walker Kessler as Rookie of the Year, I wouldn’t stop them.
He’s been that good all year long, playing in 74 total games for the Utah Jazz who exceeded preseason expectations for the majority of the season.
Even though the team finished in the lottery as initially expected, they were in the race for a play-in spot up until the last few weeks. Given that the team traded its three best players from last year’s playoff run, that’s almost unheard of.
Credit Kessler for a chunk of that success, as his dominant rim protection and deterrence translated to the NBA level.
While Kessler isn’t exactly the type of switchable big the league seems to covet nowadays, elite drop coverage centers are still incredibly effective in the right schemes.
Very similar to how a defense can be built to funnel drivers into the Stifle Tower known as Rudy Gobert, Kessler operated in a very similar fashion for this iteration of the Jazz.
Posting a RIDICULOUS block rate for a rookie of 8.6%, Kessler finished the season fourth in total blocks across the entire league, not just within those selected in his draft class. Being in the same company as Jaren Jackson Jr., Brook Lopez, and Nic Claxton at his age is high praise, and something that shouldn’t be ignored.
Rebounding on both ends of the floor, swatting away looks at the basket, and providing high-level finishing on offense helped bring consistency to Utah as the year went on. His efficiency even sparked the question as to whether the Minnesota Timberwolves should’ve traded for Gobert in the first place, or just kept Kessler who is on a much cheaper contract.
Before this campaign started, those questions wouldn’t have existed. Matter of fact, a number of scouts didn’t even have a first-round grade on Kessler (myself included).
But the evidence was there on the Auburn tape last season. Kessler ate up smaller drivers who tried to go into his body and draw fouls. In the post, Kessler’s timing and anticipation mirrored the thought-to-be poster child for shot-blocking prospects in Chet Holmgren.
And even though he hasn’t spaced the floor at a higher level yet, Kessler made some strides as a shooter and could very well become someone in time who can be counted on to hit trailer threes, punishing defenses for playing off him on the break.
Does Kessler have the same upside as some of the other names in these rankings? An argument can be made for no, but I’d say the opposite. Simple doesn’t mean not valuable. Being a star in your role can translate to winning a lot of games and earning multiple large contract extensions.
Kessler is on track to accomplish both, whether he is on Utah for the next decade or ends up in another uniform. And that’s more than some had to say before this season.
4. Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings
80 GP, 78 GS, 29.8 MPG
12.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 0.8 TOV
45.3/41.1/76.5 Shooting Splits, 12.3 PER, 59.7 TS%
If it weren’t for Walker Kessler’s absurd two-way production, I would’ve had Keegan Murray as the last name on my Rookie of the Year ballot.
After all, he set an NBA rookie record for threes made in a season! His volume and efficiency as a shooter helped the Sacramento Kings have one of the greatest offensive seasons in league history. And while he isn’t the engine behind his team’s success, he is an important cog who will help Sacramento remain competitive in the short and long term.
Coming into the draft, many argued for the Kings to take the best player available by consensus rankings in Jaden Ivey. And even though he’s had a dynamic rookie year of his own (more on him in just a second), the Kings chose the player best determined to not only offer upside but fill a void at the forward spot.
Finding the right offensive combination around De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis was a priority for the Kings, and it just so happens that answer was found in the draft in Murray.
Even though he didn’t get the same touches and opportunities that he did in Iowa, Murray was incredibly effective in a lower usage role as a spot-up and movement shooter who feasted off open opportunities generated by one of the league’s best pick-and-roll combinations.
The amount of attention that was on Fox and Sabonis’s pairing all year long provided plenty of open looks for shooters like Murray, Harrison Barnes, and Kevin Huerter. Add in how all three of those guys can keep the ball moving and relocate away from it, and one can see just how difficult it is to stop that particular offense.
Murray was more than just a spot-up shooter, rating no lower than the 50th percentile in five of the six most common play types he registered possessions in this season. Operating off handoffs, cuts, and working off screens, Murray proved to be the perfect off-ball complement for the Kings while also showing some further development later in the year when given the chance to run a little pick-and-roll or create one-on-one.
