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Flip Murray Attempting NBA Comeback

At 36 years old, Ronald “Flip” Murray tells Basketball Insiders that he’s attempting an NBA comeback.

Alex Kennedy

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This offseason, a number of notable veterans have expressed interest in returning to the NBA. Ray Allen, Stephen Jackson, Richard Hamilton and Carlos Boozer are among the players who are reportedly thinking of making a comeback for the 2016-17 season. It makes sense that these players would want to return to the league, especially now that the NBA salary cap has reached an unprecedented high. Also, many of these individuals never lost the itch to play and want to compete at the highest level once again.

In addition to the aforementioned players, you can add Ronald “Flip” Murray to the list of veterans looking to get back into the league. Murray, who is 36 years old, told Basketball Insiders that he’s determined to make an NBA roster one last time.

Murray, a 6’4 combo guard, made a name for himself in the NBA with his ability to score the ball from all over the floor and provide instant offense as a sixth man. Over the course of his eight-year NBA career, he averaged 9.9 points and 2.3 assists while playing just 22.7 minutes per game. His per-100-possession stats for his career are impressive – 23.2 points, 5.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds – since his minutes were relatively limited.

Throughout his time in the NBA, Murray had stints with the Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle SuperSonics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls. And that doesn’t even count the times he was signed by a team and cut before playing in a game, such as when the Memphis Grizzlies inked him to a deal on Oct. 1, 2012 and waived him later that month without playing him a single minute.

Murray hasn’t played in an NBA game since the 2009-10 season, when he suited up for the Chicago Bulls and averaged 10.1 points over 29 contests. However, Murray has remained in shape because he played overseas and in the D-League. Between these stints, he also participated in a number of professional competitions, including The Basketball Tournament (which has a $2 million prize, is broadcast on ESPN and includes many overseas stars and D-League standouts).

I work out every day,” Murray told Basketball Insiders. “I’m in Philly right now working out with a group of guys, a lot of college guys and guys who play overseas. Some guys who actually play for Philly work out at the same center down here. Some workouts are at La Salle and some workouts are at Temple University, but we’re working out every day. Usually, we go lift from like 8-9 a.m. and then we do workouts from like 9:30-10:30 a.m. and then play a little bit of pick-up afterwards. Dionte Christmas, who played in the league and played overseas as well, is one of the guys. The Morris Twins [Marcus and Markieff], Dion Waiters, Hakim Warrick, Mark Tyndale – who played at Temple as well as overseas and in the D-League – are some of the guys there.”

One reason Murray hasn’t played in the NBA for quite some time is because he fractured his hip during the NBA lockout, sidelining him for nearly half of a year.

“It was a bad situation because at the end of the day, that’s when we went into the lockout year and during the time of the lockout, we were doing a lot of charity games where we would be playing against different cities,” Murray said. “I actually ended up suffering a major injury, fracturing my hip. When I fractured my hip, I was out for about four to five months and it took me a while to get back to 100 percent after that.”

In an effort to get his confidence back and ensure he was completely healthy, Murray decided to play in the D-League with the Austin Toros. He essentially treated it as a rehab stint. It went even better than he could’ve imagined, as he helped the Toros win the 2012 D-League championship in his lone season there. He averaged an impressive 21.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.5 steals in 38.8 minutes while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as the team’s go-to option offensively. Perhaps most impressive is that he says he was only at 80 percent at that time since he was playing himself into shape.

“I didn’t mind playing in the D-League,” Murray said. “A lot of people thought I was done playing basketball because I suffered that hip injury and nobody really saw me play for a while. Because of that, I wanted to just go out there and show people that I could still play and that I still love the game. It was a good experience for me; I had a chance to connect with some younger guys that were trying to make an NBA roster at the time. It was more of a leadership role for me playing down there with the young guys, but I also still had a nice experience playing there because there’s a lot of talent. And a lot of those talented guys I was playing against made it up to the NBA.

“When I came back from the injury, I went to the Austin Toros of the D-League and we won a championship in the D-League. At that time, I still wasn’t feeling 100 percent. I was probably around a good 80 percent. Following that, I just went overseas and played abroad for a couple years.”

As he mentioned, Murray would play with teams in Turkey, Ukraine and Lebanon, and he really enjoyed his time in these countries. He continues to receive interest from international teams to this day, but he doesn’t want to leave his family behind to go overseas again.

It was a great experience,” Murray said of playing abroad. “I got a chance to travel the world and see different countries and cultures. Turkey was beautiful. Ukraine was okay – where I was at, it was a little rough in the city, but I was able to travel and see other parts of Ukraine too. And Lebanon was just beautiful. Beautiful. The competition level over there is good as well. Turkey had good competition and the game is very physical over there. I mean, those guys play hard. Every second of every game, they never take a play off over there. Those guys play extremely hard. Like I said, there is a lot of talent over there and I’m glad I got the chance to experience that and play overseas.

“But I just didn’t want to go back overseas because of the situation with my wife and my family. I didn’t want to leave them here and go back, you know? So that’s why I didn’t take the option of going back overseas. But I have been playing a lot and working out daily. I played in The Basketball Tournament, which includes professionals and college alumni teams. I also played in the Danny Rumph Classic in Philadelphia, and other competitive tournaments and leagues too.”

