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Head to Head: NBA Coach of the Year Race

Ben Dowsett, Moke Hamilton and Alex Kennedy debate who is the Coach of the Year frontrunner.

Basketball Insiders

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Now that we are halfway through the 2015-16 NBA season, it seems like an appropriate time to evaluate which coaches have done the best job leading their respective team. In today’s Head to Head, Ben Dowsett, Moke Hamilton and Alex Kennedy discuss which sideline general they feel is the current frontrunner in the Coach of the Year race.

Ben Dowsett: Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks

Determining the Coach of the Year in the NBA is about more than just picking the most visible bench boss from the league’s few elite teams. Maximization of available talent is the key – how much is a given coach adding to his group, both visibly and behind the scenes, above and beyond his peers? Are his schemes optimizing his personnel? Are his developmental tactics bringing players along at a high rate? And how are these factors contributing to team success?

Through this lens, though it’s impossible to discount the incredible work being done by Luke Walton and Gregg Popovich as their respective teams chase NBA history, your Coach of the Year leader through nearly half the season should be Dallas’ Rick Carlisle. His counterparts in Golden State and San Antonio have perfectly good cases, but even with Carlisle’s Mavs well behind them in the standings, no coach has done more with less on the year.

Consider the turnover Dallas has undergone since last season – one after which many labeled their multi-decade run of contention finally over. Five of the Mavs’ nine highest minute loggers from the 2014-15 season are now elsewhere, including a pair in Monta Ellis and Tyson Chandler who played the two most minutes of any Maverick last year. Dallas’ new highest volume players? In order: Wesley Matthews (not a year removed from Achilles’ surgery), 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, Zaza Pachulia, Raymond Felton (played under 10 minutes a game last year for this same team) and Deron Williams (left for dead as a star player by, well, everyone).

No matter. Dallas is humming along at five games over .500, tossing egg white all over those who predicted they’d be in the lottery and perhaps even subtly tanking to keep a top-seven protected pick they owe to Boston in the upcoming draft. Carlisle has coaxed a top-10 offense and a roughly league average defense out of a group that looked like a strange mix of veterans and misfits heading into the season.

Their 23-18 record is perhaps slightly deceiving – their Pythagorean win percentage (based on point margin) suggests they’re more like a 21-20 team. But Carlisle is also maybe responsible for some of this; Dallas ranks fourth in the league for per-possession net rating during “clutch” play (under five minutes remaining in regulation or overtime, score within five in either direction), and boasts a 13-10 record in these games.

These figures can often be very noisy and reflective more of chance than any skill on the court or behind the bench, but with the Mavs now over 100 such minutes on the season (only the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets have played more), a trend is beginning to appear. It becomes even clearer with a look at previous seasons: six of Carlisle’s eight in Dallas have seen his Mavericks perform as one of the top 10 teams in the league during clutch minutes, including five that have been among the league’s five best for a given year. The poise and readiness he instills in his group clearly separates him from many of his peers, and this year it’s done them a couple favors in the win column.

Others have more successful teams and flashier results so far this year, but no one has added as much to his group both on the court and off than Rick Carlisle. He should remain a viable candidate alongside the Waltons and the Pops of the world if the Mavs continue this unexpected success.

Moke Hamilton: Gregg Popovich

The Golden State Warriors have made NBA history, already. At this point, though, it is safe to assume that it is not the only type of history they are chasing. Very quietly, though, the San Antonio Spurs have found themselves right where they have been every year for what seems to be the duration of Tim Duncan’s career.

The Spurs, despite losing some key members of their rotation from the past few years, are near the top of the Western Conference as they’re accustomed to being. Gone are Tiago Splitter, Marco Belinelli and Cory Joseph, yet still, somehow, the Spurs have reinvented themselves on the fly.

Now, firmly built around Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs are just two games behind the Warriors in the standings. The two teams are poised to square off on January 25 in a battle that has been widely anticipated and discussed for the majority of the first half of the season.