Even though Murray struggled to adapt as a defender, he did make improvements to his off-ball defense closer to the end of the season. And as a 6’8” forward, he isn’t exactly a pushover defending on the ball. Murray does need to keep his head on a swivel like he did more times than not at Iowa, and better anticipate the movements of his opponents so he’s not caught in a position where he can’t recover due to his lack of elite lateral mobility.
Still, those defensive woes didn’t stop Murray from impacting winning at the highest level. Sacramento finished as the third seed in the Western Conference with the contributions of Murray as well as its other pieces. Starring in a role and maintaining efficiency helped to propel Murray into my All-Rookie First Team selections, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
5. Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons
74 GP, 73 GS, 31.1 MPG
16.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 5.2 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 3.2 TOV
41.6/34.3/74.7 Shooting Splits, 12.1 PER, 52.8 TS%
The last spot on my ballot would’ve gone to a certain Indiana Pacers rookie a few months ago, but Jaden Ivey earned this spot because of his development over the course of the season.
Outside of the raw counting numbers, I don’t have a series of stats to throw out to illustrate said improvement. But watch some of Ivey’s offensive performances in March and April, and you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about.
For context, Ivey was drafted as an ideal shooting guard to pair with Cade Cunningham in the backcourt. While many scouts would argue drafting Ivey as high as he went came with expectations that he would one day evolve into a lead playmaker similar to Ja Morant, that wasn’t Ivey’s game even at Purdue.
In college, Ivey played alongside other guards and in an offense that prioritized him playing off post-up threats in Zach Edey and Trevion Williams. I could argue that those off-ball reps were good for his development as a player who can coexist next to another higher usage talent like Cunningham, but didn’t properly reflect just how dangerous he could become with greater opportunity.
Then, everything changed when Cunningham was listed as out for the rest of the year due to injury. The ball was put into Ivey’s hands by default, meaning he had to make large strides as a playmaker if he wanted to help his team win games.
Youth, poor defensive habits, and an inefficient lead guard are all ingredients that lead to a consecutive high draft position, and that’s exactly how the Pistons’ season played out.
BUT…I really enjoyed watching Ivey’s progression as a point guard.
Operating as a higher usage option is more than just filling up the stat sheet and keeping things moving from possession to possession. It’s about understanding the pace of play, dictating the offense, and figuring out how to help your teammates succeed as the best versions of themselves.
That means timing reads out of pick-and-roll sets, changing gears, and taking advantage of the space provided. As the year went on, Ivey got more comfortable as a passer and scorer in the mid-range portion of the floor.
Ivey’s pull-up shooting from a comfort level perspective looks completely different than it did dating back to his time in college up through the early months of the season in October and November. His willingness to step into those shots with confidence and take what the defense was willing to give him was awesome to see, as he becomes a lethal offensive threat with that baked into his game.
Because when he gets a full head of steam going to his right, forget about containing Ivey on drives to the rim. He has the ability to not only get to his spots, but finish in a variety of ways when he gets there. And as he fills out his frame and gets stronger, Ivey will become more adept at finishing through contact which will make him that much more difficult to stop.
Ivey finished the season shooting around league average from distance, meaning that defenders couldn’t just go under on every single screen attempt at the top of the floor. Making defenders pay for their mistakes is what Ivey improved at the most from start to finish, and that level of growth isn’t always seen in rookie point guards.
Yes, he was a bit of a train wreck all year long on defense, but most rookies struggle adjusting to the speed and physicality of the game on that end. Ivey was no exception, and here’s hoping he puts in the work to better navigate screens and pressure opposing ball handlers at the top of the key.
The Pistons have an incredibly bright future with Cunningham and Ivey in the backcourt. Adding one more piece from this draft to go with those two guys and a certain center to be discussed later should help Detroit regain its footing in the Eastern Conference in short order.