In his last professional action, Murray played for Al Mouttahed Tripoli in Lebanon’s Division A. He averaged 24 points, 4.2 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals while shooting 34 percent from three-point range (on 9.4 attempts per game).

Teams looking to add an experienced veteran may give Murray a look, as he has played in 487 regular-season games and 45 playoff games in the NBA. He’s a savvy vet, and he insists he’s willing to embrace any role a team asks of him including helping young players develop (something he enjoys).

“I would definitely bring a lot of veteran leadership because I know the game of basketball,” Murray said. “The way the game is now, I feel like I could fit perfectly in. I could be someone who comes off the bench and produces for the team. I’d also like to mentor the young guys and pass on some of the experiences and lessons I learned from playing against some of the guys I matched up against during my time. If I come in right now, I could bring a lot of veteran leadership and still be able to produce on the court.

“The way the game is set up now, I think my game fits perfectly for the NBA. The way the game is going now with a lot of pick-and-roll and a lot of iso and [creating your own shot], that opens up the floor for the spread fours who can shoot the three. With a lot of isos, it opens the floor up a lot so you are able to make plays for yourself as well as others. I believe I could come in and fit perfectly.”

Murray knows that a job won’t be handed to him given his age and his time away from professional basketball. Because of this, he’s absolutely open to working out for NBA teams or attending free-agent minicamps to show what he has left in the tank.

“I have no problem doing that,” Murray said of working out for an NBA team to show what he can do at this stage of his career. “I’m working out every day anyway, so I have no problem going to work out for an NBA team and show what I can do.

“Given an opportunity, given a chance, I would love to go out there to show that I can still play this game at that level. I can still go in and produce, even at the age of 36. I’m still very athletic and still very quick, and I still want to play this game.”

It may be tough given his age and the basketball mileage on his body, but Murray has never let slim odds stop him. After all, he turned a Division II collegiate career into eight years in the NBA that netted him nearly $10 million. You can’t knock Flip’s hustle or work ethic.

It’s this determination and underdog story that has impressed so many of Murray’s peers. Many players – former and current – have nothing but positive things to say about Flip and they know how much damage he can do when he gets hot with the ball.

“I’ve always been a huge Flip Murray fan,” said Chauncey Billups, who played with Murray on the Pistons in 2007 when they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. “He’s always been a Jamal-Crawford-type guy. He can come off your bench and score with the best of them. As long as he’s in great shape, I’m confident he can really help a team win.”

Speaking of Crawford, he has a lot of respect for Murray since they are both sixth men known for scoring at will. Murray never won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year trophy, but he did finish seventh in voting for the award in 2009. That was one year before Crawford won the award for the first time; now, Crawford has been honored as Sixth Man of the Year an NBA-record three times, including this past season.

“Flip was always nice, always had game,” Crawford said. “He didn’t play much in Milwaukee or in Seattle at first. Then, Ray Allen went down for a while and Flip averaged like 20 points a game and they were winning in that stretch! I always enjoyed watching him and I had a lot of respect for his game.”

“He’s one of the most prolific scorers I saw on a daily basis,” said Brent Barry, who played two seasons with Murray on the Sonics. “He could get anywhere he wanted and used his body very well. I’m happy to hear that he is still chasing his dream and continuing his career. I will never forget ‘Flip Your Lid’ filling in for Ray to start the 2003 season.”

What Crawford and Barry are referring to is when Allen had to miss an early stretch of the 2003-04 season, which thrust Murray into Seattle’s starting lineup. At this point, Murray was in just his second NBA season and nobody expected him to do a whole lot. After all, he had appeared in just 14 NBA games as a rookie, averaging just 1.9 points in 4.4 minutes. The Sonics were hoping that Murray could be a serviceable stopgap until Allen returned.

Murray had other plans.

He dominated and led Seattle to five wins in their first six games. Murray averaged 23.9 points, 4.4 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals through the first 11 games of the season. In his 18 starts that year, he averaged 19.2 points, 4.5 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 35.6 minutes. When asked to perform on the biggest stage in basketball and fill in for a future Hall of Famer, Murray shined and turned heads around the NBA. That’s why over a decade later, Barry says he’ll never forget that stretch of impressive basketball and why Seattle native Crawford sounds like an excited fan when he talks about it.

Some have compared Murray’s remarkable stretch to Jeremy Lin’s “Linsanity” run in New York, but it honestly may have been even crazier. While Lin went undrafted, he played at Harvard and was somewhat of a known commodity after having success with the Dallas Mavericks’ Summer League team, playing particularly well against rookie John Wall and earning a spot on the Golden State Warriors’ regular-season roster. Murray not only went undrafted, he attended Shaw University (a Division II school) prior to joining the Sonics. Before bursting onto the scene in 2003, his previous career-high was six points. He had scored 27 points total in his NBA career before stepping in for Allen in the starting five. So the fact that he scored 20 or more points in 10 of the first 11 games that season – and topped 27 points on five different occasions that year – was incredible.

Once Murray showed what he could do when given minutes and touches, the Sonics used him more and other teams eventually showed interest as well. That’s what allowed him to suit up for so many different teams and sign numerous contracts – both in the NBA and, later, abroad.

Now, he’s hoping for one last NBA contract and a final chance to prove himself once again.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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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 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 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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