Despite the Warriors’ success, the fact that the Spurs have been so good while making big changes and getting new players acclimated shows why Gregg Popovich deserves serious consideration for Coach of the Year. Popovich is a three-time winner of the award, but one would be hard-pressed to argue against his deserving the honor for the fourth time in his career.

Entering play on January 19, the Spurs have the league’s best defense by a wide margin, allowing just 89.6 points per game; meanwhile the second best team, the Miami HEAT, is allowing 95.5 per game. The Spurs also rank sixth in the league in points per game as well as third in the league in assists per game.

From top to bottom and left to right, the Spurs can certainly produce evidence that suggests they are the top team in the NBA. That Popovich has done this while reinventing his team around Leonard and Aldridge could similarly be evidence of him doing his finest coaching job ever.

I can’t wait until January 25.

Alex Kennedy: Luke Walton, Golden State Warriors

While Rick Carlisle and Gregg Popovich have certainly done a terrific job this season and are widely regarded as two of the best coaches in the NBA, I think the current frontrunner for the Coach of the Year award has to be Golden State Warriors head coach Luke Walton.

The Warriors made history with their amazing start to the season and they currently hold the NBA’s best record at 38-4. But it’s how they’re winning games and the circumstances surrounding their season that separates Walton from his peers, in my opinion.

Walton had never been a head coach at any level prior to this season and found out he’d have to step in for Steve Kerr due to his back surgeries with very little time to prepare. Yet even though he’s inexperienced and learning on the fly, he has been extremely successful. While Kerr has helped from a distance, even he has said that Walton deserves credit for the team’s success and begged the league to count the wins on Walton’s record rather than his own. While the NBA declined (meaning Walton technically has zero wins on his record), they did give Walton a Coach of the Month award recently, proving he is eligible for such honors (like, say, Coach of the Year).

And not only are the Warriors winning a ton of games, they are incredibly well-rounded and capable of dominating on both ends of the court. They currently have the NBA’s first-ranked offense (by far), scoring 111.9 points per 100 possessions. They also have the NBA’s third-ranked defense, allowing just 99 points per 100 possessions.

While some people have stated that just about anyone could win with this Warriors roster, that’s simply not true. Walton should get credit for unleashing the super-small lineup (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green) early in the season because it was absolutely destroying everyone before Barnes got hurt. He also deserves props for earning the players’ respect despite his inexperience, emerging as a strong leader and motivator, limiting his stars’ minutes (with an eye toward another Finals run), learning how to manage his rotation, managing the egos on the team, preventing the players from getting complacent after their championship, knowing when to rely on his talented assistant coaches and avoiding any kind of colossal errors.

That last one may seem easy, but think about how many first-time head coaches make big mistakes before becoming competent sideline generals. David Blatt had his share of blunders last year, Jason Kidd tried spilling soda to earn an extra timeout his first year and so on. The point is that Walton is making this look easy and avoiding major screw-ups, even though being a first-time head coach (particularly when you’ve never done it at any other level) is extremely hard.

And let’s not forget that Walton is doing this under ridiculous pressure. Leading the defending champs and chasing NBA history is a terrifying first head coaching job. The team has a target on its back and Walton would be the obvious scapegoat if anything were going wrong in Golden State. Fortunately for him, they’ve been excellent. But you know that if the team were struggling even a little bit, he’d be blamed and criticized.

Also, Golden State has faced quite a few obstacles this year. They have silenced anyone who said that they only won last year’s title because they were lucky and completely healthy during their Finals run, as they have proven to be extremely resilient in the face of adversity this season.

In addition to being without Coach Kerr all year (with no timetable for him to return), they’ve only had one player (Iguodala) appear in all 42 games this season. Barnes, who is incredibly important to the team, missed 17 games. Andrew Bogut has missed nine games. Curry has missed several games and played through injuries (shin contusion), as has Thompson (ankle sprain and back injury) and, most recently, Green (injuries to both legs).