6. Andrew Nembhard, Indiana Pacers
75 GP, 63 GS, 27.6 MPG
9.5 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 4.5 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 1.7 TOV
44.1/35.0/79.0 Shooting Splits, 10.0 PER, 52.8 TS%
This was a difficult decision to make, but I put Andrew Nembhard ahead of Bennedict Mathurin in the rankings.
Looking at both of their counting stats, people may look at me and think I’m nuts. But by the tape, Nembhard was a more impactful player on a possession-to-possession basis.
Capable of facilitating and scoring on and off the ball on offense, Nembhard’s usage role as a point guard was not to be understated for the Indiana Pacers. He had some games this year in which he was a true difference-maker in determining the outcome.
But it wasn’t just his offense that was better than anticipated.
Nembhard went out there and played one hell of a defensive role for the Pacers. On plenty of nights, Nembhard would line up anywhere from point guard to small forward and defend the opposing team’s best perimeter offensive talent.
Not only did Nembhard accept the defensive challenge and balance his two-way effectiveness, but he did a fairly decent job in doing so AS A ROOKIE!
How many rookies can honestly go out there and hang with some of the best scorers the game has to offer? Generally, that role is reserved for a more established defender who has more NBA experience than someone like Nembhard.
But Nembhard won the trust of head coach Rick Carlisle and proved he’s not just a bench contributor. Nembhard is capable of starting for a good team, as just like a few other teams involved in these rankings, Indiana exceeded expectations for a good portion of the year as well.
That’s not to say Mathurin didn’t play his own part in that. But he wasn’t asked to take on the same responsibilities that Nembhard was, especially when Tyrese Haliburton missed a share of games in the middle of the season.
A number of stats would say that Mathurin was the more productive rookie of the two. But watch enough of the games, and I’m confident you will at least see where I’m coming from in slotting Nembhard one spot ahead.
Hopefully, evaluators can learn a lesson from Nembhard when it comes to ordering players on draft boards during this current cycle: high IQ pick-and-roll guards with good positional size, defensive instincts, and scoring upside belong being taken in the first round of the NBA Draft.
7. Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers
78 GP, 17 GS, 28.5 MPG
16.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 1.9 TOV
43.4/32.3/82.8 Shooting Splits, 13.1 PER, 56.6 TS%
I didn’t want to rank Bennedict Mathurin this low because I didn’t want everyone to take away from his drop that he had a BAD season for a rookie.
While he didn’t do enough down the stretch to solidify his spot on the first team, Mathurin still had an excellent season for a young wing.
After all, for a large portion of the year, Mathurin rated out second overall in my rankings! So how did he drop down five spots over the course of a few months?
To answer simply, I don’t think his “play” was particularly bad; I just didn’t notice too much development in his game from start to finish. When you factor in how he didn’t stand out defensively or as a playmaker, it was easier for me to argue for guys ahead of him who handled more responsibility within the offense and/or played better on both ends as a whole.
Mathurin was an off-ball offensive player virtually all season long. His best moments came as a spot-up shooter, transition threat, or option coming off screens or handoffs.
Sound familiar? Keegan Murray played that exact role for the Kings, so why wouldn’t I have him in a similar position with Mathurin? Because Murray was much more effective in his role shot for shot, even if the total points didn’t favor him. Murray took and made more threes per game, while also contributing as a better rebounder and ball mover.
Mathurin wanted to shoot or score as soon as he touched the ball. That shouldn’t surprise those who watched his film going back to Arizona, as slight improvements made to his live-dribble passing last year didn’t exactly shine the spotlight on him as some advanced reader of defenses.
I expected to see a little more from Mathurin defensively though, especially given his athletic profile. Mathurin’s foot speed, length, and competitive fire stood out as a member of the Wildcats, but didn’t take shape with the Pacers.
Rookies have to not only account for more skilled matchups, but also quicker and more physical games. Wings can outmuscle and shoot over younger guys who aren’t as prepared—not to mention how quickly the ball moves can catch rookies off guard, leading to lapses in their off-ball defense.
