By: Mike Bonomo
With less than a month left in the 2015-2016 NBA season, a lot of attention is turning to the standings. Who will make the playoffs, who’s going to get the best lottery odds, and can the Warriors win 72 or more? One storyline that’s emerged to this point that may fall back under the radar as the playoff hunt heats up has been the fantastic play of this year’s rookie class. So to make sure they get their due, here’s a quick ranking of the top 5 rookies this year, plus some notes on a few more who missed the cut.
- Karl-Anthony Towns
He was the first one to hear his name called on draft night, and he’s been first on this list ever since. He’s averaging a double-double, while leading all rookies in scoring at 18.1 ppg.
- Devin Booker
Booker has been a revelation in an otherwise disaster of a season for the Suns. Booker figured to be a good perimeter shooter, but injuries to Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight forced Booker to take on a much bigger role in the Phoenix offense, and he’s thrived. A bit of a shooting slump in March dropped his 3-point field goal percentage to 35.4%, which is still good for third among rookies. He’s shown that he can even run the offense himself, and looks to have a great future.
- Kristaps Porzingis
Porzingis got all the hype for the early part of the season, and it was deserved. He looked phenomenal, hitting threes and throwing down putbacks over everyone. He’s been in a slump throughout the second half of the season, as have most of the Knicks. It may be just a case of him hitting the rookie wall, but interim head coach Kurt Rambis, who took over for Derek Fisher in mid-February. Rambis has been giving Porzingis inconsistent minutes, and trying to make him play with his back to the basket more, instead of using the floor spacing Porzingis’s shooting brings. It’s a bit concerning, but Porzingis showed too much talent early on to bet against.
- D’Angelo Russell
Speaking of rookies whose coaches seem to be trying their hardest to derail them, let’s talk about D’Angelo Russell. After using the second overall pick on the point guard out of Ohio State, Lakers head coach Byron Scott refused to give Russell consistent minutes because of, well I’m still not sure. He’s gotten to stay on the floor longer as the season has worn on and he’s shown good ability as a scorer and passer, not to mention that confidence that you love to see out of young guys, especially in L.A.
- Jahlil Okafor
Okafor will miss the end of the season with a knee injury that will require surgery. It’s a shame, because after making headlines for the wrong reasons early in the season, Okafor continually showed the offensive talent that made him the third overall pick. His footwork in the post is incredibly polished for such a young player, and was second behind only Towns in scoring among rooks. While Philly still has to figure out how to get Okafor to fit with Nerlens Noel, or move one of them, Okafor has shown that he can be a presence offensively in this league.
Others worth mentioning:
Myles Turner: Turner just missed the cut, but has also been phenomenal, snaring rebounds, altering shots and spacing the floor. Indiana found a keeper.
Nikola Jokic: Drafted in 2014, but a rookie this season, Jokic has been a great surprise for a bad Nuggets team. He hasn’t gotten a ton of minutes, and still stuffs the stat sheet, and is in the top 10 among rookies in what seems like every category.
Justise Winslow: Winslow was expected to contribute defensively right away, and has certainly done that for Miami. His shooting needs to improve, but Winslow will do some really good things.
Josh Richardson: Speaking of the Heat, Richardson came out of nowhere to become a key contributor for Miami. While he isn’t quite Winslow defensively, he’s solid on that end, and leads rookies in three-point percentage.
Emmanuel Mudiay: Mudiay has started to adjust well after a somewhat shaky start, and looks good running things for Denver, leading rookies in assists.
Bobby Portis: One of a small number of bright spots for the Bulls this season, Portis looks to be a good find in the 20s for Chicago. He hasn’t gotten the most consistent minutes, and you still see rookie mistakes, but he plays with an unmistakable energy, and has flashed some scoring ability to go with his rebounding and defense.
Trey Lyles: Didn’t get to shine on a loaded Kentucky team in college, but has made his mark for the Jazz. Their offense looks great when he steps on to the floor, thanks to the spacing his shooting gives.