Finally, I think it has to be said that voters love a good storyline. Popovich and Carlisle are great, but that’s expected at this point in their careers because they’ve won so many games and been successful for years. I can see voters going with Walton because of the fact that he came out of nowhere and is now making history. That’s just too good of a storyline for voters to ignore. You may think it’s stupid that the storyline factors in, but I can tell you that some voters love that stuff.

With all of that said, there are two scenarios that could derail Walton’s shot at the award.

The first one is the Warriors completely falling apart in the second half of the season. Keep in mind, they played more games than any other team last year due to their Finals run and had a shorter offseason than every West team. If fatigue sets in or even more injuries pile up, Walton may not cruise to the award. In fact, that’s when the criticism could star (fair or not). However, I find this scenario relatively unlikely given how well this team is playing and how they’ve managed to overcome obstacles thus far.

The other scenario has a much greater probability: Coach Kerr coming back relatively soon and taking his job back. For the record, I hope this happens because it would mean Kerr is finally pain free and no longer dealing with his health issues; get well soon, Coach. But if this does happen, Walton likely doesn’t win the award since – even though he was terrific – he would’ve only coached the team for half of the season.

There’s still plenty of basketball to be played and a lot can happen between now and the end of the campaign. However, from what we’ve seen so far, I think Walton has to be considered the frontrunner.

Do you agree with Ben, Moke or Alex? Do you have a different head coach in mind? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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NBA Daily: Washington’s Positionless Rebuild

Drew Maresca explains why the Washington Wizards’ are closer to legitimacy than you might think

Drew Maresca

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Upon first glance, the Washington Wizards look like an absolute train wreck. They traded away a lottery-protected 2023 first-round pick to swap out John Wall for Russell Westbrook – whose contract will haunt them through the end of 2022-23 – and they are on the verge of chasing away their 27-year-old, thirty-point per game scoring guard, Bradley Beal. So insert your “Washington can’t get their stuff together” comment here while you can, because the opportunity won’t be here for long.

Before getting too far ahead of ourselves, it’s worth acknowledging that the Wizards have, in fact, botched the opportunity to build a winner around Beal thus far. But, when John Wall opted to have heal surgery and subsequently ruptured his Achilles, the door shut on that option, anyway.

There is an obvious silver lining – Beal is signed through the end of next season with a player option for 2022-23. Given what the Milwaukee Bucks gave up for Jrue Holiday last offseason, one could assume that the Wizards would get more than enough to jump-start a rebuild in exchange for Beal.

But a look closer at Washington’s roster would reveal they’ve quietly laid a foundation for the future. Specifically, the Wizards’ last two lottery picks, Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija, embody position-less basketball, as versatile, highly skilled players who can be plugged into almost any lineup. Both were recently named to the Rising Star challenge — although it won’t be played due to inherent limitations in the arrangement of the 2021 All-Star Weekend, NBA coaches clearly agree. Sure, there’s international appeal given Hachimura’s Japanese background and Avdija’s Israeli heritage, which one could surmise was a major motivator in naming one or both to the team, but coaches aren’t known for playing politics.

So let’s take a closer look at the young Wizards hoping to lead Washington into the future.

Avdija is a top-flight, Israeli prospect who played on for EuroLeauge’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv – alongside former pros Amare Stoudemire and Omri Casspi – as a teenager for the past two seasons. He entered the NBA as a highly-touted playmaker, capable of playing and defending multiple positions. Somewhat surprisingly, Avdija fell to the Wizards with the ninth pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, as he was rated as the fourth-best prospect by the Wizards’ front office prior to the draft, according to sources.

The comparisons between Avdija and Luka Doncic were inevitable, as both are big, point forward types with a flair for the dramatic. That put obvious pressure on the young forward and, while he’s struggled for much of his rookie season – Avdija is averaging just 6.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game while connecting on 35.6% of his three-point attempts – his ceiling is obviously sky-high. He’s shown flashes of his greatness, like in a game in early March in which he recorded 10 points, 7 rebounds; or an early January game in which he collected 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists.