Both of these things took shape for Mathurin, but I highly doubt he remains this level of defender for his entire career. He will make adjustments and improvements to his game, especially as he fills out.
Developing a more efficient and diverse shot profile, along with improving as a playmaker and defender are keys to Mathurin unlocking his star-level upside. I truly believe that type of ceiling is within his grasp, as wings with his sweet stroke, speed, and verticality are the types of players who have the most opportunity to take over within NBA offenses.
Ranking him seventh is still an honor, as there are a ton of rookies who had moments this year. And I expect great things from Mathurin moving forward, as do the Pacers who will likely look to start him next season.
8. Jabari Smith, Houston Rockets
79 GP, 79 GS, 31.0 MPG
12.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 1.3 TOV
40.8/30.7/78.6 Shooting Splits, 11.2 PER, 51.4 TS%
What a rollercoaster of a season it was for the third overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft Jabari Smith Jr.
Smith had a ton of ups and downs offensively, as his shooting stroke didn’t quite translate over to the pros like many anticipated it would.
But even though he didn’t come out shooting the cover off the ball like he did at Auburn, Smith battled through adversity and started to really find his groove from February through to April.
Smith’s numbers improved across the board month over month in 2023. His shooting, rebounding, passing, and overall efficiency increased while still remaining one of the team’s better, more impactful defenders.
The part of Smith’s offensive game that stood out to me was his confidence in taking not only threes but also pull-up shots in the midrange. Smith was hesitant to do anything off the bounce at the start of the season, as he generally settled for contested shots off closeouts and didn’t look to utilize a pump fake to get to a one or two-dribble pull-up shot inside the arc.
When Smith changed his approach and incorporated more of those looks into his game, it allowed him to better space the floor by gaining confidence in his shot-making. And those shots, along with his turnaround looks, are why evaluators thought he had star upside coming into the draft.
If Smith was a movement shooter who could spot up, and create efficient jumpers with little effort thanks to his size and release point, what defense could actually stop him from putting points on the board? That’s how it seemed last season for the Tigers, as college teams would throw two or three defenders at Smith only to watch him rise and fire makes over everyone.
That version of Smith took form later in the year, and when the shots were falling fans and evaluators started to appreciate the rest of his effort as a help defender and rebounder.
Smith added value as a weak side shot blocker, defensive rebounder, and help defender in space. That type of versatile forward is what NBA teams covet at that position nowadays, so having someone who also has the reputation of a shooter that Smith does is one hell of a piece to build around for the future.
Maybe Smith isn’t the top offensive option on a championship team. That doesn’t mean he was the wrong player to take third overall. If the Rockets can win games while he’s the third-best talent on his squad, I think the organization will take that in a heartbeat.
Hopefully, Smith comes out of the gate in his sophomore campaign more confident and composed, like he was in March and April. After all, his two-way potential and durability are exactly what Houston needs moving forward as it looks to break out of the lottery and vie for a play-in or playoff spot as early as next season.
9. Jalen Duren, Detroit Pistons
67 GP, 31 GS, 24.9 MPG
9.1 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 1.4 TOV
64.8/0.0/61.1 Shooting Splits, 17.3 PER, 65.5 TS%
Jalen Duren had a much better rookie season than expected for someone who was thought to be a “project” coming into the draft.
While his motor didn’t always run as hot as it could’ve at Memphis, Duren proved he has loads of potential when it does as he powered the Detroit Pistons on both ends.
One of the youngest players in the class, Duren has quite a bit to offer as a rim protector, efficient finisher, and dominant rebounder for his age.
Duren posted a 25% defensive rebounding rate AS A ROOKIE! Not only was he also effective cleaning the offensive glass, but Duren posted 28 games with double-digit rebounds on the year. These are numbers that Pistons fans haven’t seen from a rookie big since Andre Drummond, and that’s a comparison that actually holds up from a production standpoint.
