It was a chaotic week around the NBA, highlighted by LeBron James becoming the league's new all-time leading scorer. But that was quickly overshadowed by a wild trade deadline in which Kevin Durant was dealt to the Phoenix Suns, forming a formidable trio with Devin Booker and Chris Paul. Kyrie Irving also got traded to the Dallas Mavericks, effectively ending the Brooklyn Nets superteam experiment. The trade deadline featured a slew of role players getting sent across the league, and while no rookies were dealt, some of the moves may impact first-year players.
The biggest case of that is in Detroit, where the Pistons inexplicably traded for the former No. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, James Wiseman. This was a confusing move considering Detroit just drafted a capable center in Jalen Duren in the 2022 draft, and who has been starting for the Pistons since December. Duren leads all rookies in rebounds this season (8.7) and has shown steady improvement since then. It's unclear what Wiseman's role will be with Detroit, but if he unseats Duren in the starting lineup it would certainly stunt the growth of a promising big man in Duren who has been better in his short career than Wiseman has shown in Golden State. We'll have to watch how that plays out, but it's certainly a confusing move by the Pistons who suddenly have an unnecessarily large amount of depth in the frontcourt.
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 the player's performance over the past week.
In Ivey's 24-point, seven-assist, three-rebound outing in a win over the Hornets this week he passed a milestone that no other rookie has yet to accomplish this season. Ivey is the first -- and only at the time of writing this -- rookie to total at least 700 points, 200 assists and 200 rebounds, which speaks to the balance of his game. Ivey crossed that threshold in 49 games, becoming just the ninth rookie to do it in that amount of games in the last 15 years, per the Pistons.
Though Ivey isn't getting as much Rookie of the Year recognition as Paolo Banchero or Bennedict Mathurin are getting this season, he should still be in the conversation. He's showing gradual improvement each night and has taken on a considerable amount of responsibility this season after Cade Cunningham went down with a season-ending injury. He's got great athleticism and can get to the rim with tremendous ease. What's even more impressive about Ivey's season is he's becoming more efficient as the season goes on.
Although we're only a week and a half into February, this has been Ivey's best chunk of games by far, highlighted by that performance against the Hornets. His 3-point shooting is the most notable because after struggling to connect consistently from deep, Ivey has started this month ridiculously efficient from there. If he keeps this pace up for the month, he'll undoubtedly be named Rookie of the Month and should be given more consideration for the Rookie of the Year award.
Banchero didn't have the typical production we've seen all season long from him, but he still had a solid week by rookie standards. He's going through a shooting slump in February, connecting on just 30.9 percent of his shots from the field and a woeful 5.9 percent from deep through five games. But while his shooting has taken a dip, his rebounding numbers are up and his assists have remained consistent.
He's still making a positive impact on the game for the Magic, which was perfectly shown in Orlando's win over Minnesota in which Banchero only put up 11 points, 8 rebounds and four assists, but still finished the game a plus-6. Once Banchero realized his shot wasn't dropping, he started making the extra pass which led to higher percentage shots from his teammates. He only had four assists in that game, but he had several hockey assists, where he made a pass and then his teammate made an immediate pass that led to an assist. Like this:
Banchero leads all rookies in hockey assists, or secondary assists as the NBA tracks them, a good indicator that he knows when to make the right pass instead of forcing a shot up, especially if he's shooting the ball poorly. His scoring has taken a dip, but he's so versatile and shines in other aspects of the game that he's still helping the Magic in games.
Branham set a new career-high in back-to-back games for the Spurs this week. He first dropped 22 points on 9-of-13 from the floor, then followed that performance with a 26-point outing in which he shot the ball equally as impressive at 68.8 percent from the field. Branham is starting to show real upside for San Antonio, and in that 26-point performance against the Sixers the rookie showed complete confidence every time he had the ball. He got to his spots pretty much at will, pulling up for floaters, knocking down 3s and connecting on mid-range jumpers, too.
Branham started in every game this week, as he filled in for the injured Tre Jones and fellow rookie Jeremy Sochan. He certainly made the most of the opportunity and received praise from San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich.
"He's progressing really well," Popovich said via the San Antonio Express-News. "For a young guy, he is picking up a lot of things. Probably the biggest thing is playing against all these NBA guys he has never played against before."
While the circumstances of Branham's standout performance aren't ideal given the injuries to Jones and Sochan, it shows the Spurs what they have in the rookie guard going forward. When those guys return, perhaps Branham will get more of an opportunity now that he's shown he's capable of stepping up when needed.
This is Hardy's first time featured on Rookie Rankings, and that's due to the huge change up with the Mavericks roster. Dallas traded for Kyrie Irving, which sent two key starters for the Mavericks to the Brooklyn Nets. As a result, it meant Hardy received more playing time as the third guard on this roster, and going forward he'll likely see more playing time now that Spencer Dinwiddie was sent to Brooklyn in the deal. So far, it's been working out incredibly well for the rookie, who put up a career-high 29 points in a stunning win over the Utah Jazz without Luka Doncic.
It was Dallas' first win of the season without Doncic, and Hardy was a big reason why. He's an incredibly athletic guard with a shifty handle, something that the Mavericks don't have outside of Irving. He's got great speed to push the ball in transition, something that we'll likely see a lot of if he's given the backup guard spot with the second unit. He has a tendency to rush things, whether that be forcing up a shot or not controlling his speed which can result in chaotic possessions, but that's to be expected from a first-year player. With more opportunity on the horizon for Hardy, he should start to improve over the rest of the season as he's given more minutes to develop on a playoff-contending team.
The Thunder played spoiler to LeBron James' record-setting night this week when OKC beat the lakers 133-130 on the same night James broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's all-time scoring record. Williams was a big reason why, as he racked up 25 points on 10-of-19 from the floor in addition to seven rebounds, six steals and two assists. It was the perfect game to showcase how special Williams is, and especially on a large stage like the one Tuesday presented with millions of people tuning in to watch LeBron make history. While it was definitely James' moment, Williams and the Thunder won the night in the end and picked up a crucial win in the race to make the play-in out West.