Further, no one should be discouraged by Avdija’s struggles. First, he shot just 27.7% on three-point attempts last season in the EuroLeague – so his three-point percentage this season should come as a huge relief. Further, Avdija is averaging just 21.4 minutes per game, often deferring to Beal and Westbrook (and, to a lesser degree, Hachimura and Thomas Bryant). So, as much as everyone wanted him to be the next Doncic, the opportunity simply hasn’t been there.

But the potential is.

Wizards coach Scott Brooks explained some of what’s went wrong for Avdija’s thus far: “It’s normal to have some good moments and some tough moments. Every player, every single player in this league. I’m sure Michael [Jordan] had a couple of bad games in his rookie year. Every player. Russell [Westbrook], I coached him his rookie year. He’s had a handful.”

“Deni’s gonna be a good player,” Brooks continued. “For all the rookies in the league, it’s never happened where you had no Summer League, really no training camp and then with the safety protocol, he missed three weeks in the middle of the season. That’s hard to overcome.”

To Brooks’ point, the lack of preparation has definitely made the transition for Avdija even harder. What’s more, it’s not just Avdija who’s struggled; Obi Toppin (New York) and Devin Vassell (San Antonio), two of the more refined prospects, have also struggled to get carve out a consistent role.

Further, Avdija isn’t the first lanky foreigner who needed more than a third of a season to acclimate to the NBA; Dirk Nowitzki averaged just 8.2 points in 20.4 minutes per game as a rookie; Manu Ginobili averaged just 7.6 points in 20.7 minutes per game; Danilo Gallinari averaged just 6.1 points in 14.6 minutes per game. The list goes on.

Once he gets an actual opportunity, Avdija’s bandwagon should fill up quickly.

If Avdija is Washington’s future facilitator, then Hachimura is its finisher. And, while questions plague Avdija’s performance, Hachimura is being praised for his.

To be fair, Hachimura is farther along in his development, with one NBA season already under his belt (and three years at Gonzaga). Hachimura, already 23, is a bit more refined and it shows in his output: 13.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists this season.

That said, a closer look at Hachimura’s play shows room for improvement – with a below league-average 12.9 PER and a 29.2% three-point percentage serving as his most glaring weaknesses. But, like with Avdija, the upside is clear as day. We’re talking about a second-year player who scored 15 or more points 11 times so far this season – just 26 games. He’s strong, polished and bouncier than advertised prior to the 2019 draft.

Further, a closer examination of his shooting numbers reveals that while his three-point shooting clearly needs work, his mid-range game is spot on. Hachimura is connecting on 41.2% of his shots from between 16 feet and the three-point arc – better than noted midrange expert Carmelo Anthony (37%) and just hair behind All-Star forward Jayson Tatum (42.9%).

But Hachimura’s offensive abilities have been known for what feels like forever, partially due to the ridiculously long 2019-20 season. What’s surprising, though, is how he’s continued to improve on the defensive end – so much so, in fact, that Brooks specifically called out his defensive development after a recent game.

But no one should be that surprised. Hachimura’s combination of speed and strength, along with his high motor, is tailor-made for defensive success. And, again, like Avdija, the 6-foot-8 Hachimura’s versatility is his major selling point. He boasts size, dexterity, touch and handle. And, while his skill set has become far more common in the NBA, plug-and-play guys of Hachimura’s build are still relatively rare. And, most importantly, they allow teams to get creative in roster construction, enabling the addition of players whose deficiencies could be covered up by players like Hachimura.

Ultimately, neither Avdija nor Hachimura is a guarantee. Both possess serious upside and could grow into perennial All-Stars, but neither is a sure thing. Their attitudes and approaches will be a major determining factor in their success, or lack thereof.

The Wizards could look very different as soon as next season. But, as of now, Washington looks ready to tackle its rebuild — and, between these two, they may already have a headstart.

