This class of rookies is already turning out to be one of the most exciting crops of young players we've seen. You've got guys like Paolo Banchero and Bennedict Mathurin who are worthy of earning additional honors outside of just Rookie of the Year. There's also a wealth of quality role players we've seen so far from this group, like Shaedon Sharpe and Andrew Nembhard who have earned minutes by making an impact on the game when they step on the floor. It remains to be seen which of these rookies will go on to have the best career, because there are several candidates, but it's obvious that many of these guys have what it takes to stick around in this league.
Now it's time to break down this week's NBA 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.
After missing seven games with an ankle injury, Banchero returned to Orlando's starting lineup this past week, and immediately picked up where he left off at the start of the season. After putting up 20 points, five assists and two rebounds in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Banchero officially played his 15th NBA, where he totaled 340 points during that span.
That point total put Banchero ahead of Shaquille O'Neal for the most points scored by a Magic player in their first 15 career games. O'Neal scored 338 points in his first 15 games with the Magic back in 1992, which was just the beginning of a historic rookie campaign in which Shaq won Rookie of the Year and was named an All-Star, becoming just the 21st rookie to earn that honor.
While it's still incredibly early in the season, Banchero's performance so far this season is at least worthy of putting him in the All-Star conversation. There's certainly precedent for rookies making the All-Star game, though Blake Griffin was the last to do it during the 2010-11 season. Just looks at how his numbers stack up to some recent rookies who were named All-Stars:
Paolo Banchero (2022-23)
Blake Griffin (2010-11)
Yao Ming (2002-03)
Tim Duncan (1997-98)
Grant Hill (1994-95)
Banchero may not make the cut, given how loaded the forward position is in the Eastern Conference, but he should at least be in the conversation for one of the final roster spots. He's eighth amongst forwards in the East in scoring right now, ahead of guys like Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Zach LaVine (though LaVine could be considered a guard-forward). Voters may not put him in just on the fact that he's a rookie, but his performance so far this season proves that he's worthy of being in that conversation.
Every game it just feels like Mathurin is continuously proving why he should be starting, and yet here we are, a quarter of the way into the season and he's still coming off the bench for the Pacers. Perhaps that changes if/when Indiana trades Buddy Hield who has constantly been thrown into trade rumors, specifically with the Lakers. But until then, Mathurin has proven to be an absolute bucket off the bench, so much so that he's put himself in the running for Sixth Man of the Year.
Through a quarter of the season, Mathurin's 19.2 points a game leads the league in points off the bench, and he's one of just two rookies in league history to average 15+ points, 2+ made 3s a game and shoot 40+ percent from downtown. The other rookie? Oh, just four-time NBA champion, and two-time league MVP Stephen Curry. But what's more impressive about Mathurin's numbers is he's doing everything Curry did in his rookie season but is coming off the bench.
What's crazy is Mathurin has a shot at both Sixth Man and Rookie of the Year, though Banchero certainly has something to say about the latter award.
In Smith's last five games he's connected on three made 3-pointers in each contest, which ties for the longest streak in NBA history by a teenager, joining Luka Doncic and Anthony Edwards on that list. Over that span, Smith is shooting 44.7 percent from 3-point range, a stark improvement from the 29.9 percent he was shooting over the first 15 games of the season. Given that Smith shot 42 percent from deep in his lone season at Auburn, it was only a matter of time before he started knocking down those shots, but it's still a positive sign to see after such a slow start for the No. 3 overall pick.
"I mean, I knew it wasn't gonna be easy," Smith said via The Athletic. "So just coming into it not putting too much pressure on yourself. Trusting the work, trusting what you learn from your teammates and coaches and just keep taking it day by day. Don't put too much pressure on yourself and just keep playing the game, having fun."
Smith's recent improvement in his 3-point shooting is just one data point of many that show how he's really turning a corner with his efficiency. He was already getting to his spots and getting quality looks, but now he's making them at a more efficient rate, a sign that perhaps he's settled into the NBA game and shaken off any nerves that he might've had coming into the season.
In a win over the Spurs this week Williams put up an absurd 27 points on 11-of-15 from the field to go along with six rebounds and two assists. It was a culmination of what's been a solid few weeks for the rookie who is already cementing himself as an important piece to the Thunder's young core.
"He was big time, he was really good," Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said after Williams' career night. "He continues to get better, defense especially, I know obviously he scored tonight but the thing that's intriguing about him is his size out there. You look at him out there and he's huge for a wing, it's hard to find big wing defenders like that and he's strong, smart, tough and he's got great length and size. Once his fundamentals catch up with the rest of those ingredients he's going to be a really good defensive player too."
Daigneault spoke to something that really stands out about Williams when you watch him play, his length. I mentioned his 7-2 wingspan last week, and that mixture of size and length is something that is going to help him become a tough defender in this league.
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Nembhard was the hero in Indiana's 116-115 win over the Lakers on the road. He scored 12 points, all of which came on 3s, but it was that final one that counted the most as he nailed a buzzer-beating game-winner to stun the Lakers. Take a look:
It truly is wild how the Lakers left Nembhard wide open on that attempt given he had already made three other shots from long range during the game, and he's shooting 40 percent from 3-point territory on the season. That seems like a real lack of game planning from L.A., and as a result, you have LeBron James rushing to close out on Nembhard, but it was too little too late. Nembhard's certainly going to remember draining that game-winner over LeBron for a long time.