The Whiteboard: Another peak at the NBA Rookie of the Year race

Houston Rockets, The Whiteboard

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The NBA Rookie of the Year race has gotten crowded as several young players have found a niche and started putting up signature moments.

The last time we looked at the Rookie of the Year race was in the middle of the preseason and since then we’ve already seen several top candidates rising and falling. However, with nearly a third of the season in the books, the top is starting to solidify while some dark horse candidates are jockeying to round out the top 5.

Who is leading the 2023 NBA Rookie of the Year race?

The honorable mentions: A.J. Griffin, Jalen Williams, Andrew Nembhard

Griffin has stepped into a role for the Hawks, playing around 20 minutes per game, averaging in double-figures and making his second game-winning buzzer-beater of the season. We still haven’t seen the elite outside shooting that was such a big part of his pre-draft profile but he looks like a solid offensive piece.

Williams has been fantastic as a secondary playmaker for the Thunder, averaging 10.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. If he could start hitting some 3s, they’d really be in business.

Nembhard has made himself a fixture in the Pacers’ rotation, averaging 8.5 points, 4.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game, while shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc. He probably won’t have enough statistical production to really enter the Rookie of the Year race but he looks like a very good rotation piece.

5. Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings

Murray hasn’t had needed to stretch himself too far for the surprisingly potent Sacramento Kings, but he’s given them exactly what they need as a stretchy, frontcourt big next to Domantas Sabonis. He’s started all but two of the games he’s appeared in this season and is averaging 12.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, hitting 36.8 percent of nearly six 3-point attempts per game. His shooting percentage have also dropped a bit in the last two weeks but he’s filling his role perfectly already and could have opportunities to flash more offensive versatility and responsibility as the season goes along.

4. Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets

Smith Jr. started the year slowly but has really come into his own, averaging 14.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game over his last 10, shooting 43.5 percent from beyond the arc. His defensive potential is still enormous but he hasn’t been able to generate as much impact at that end with a young roster around him and so many other players still figuring out how to maintain their assignments and proper rotations. But his jumper is falling, he looks much more confident and comfortable and there’s every reason to think the Rockets have found the perfect complementary piece for Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun and Kevin Porter Jr.

3. Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons

Ivey has really struggled with his shooting percentages — 40.4 percent from the field and 30.0 percent from beyond the arc — but he’s making plays all over the court and helping his team in a variety of ways. Ivey has been an absolute terror in transition and is averaging 15.3 points per game with his explosive dribble penetration. He’s also stepped up and taken on a much larger playmaking load, averaging 4.9 assists per 36 minutes since Cade Cunningham went down with injury. As he gets a chance to get more reps under his belt and raise those shooting percentages he could be a strong candidate for a late-season Award push.

2. Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers

Mathurin camped out in the No. 2 spot early in the season and hasn’t really relinquished his position, even as the spotlight has moved to some other rookies. He’s been an incredibly consistent scoring option off the Pacers’ bench, averaging 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. His shooting percentages have dropped a bit over the past few weeks but he’s playing a meaningful role on a winning team and has looked the part of a player ready to compete, both physically and skill-wise. Case in point — he’s getting himself to the free-throw line 7.3 times per 36 minutes, about the same as Kevin Durant, Nikola Jokic and Jayson Tatum.

1. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic

Banchero entered the season as the favorite and other than a stretch of seven missed games early in November, he’s done nothing but steadily build his case. He’s scored 20 or more points in 16 of his 21 games and is averaging 21.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. His defense and 3-point shooting are still developing but he’s gotten stronger as the season has gone along and, with the Magic on a 3-game winning streak, he’s getting opportunities to figure out how his versatile offensive talents can actually help contribute to his team winning.

It would take a dramatic surge in someone else’s production for him to lose out on any comparison of box score stats and if the Magic keep climbing the standings, it’s only going to make him harder to pass.

— Ian Levy

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Check out the newest episode of The Step Back Podcast

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Former NBA player, coach, Paul Silas dies

Paul Silas passed away over the weekend.

  • Playing achievements: Silas played 16 seasons in the NBA, was a two-time All-Star, five-time all-defensive player, and a three-time NBA champion. He tallied over 12,000 rebounds, 11,500 points and 2,500 assists.
  • Coaching achievements: Silas coached the Clippers, Hornets, and Cavaliers. His best full season was a 49-33 year with the 1999-00 Hornets in which Eddie Jones and Derrick Coleman led the team in scoring.
  • Michael Jordan’s statement: Hornets owner Michael Jordan released a statement on Sunday on behalf of the organization mourning Silas’s passing.

Pelicans-Suns rivalry was birthed right before our eyes

The Pelicans and Suns have become tangled in a suddenly bitter rivalry. Here’s why.

  • Zion’s dunk: Zion Williamson, with the game already all-but-officially over on Friday, went up for a spinning windmill dunk, which was perceived by some as disrespectful. The dunk preceded a confrontation between Pelicans and Suns players. Williamson called the dunk “out of character” for him but defended why he did it.
  • CP3 – Alvarado: A new angle of the dunk shows that the incident between the teams also involved Chris Paul and Jose Alvarado getting tangled u.
  • CP3 used to play in New Orleans: To add context, Paul played in New Orleans for six seasons (including a season that was relocated to Oklahoma City due to Hurricane Katrina). Today, Alvarado is one of the spirit players of the Pelicans, so it’s a “past vs present” face-off of New Orleans players. Paul also left via a requested trade. Hard feelings aren’t as strong as for Anthony Davis, but New Orleans fans don’t have strong admiration for Paul.
  • Two games in short span of time: After a matchup Friday, the two teams faced off again in the same city on Sunday. The second game went to overtime with Williamson scoring 35 points and the Pelicans winning both games.
  • Suns downplaying the two losses: Deandre Ayton, among others, downplayed the losses since they were just regular season games.

It makes one wonder if there’s an advantage to the NBA aiming to schedule multiple games, baseball-style, in the same city between the same teams to create a “mini-series” of sorts in the regular season to up the intensity.

How real are Pelicans Finals chances?

The Pelicans are a feel-good story that has people wondering: How real are their NBA Finals chances?

  • FiveThirtyEight’s model: FiveThirtyEight gives the Pelicans a 95% chance of making the playoffs, an 11% chance of making the Finals, and a 5% chance of winning the NBA Finals. Only two teams (Celtics, Grizzlies) have a >10% chance of winning the Finals according to this model, with just seven teams having a stronger Finals chance than the Pels.
  • Basketball-Reference’s model: BBR’s model is based on 10,000 simulations of the season. The Pelicans, according to this model as of Monday morning, have a 20.1% chance to win the Finals, behind only the Boston Celtics (33.4%).
  • Sportsbook: DraftKings has the Pelicans listed as +2000 (4.76% implied probability) and FanDuel has them at +2400 (4.0% implied probability). It’s worth keeping in mind that odds are not straight models, they are set with various data points, including statistical models, qualitative characteristics, and motivation to get bettors to place money.

— Josh Wilson

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