Blink and you might just miss their entire rebuild.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Three Teams Failing Expectations

Expectations were extremely high for three teams entering this season. A variety of factors have derailed their trajectory but there may still be time to address their issues and turn their seasons around.

Chad Smith

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Every offseason presents the opportunity for organizations to revamp their rosters in hopes of improving their team for the upcoming season. Between the NBA Draft and the free agency period, executives are busy around the clock. The flurry of phone calls and internal discussions among management is key to molding the future.

But the league found itself in an unfamiliar position this past year with the delayed season, the playoffs in the Orlando “bubble” and a shortened offseason that went by in the blink of an eye. The first preseason game tipped off exactly two months after the final game of the NBA Finals. The turnaround was quick and complicated for everyone involved.

That said, several teams were able to capitalize on the abbreviated turnaround. The Phoenix Suns knocked it out of the park with the Chris Paul trade and signing of Jae Crowder. The Charlotte Hornets nailed the draft and free agency, as Michael Jordan landed both Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball. The New York Knicks found success in the draft with Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin. The Brooklyn Nets added excellent role players in Bruce Brown and Jeff Green while re-signing Joe Harris, who has been worth every penny.

Some teams appeared as though they had hit a home run, only to see the ball being caught at the warning track. The hype and buzz surrounding these teams were well warranted at the time, but things just haven’t panned out for a variety of reasons. With the All-Star break finally here, these three teams would welcome the idea of hitting the “undo” button on their offseason moves.

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors find themselves sitting two games under .500 entering the All-Star break. While they are certainly not out of contention, they are a far cry from where most people thought they would be at this point. It began with a rocky start to the season, where they dug themselves a massive hole with a 2-8 record.

The crux of their struggles came with their frontcourt issues. Both Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka took the Kawhi Leonard route from Toronto to Los Angeles in the offseason. Losing one of their big men hurt, but losing both of them was crippling. The signings of Aron Baynes and Alex Len looked okay on paper, but the fit could not have been worse. Toronto currently ranks dead last in rebounding as a team.

Toronto ended up waiving Len, while Baynes has seen his role reduced even more. Fortunately, the emergence of Chris Boucher and Norman Powell has helped the Raptors turn their season around. Draft picks Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris haven’t had a major impact, but Pascal Siakam finally snapped out of his bubble fog and Kyle Lowry is healthy once again as well.

One good thing that the Raptors were able to do in the offseason was retain their sensational guard Fred VanVleet. Toronto has seemingly turned things around over the past few weeks and, considering they are playing all of their home games 1,400 miles away from their arena, they are positioned for a much better second half of the season.

Dallas Mavericks

Last season, the Mavericks boasted the best offense in the entire league, led by MVP-candidate Luka Doncic. The goal for them in the offseason was to acquire a defensive presence that could get this team more balanced. It appeared as though they addressed that when they traded Seth Curry to Philadelphia for Josh Richardson. Unfortunately, that has not been the case early on.

Dallas was also looking for an upgrade at the center position, but they missed out. They ended up having to settle for bringing back Willie Cauley-Stein on a two-year deal for $8.2 million. As a team, the Mavericks rank 24th in rebounding. James Johnson has been a solid addition, but he alone was not nearly enough to upgrade their porous defense.

Kristaps Porzingis has been quite inconsistent this season, so it is difficult to know what they are going to get from him every night. He is nowhere near the defensive presence that he was during his time in New York. Richardson is the guy that Dallas has been waiting on to provide outstanding perimeter defense, but he too has been unable to piece it together on a nightly basis.

The Mavericks did not find anything in the draft and it seems as though, once again, Doncic is having to do everything for this team in order for them to have success. His 36.2 percent usage rate is the highest in the league and that doesn’t appear to be going down anytime soon. If you are going to give the keys to the entire offense to someone, he is a good choice but Dallas struck out in terms of giving their franchise player more help this season.

