NBA Rookie Rankings: Jalen Williams’ star continues to rise; Paolo Banchero chasing Magic history
There is officially a month left until the end of the NBA regular season on April 9, and for most rookies, this is where their first year ends. But for some, we’ll get an extended look at them in the postseason, like Keegan Murray on the Kings. Other teams with key rookies that are still in contention for a playin or playoff spot are the Pacers, Thunder, Jazz and Trail Blazers, so it’s possible we’ll see a few more rookies in the high-stakes game a month. from now on. But for everyone else, this final month is all about making the most of the rest of the season and ending the rookie year on a high note.
Now it’s time to break down this week’s rookie rankings. Keep in mind that these rankings will only reflect rookie performance on a weekly basis and not on a collective season. This is not a Rookie of the Year ranking, but rather a reflection of a player’s performance over the past week.
1. Jalen Williams
Every week I compile these rankings, and it seems to me that Williams is superior to the results that he had the previous week. Last week I wrote that February was the best month of Williams’ career and he ended it with a record 27 points. It’s silly to think he’ll take a week to do impressive things because last week he topped the game with 32 points, where he shot an absurd 80% from the field and 80% from 3-point range. He is the first OKC rookie to post a 30/5/5 game since Russell Westbrook, and only the third in franchise history to do so, joining Kevin Durant on this list.
After the game, Shai Gilgeus-Alexander praised his rookie teammate, though not surprised by his development.
“He’s working on his game and it’s getting better,” Giljeus-Alexander said. “His progress, I’m not at all surprised to see him. The guy works hard, he has a game, and he shows it.”
The hard work and development is obvious when you watch Williams, but he also just does something that I think a lot of people didn’t expect him to do at the start of his career. Despite being selected in the lottery in the 2022 NBA draft, Williams plays like someone who should have been drafted well above the 12th overall pick. The feel he has for the game, how he can read the defense to get what he wants, and as he’s shown against the Jazz, his ability to take over the game is out of character for most rookies. In the fourth quarter, Williams scored 16 of his 32 points, reaching the rim at will and simply punishing the Utah defense.
During that possession, despite the defense going down on him and Walker Kessler’s blocking machine going to rim defense, Williams knew to get the ball high enough out of the reach of any Jazz defender:
His ability to even contort his body in the air to get into the hoop to make a shot is also just as impressive, and it’s not the only time in this game he’s made a difficult shot. Take a look at this jumper who he drops despite the fact that he started to dribble and lost his balance:
While Paolo Banchero has a Rookie of the Year award, Williams’ consistent performance over the past couple of months should be enough to see him finish second in the award.
2. Walker Kessler
There’s no disrespect to Rudy Gobert, but there’s some fun in Kessler stepping into Utah right away and providing the same type of production that Gobert did during his jazz days. Clearly Gobert has a few better awards than Kessler as Defensive Player of the Year and his career averages are higher than what Kessler has collected in his entire rookie year, but he is definitely on his way to hitting a few. All-Defense teams and is only 21 years old. years.
He has six consecutive games of 10 or more rebounds, with two of those games having five or more offensive rebounds. Oh, and there are three more games in that span where he had at least five blocks. The even funnier aspect to all of this is that the Timberwolves are trading Kessler and a host of other assets to get Gobert when they could have just kept an outstanding rookie who is a younger and more versatile version of the Frenchman. But a Minnesota loss is a Utah acquisition, and despite Danny Ainge’s penchant for getting the most out of every deal he makes, I don’t think even he could have imagined that Kessler would be that good so early.
He has great touch on the basket, can be a threat from the cross and will always fight for offensive rebounds. And, of course, there is a great opportunity to block time and avoid fouls in the process.
On this play, Gilgeous-Alexander noticed Kessler was slowly coming back to defense, so naturally this gives the All-Star defenseman the green light to attack under the rim. Unfortunately for the SGA, Kessler has a great recovery and managed to get enough shot to stop him, causing Utah to rebound.
Try to be softer with him? No chance with Kessler on the floor, and Aaron Wiggins learned the hard way after Kessler literally sent his throw to the front row.
When Kessler is on the floor, the Jazz score 5.4 points less than when he is sitting, which ranks 88th in the league. There aren’t many rookies who have that level of influence on defense, which is another testament to how vital he is at this end of the floor.
3. Paolo Banchero
Over the past couple of months, Banchero’s effectiveness has dwindled at times, but that hasn’t stopped him from having a positive impact on the game. His 31-point game against the Hornets, where he shot 50% from the field as well as six rebounds and five assists, was the latest example of how dangerous he can be when his shots are constantly falling. Banchero also handles bad performances very well, which he did this week against the Milwaukee Bucks. Last week, Banchero scored just nine points against the Bucks while shooting 30.8% from the field. He bounced back with 20 points against Milwaukee, and while he’s still just…