A legit play finisher, possession starter, and defensive stalwart in the paint, Duren gave his guards a lob target and mistake eraser. As a vertical big, Duren gets up off the floor easily off two feet for high-level finishes off rolls, cuts, and in transition.
On the opposite end, when guards or wings gave up penetration in the lane, Duren was able to body up guys and force misses or swat shots to make up for those miscues. Having a backline threat like Duren is a luxury for teams, especially given his size and athletic profile.
Duren still has room to grow as a player, but the signs he showed not only in those areas but also as a short roll playmaker as well as a passer out of the post left Pistons fans dreaming of what’s to come in the future. His role wasn’t as clean-cut after Detroit traded for James Wiseman at the deadline, but I don’t think it will impact how many minutes Duren plays next season and beyond.
As he continues to develop as a switch defender and jump shooter, Duren’s upside is as high as any of his peers at the same position. He holds value as a producer in the short term and as one of the more versatile centers in the league in the long term.
10. Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio Spurs
56 GP, 53 GS, 26.0 MPG
11.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 1.7 TOV
45.3/24.6/69.8 Shooting Splits, 11.4 PER, 50.9 TS%
For my last spot in these rankings, I went back and forth about who to put here. Tari Eason of the Houston Rockets will no doubt be the first honorable mention, but he had a case here as a highly effective forward off the bench who will likely become a starter one day for his respective team. Eason also played all 82 games as an iron man for his squad!
But I went with a guy who I didn’t expect to not only have the role he did in some games in 2023, but to start as many contests and play as many minutes as he did PERIOD.
After all, when was the last time Gregg Popovich prioritized playing a rookie like Jeremy Sochan? Especially one who can’t shoot yet?
Because Sochan was arguably the best defender amongst his peers, that’s how.
Sochan proved he can guard one through four at the NBA level, and will have a case to guard centers depending on the lineup as he continues to get stronger and add muscle to his frame.
His awareness, footwork, and length allow him to rotate, wall off, and disrupt lanes and windows defensively. Sochan can not only guard one-on-one, but he also excels at forcing steals and blocking shots as a playmaker and help defender. Sochan did plenty of both this season for San Antonio and then some.
But what fuels his upside is Sochan’s ability to handle the ball and make plays for others both in transition as well as in the halfcourt. “Point Sochan” took social media by storm a few games this season, and when the ball is in his hands he is difficult to contain when he gets a full head of steam.
Sochan’s vision as a young forward is pretty damn awesome. He understands how to attack defenses and play out of pick-and-roll sets. He did have some poor turnovers during his higher usage games, but his creativity as well as the types of passes he can make helped to bring the best out of his teammates and take pressure off guys like Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson.
If he can develop into even an average spot-up shooter, especially when defenders go under on screens in his inverted pick-and-roll sets, Sochan becomes quite the dangerous offensive threat. The jumper still needs a bit of work, but Sochan seems like the kind of tireless worker who will make the most of his mechanics. After all, it’s hard to come away with any other impression given how hard he plays.
The warts I mentioned about Sochan’s game feel like things that will be ironed out as he gains more experience and reps in the league. Projecting a player’s upside based on improvements that are reasonable to expect is what NBA teams hope for when drafting someone in the lottery.
I’m not betting on Sochan to become a star over a decent role player, but I wouldn’t rule out that pathway given the progression he showed during his rookie year.
What Scottie Barnes did for Toronto last season, that’s what Sochan was able to show albeit not as consistently. If it weren’t for the injuries that piled up toward the end of the season, Sochan would’ve had a pretty clear argument for me as a potential All-Rookie selection on the first team, not the second.
Tari Eason, Houston Rockets
AJ Griffin, Atlanta Hawks
Shaedon Sharpe, Portland Trail Blazers
Malaki Branham, San Antonio Spurs
Dyson Daniels, New Orleans Pelicans
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How far down does Ochai Agbaji rank? Slow start but solid 2nd half.