Atlanta Hawks

No team had won the offseason quite like the Hawks. The organization was able to surround its franchise player with truckloads of talent in free agency. They added elite shooters like Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari. They added key defensive guards in Kris Dunn and two-time champion Rajon Rondo. They even scored more talent in the draft, taking Onyeka Okongwu with the sixth overall pick.

Atlanta lost no players of significant value, either, as general manager Travis Schlenk added to his already loaded young nucleus of Trae Young, John Collins, Clint Capela, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter. The problem here is that there are just too many overlapping pieces.

The veterans that were brought in either haven’t been able to get on the floor or are taking up valuable minutes for the younger players, potentially stunting their growth. The workload has been spread thanks to their depth as they deal with all of the injuries but there is no chemistry on the floor. In a season where practice time is near non-existent, that is a real problem.

The Hawks hit the All-Star break in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with a disappointing 16-20 record. The game is being played in their backyard, yet they don’t even have a player to represent them. And, in recent days, it’s gotten even worse; the team officially fired head coach Lloyd Pierce on Monday, with Nate McMillan set to take over as interim coach.

Atlanta has played 36 games this season. Their nine best players have missed a combined 143 games. Not including Dunn, who hasn’t played all season, that number is still well over 100 games missed. This locker room is a mixed bag of players that lack leadership and desperately need guidance. Pierce wasn’t the answer and Vince Carter isn’t walking through those doors anytime soon.

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NBA

NBA Rookie of the Year Watch – March 5

Two rookies have pulled away from the rest of the pack in the hunt for the Rookie of the Year award. Tristan Tucker breaks down how the rookie pyramid is shaping up halfway through the season.

Tristan Tucker

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The All-Star break is nearly upon the NBA, and the Rising Stars rosters were just announced with several rookies leading the charge. Two players have pulled away by a significant margin in recent weeks, with several first-year players making impacts on winning teams. Let’s take a look at how the rookie ladder has changed over the last two weeks.

1. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets (Previous: 1)

February was kind to the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month, who’s ascended to another level of stardom in the NBA in just his first season. The rookie is averaging 20.1 points, 6.7 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game during that span. Since Basketball Insiders’ last update to the rookie ladder, Ball put up a stretch of five 20-plus point games, including a 30-point showing against the Portland Trail Blazers and a 24-point, 12-assist game in Charlotte’s wild win over the Sacramento Kings.

One of the concerns surrounding Ball when he entered the league was his ability to knock down jump shots at an effective rate. The 6-foot-6 point guard has shattered those concerns with his recent play and knocked down 40.7 percent of his attempts from downtown in just under seven tries per game.

When Charlotte parted ways with Kemba Walker in the summer of 2019, it would’ve been far-fetched to imagine that the Hornets would be stacked at the point guard position in just two years. However, with Ball and Terry Rozier, the Hornets are looking at a legitimate shot at the postseason.

2. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings (Previous: 2)

Together with Ball, Haliburton has all but cemented this Rookie of the Year race as a two-party contest. It gets harder to not give Haliburton the top nod with each passing week; the rookie out of Iowa State is completely dominating off the bench for the Kings. Though he’s missed the last three games for Sacramento, Haliburton is averaging 17.4 points, 6 assists and 2.4 steals per game while shooting a very impressive 47.9/39.4/85.7 line in five games over the last two weeks.

Haliburton’s excellence extends beyond his scoring, as the Kings are 1.5 points better when Haliburton is on the floor. Furthermore, the 6-foot-5 guard boasts an assist percentage of 24.6, which ranks in the 97th percentile of all NBA players and a 1.33 assist to usage clip, which ranks in the 100th percentile.

The Kings have to feel good about their young core in spite of their record, especially with Haliburton earning Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors and a spot on the Rising Stars roster.

3. Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks (Previous: 5)

Before the season, nobody would’ve guessed that the Knicks would be the fifth seed at the halfway point of the season. Head coach Tom Thibodeau and improved veteran play from All-Star Julius Randle and others have sparked the franchise’s turnaround. No player, however, is more synonymous with that spark of energy than Quickley.

