Thursday, February 2

NBA Rookie Rankings: Paolo Banchero shines vs. Celtics; Keegan Murray gets Defensive Player of the Game chain

In this week’s edition of NBA Rookie Rankings we’ve got a statement performance from the No. 1 pick against one of the top teams in the East, a role player further down in Atlanta solidifying his spot in the rotation on a squad that has needed every bit of his contribution and the consistent rise of a rookie in Sacramento. 

But before we get into the top five rookies from this past week, a special shoutout needs to go to Jalen Duren of the Pistons. He’s leading all rookies in rebounds per game (8.2), despite only recently being inserted into the starting lineup at the start of this month. The 6-10 big man has become a force for Detroit on defense, and now that he’s starting it’s only a matter of time before he ends up in one of these spots below.

Now it’s time to break down this week’s Rookie Rankings. Keep in mind that these rankings will reflect a rookie’s performance on a week-to-week basis only, not the collective season. These aren’t Rookie of the Year standings, but rather a reflection on what the player has done over the past week.

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Banchero just completely dismantled the Boston Celtics this past week en route to a 31-point performance and a win for the Orlando Magic. Even though the Celtics were without Jayson Tatum, no one could’ve figured the Magic would win that game, and yet Banchero went into TD Garden and added another standout performance to his already sterling rookie resume. 

It didn’t matter who the Celtics put in front of Banchero, and they certainly tried to show him different looks over the course of the game. He didn’t falter once in his approach. When Robert Williams III was assigned to Banchero, the rookie pulled the big man away from the basket, showed off his handle and drained several 3s. 

As good of a defender as Williams can be, Banchero really exposed his perimeter defense, and it forced Boston to send a different defender at Banchero. Al Horford made life the most difficult for Banchero, but the rookie still got to the spots he wanted with relative ease. He ended up scoring 10 points on Malcolm Brogdon, seven on Williams and six on Horford, which just shows how difficult it was for Boston to contain him despite having the seventh-ranked defense in the league. 

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You can really start to see Murray becoming more comfortable on offense, and as a whole the Kings chemistry has been clicking really well, which can have results like the 134-120 win over the Lakers on Wednesday. Four of Sacramento’s starters scored 20+ points, Murray being one of them after finishing with 23 points on 6 of 12 from deep. Murray’s feasting off the great passes he’s getting from the likes of De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, and in return he’s knocking down those spot-up 3s. After that efficient performance against the Lakers, Murray now leads all rookies in 3-point percentage at 38.6 percent on the season. He’s also the only rookie who is attempting six 3s a game.

Murray finished that Lakers game a plus-24, the highest on the team, and after the impressive win Kings coach Mike Brown said the rookie earned Defensive Player of the Game. Brown pointed out Murray being in the right place on defense and taking charges, which is a testament to his two-way ability. Though Murray hasn’t been getting as much attention as some of his other fellow rookies, he’s been an impactful piece on a winning Kings team.

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Although it came in a loss, Ivey had a 30-point outing against the Utah Jazz, and while that feat alone is impressive for the rookie, the efficiency he had makes it even better. He’s shooting just 42.1 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from 3-point range this season, but against the Jazz he shot 71.4 percent from the field and connected on both of his 3s. 

Since Cade Cunningham went down with a season-ending injury, Ivey’s had even more of a green light for the Pistons, but it has resulted in some inefficient shooting nights, like his 2-for-9 outing against the Kings at the start of the week. But he followed that up with two incredibly efficient nights that also included a 7-for-11 night against the Nets. Ivey’s going to have significant opportunity the rest of the way this season to work on his game and get his shots up. But the hope for the Pistons is that he’ll be able to work on that efficiency and toward the end of the season he’ll be a more consistent scorer. This past week certainly showed that he’s capable of it on a small scale. We’ll have to see if it can be sustained.

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No buzzer-beating game-winners for Griffin this week. Well, actually there was this buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the first quarter against the Magic the rookie did drill:

Like Griffin said last week, it’s starting to happen consistently, so I guess this is just an expected trait of the Hawks rookie going forward. That aside, though, Griffin finished that game with 19 points and seven rebounds off the bench and finished a plus-15 for the Hawks in a closely contested win. The feel Griffin has for the game and the confidence he plays with are two standout traits for the 19-year-old, and he’s become a reliable option for Atlanta off the bench. He’s primarily been knocking down 3s for Atlanta when called upon. But every so often we’ll get a couple plays like this one where he dissects Orlando’s defense and puts the ball high enough off the glass just out of reach of the lanky arms of Mo Bamba:

Or this floater over solid defender Franz Wagner, where Griffin shows that he can do more than just be a spot-up shooter:

The Hawks have needed every bit of Griffin’s production this season, and for the rookie to step up to that challenge on a team that has high playoff aspirations shows that he isn’t afraid of the moment. 

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Mathurin had a bounce-back string of games a week ago where he saw his 3-point percentage shoot up after several solid games. However, he struggled again from beyond the arc this week, shooting just 25 percent from deep. While Mathurin is experiencing the ebbs and flows of an NBA season with his shooting, what’s remained a constant is Mathurin’s effort, especially on defense, even when his shots aren’t falling.

He’s shown flashes already of being a solid defender in this league, and he certainly isn’t shying away from any tough defensive assignments. This week he took on guarding Jayson Tatum, and while the All-Star forward still dropped 41 points, Mathurin had possessions where he made things at least slightly difficult for Tatum. He did a good job of staying connected to Tatum and recovering around screens when the Celtics tried to get Mathurin switched off of him. It’s a good sign that Mathurin can impact the game in other ways even when his shots aren’t falling, and that was on display against the Celtics this week.  





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