We've made it to the other side of the All-Star break, and with roughly six weeks left in the regular season, we're going to start to see some teams shift their approach on how they want to play out the rest of the schedule. For some, that could mean putting in a little more effort in hopes of securing a play-in spot, while others could use the last 20-ish games of the season to give the keys to the younger guys and let them develop on the fly.
For those teams in that second category, that means we're about to get a heavy dose of rookies who maybe didn't have a ton of opportunity earlier in the season. For the few first-year players that make valuable contributions on winning teams that are in position to make the postseason, we'll also get to watch how those rookies perform under a new layer of pressure. The point is, there's a lot to look forward to with these rookies as we enter the stretch run of the 2022-23 season, so don't tap out just yet.
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.
Surprise, surprise, J-Dub picked up right where he left off before the All-Star break. He finished out February incredibly strong, putting together his best month of the season to date. But when you're improving literally every month, you're constantly setting a new benchmark at the flip of the calendar. If you don't believe me, just look at Williams' splits from month to month:
With a steady increase in minutes over the course of the season, Williams proved that he's capable of taking on more in a bigger role. But it's not just that, it's the efficiency with which he's getting it done. He's shot over 50 percent for four-straight months now, and his 3-point efficiency has significantly improved, a great sign for the rookie and the Thunder. If Williams can up his 3-point volume just a tiny bit more and keep the same efficiency, he'll be even more dangerous on that end of the floor. It'll open up his offensive game more, creating more opportunities for him to get to the rim if he's able to keep the defense honest out on the perimeter.
Williams capped off a stellar February with a career-high 27 points against the Sacramento Kings, where he also finished with eight assists, five rebounds and two steals. Though the Thunder lost without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, he stepped up as an offensive creator for OKC, punishing the Kings at the rim where he scored 16 of his 27 points. The remaining 11 came off a 3-pointer and several trips to the free throw line, where he finished 8-of-9.
The symmetry in Murray's season and the Kings' ascension is uncanny. No one could've expected Sacramento to be on pace to end its 16-year playoff drought, much less sitting third in the Western Conference right now. For Murray, the skepticism came as soon as he was drafted fourth overall by the Kings, a move that received mixed reviews from all the draft prognosticators. Many people felt that Sacramento should've drafted Jaden Ivey, even CBS Sports' Gary Parrish said in his draft grades that drafting Murray there is not what he would've done, and instead would've taken Ivey. And while Ivey is having a standout season in Detroit, Murray's success is just as worthy of attention.
In fact, Murray is one of the few rookies this season who is starting on a winning team and will play a key role as Sacramento prepares for a playoff run. He also ranks third in the league in 3-point percentage (min. 300 attempts). Murray's 3-point shooting has been vital to Sacramento's success, as he's regularly relied upon to knock those shots down off passes from De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis who are receiving a wealth of defensive attention. Oh and he's just 41 made 3s off from passing Donovan Mitchell's record (187) for most 3s made by a rookie. He should comfortably pass that mark in a couple of weeks, giving the Kings yet another reason why it was smart to draft him fourth overall in the draft.
Jeremy Sochan the facilitator? Look at this pass in transition to Doug McDermott for a corner pocket 3-pointer.
A risky pass, sure, and I'm sure if it had resulted in a turnover Gregg Popovich would've chewed him out after calling a timeout. But it worked, and it showed Sochan's great instinct for these types of passes. That was just one of six assists on the night for the rookie, which ties his season high. We're starting to see several parts of Sochan's offensive game come together, and he's still a bully defender on the other end as well. His threat as an offensive rebounder never fails to annoy the heck out of teams, and while he can be a bit erratic when he tries to go back up with the ball, it's something that can be improved upon so he converts more of those opportunities.
It was a tale of two halves for Banchero in an impressive win over the New Orleans Pelicans his week. After putting up just nine points in the first 24 minutes of the game, the No. 1 overall pick went on to rack up 20 of his 29 points after halftime. We've seen Banchero have eye-popping performances several times this season, but the difficulty of some of the shots he was knocking down against the Pelicans in the second half just reiterated how special he is. Just look at this turnaround, off-balanced jumper he drills with strong defender Herbert Jones draped all over him:
He just kept working that possession until he got the shot he wanted, and it worked. That's a move you don't often see from a rookie, but that type of shot-making has become second nature for Banchero. That was the second of back-to-back iso possessions from Banchero where he drained a shot to close the door on New Orleans. After the first shot, in which the rookie sunk a long 2-pointer which was nothing but net, Pelicans broadcaster Antonio Davis exclaimed, "he's getting into his bag, he's getting into his offensive bag." That he is, and it's not the first or last time we'll see Banchero put up a clutch performance like that.
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Ivey put up his second double-digit assist game of the season when he dished out 10 dimes to go along with 10 points and two rebounds against the Raptors. While we're used to seeing him racking up more points in addition to the passing, he focused on getting guys involved while he had an abysmal shooting night, going just 3-of-16 from the field and 0-for-5 from deep. He was getting hounded by tough defender Scottie Barnes all night, and while he couldn't his own shot to fall, he dropped off some jaw-dropping passes.
Just look at this absurd no-look pass to Hamidou Diallo under the basket after crossing up Jeff Dowtin.
The court vision, accuracy and signature flair that Ivey plays with makes him one of the most exciting rookies to watch.