Since the last ladder update, Quickley is averaging 13.5 points on a staggering 48.4 percent clip from deep. When the team acquired Derrick Rose, Quickley’s playing time was in the air, but the rookie’s resilience and determination have kept him in the lineup as he continued to exceed expectations.

4. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons (Previous: 6)

Bey’s placement here should be representative of the overall fantastic job the Detroit Pistons have done with all of their young pieces. Bey is obviously playing great — more on that later — but other draftees Isaiah Stewart and Saben Lee are playing phenomenally as well. Then there’s the case of resurgences in Josh Jackson — averaging a career-high 13.5 points per game — and Dennis Smith Jr., who was just acquired and posted a triple-double in a blowout win.

But, in a year that many thought would be a throwaway for the Pistons, especially with seventh overall pick Killian Hayes sidelined, Bey and the rest of the young corps along with Jerami Grant and company have stepped up and delivered exciting basketball to Detroit.

Over the last two weeks, Bey is averaging 11.7 points and 5 rebounds per game while shooting an impressive 37 percent from deep on just under eight attempts per game. If Hayes pans out, the 2020 NBA Draft is shaping up to be a turning point for the Pistons.

5. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves (Previous: 3)

If Edwards could hit shots at even a 45 percent clip, there’s little doubt that he would be running away with the scoring title of all rookies and perhaps the Rookie of the Year award itself. However, it continues to be a hindrance, as Edwards is shooting a horrid 32.8 percent from the field and 25.4 percent from 3 in the last two weeks.

It’s unfortunate that the shooting is so inconsistent, as he’s put together a string of four 19-plus points per game contests and several highlight-reel plays across the span of the last two weeks.

The last two weeks brought a lot of turmoil to light for the Timberwolves, with the team undergoing a head-coaching change, bringing in Chris Finch from the Toronto Raptors to replace Ryan Saunders. But that’s not all, as Ricky Rubio recently voiced displeasure with the team’s performance and D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley continue to be out.

With all the drama surrounding Minnesota, it’s hard to envision any rookie seeing much success there. The fact that Edwards is able to put these high-scoring performances together at all is telling of how special a talent he can be.

6. Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets (Previous: 4)

Tate’s on-court production has dipped slightly in conjunction with the Houston Rockets’ losing streak, but the hyper-athletic forward is still giving it his all on a nightly basis. Look no further than the fact that the team is parting ways with DeMarcus Cousins for proof that Houston believes in Tate as a member of its future.

Houston plays better when Tate is on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. And with that comes rejuvenated energy from all points on the court. When Tate is on, the team’s offensive rebounding percentage increases by 8.1 percent, which ranks in the 98th percentile of the entire NBA. 

Even though the Rockets are in a slump, Tate is averaging 9.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on 47.9 percent shooting from the field. Most recently, he enjoyed a double-double in James Harden’s return to Houston.

Honorable Mention: Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers (Not Ranked)

Okoro gets his first rookie ladder nod after the Cleveland Cavaliers saw a fantastic stretch in which the team won four straight games. During that span of time, Okoro averaged 10.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals while seeing season-best shooting figures of 49.1 percent from the floor and 41.4 percent from three.

The 6-foot-5 forward out of Auburn has played the second-most minutes of any rookie and has started in every game for the Cavs, a promising start to Okoro’s career. Okoro is also playing strong defense for a Cleveland team that desperately needs good defenders and his stock could rise as the weeks go on.

With a multitude of highlight-reel dunks, passes and plays in just the last two weeks, several rookies are making big impacts on teams in a year where young depth is crucial. While Ball and Haliburton are currently leading the race, don’t sleep on James Wiseman to make a resurgence, as he scored 14, 11 and 16 points, respectively, in his first three games since returning from injury. Be sure to check back with Basketball Insiders for the next rookie ladder to see how tight this competition gets!

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