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NBA Rookie Of The Year Watch: Parker Still On Top

Basketball Insiders takes a look at which rookies have made a strong early impression this season.

Jesse Blancarte

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With the second week of the NBA season in the books, Jabari Parker holds onto the number one spot in Basketball Insiders’ weekly Rookie of the Year Watch.

There are some notable shifts from last week’s rankings.  One main reason for that is injuries to Nerlens Noel and Marcus Smart, who have both been sidelined for several games after suffering ankle sprains last week.   Another reason is inconsistent playing time.  One such example of this is Nikola Mirotic, who has seen a significant drop in his minutes and consequently has fallen out of the top-10 for this week.

With that said, let’s jump into this week’s rankings:

10.  Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics:

Smart suffered what looked like a severe ankle injury last Friday against the Indiana Pacers.  Fortunately, the injury was diagnosed as just a sprain and bone bruise, which will keep Smart out of action for at least another week.

For now, Smart remains in the top-10 of the rookie rankings, but will surely drop out before he is able to return.  But after seeing Smart play gritty defense against opposing point guards for five games, and make some impressive passes, he should be back in the top-10 in no time.

9.  Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic:

Gordon has at times looked NBA-ready, and at other times looked very much like a raw rookie.  Gordon’s biggest problem right now, however, is playing time.  Gordon only played 16 and 10 minutes in his last two games, and is now down to just 15.2 minutes per game on average through eight games.

On the season, Gordon is averaging 5.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 0.5 assists on 51.4 percent shooting from the field and 42.9 percent from three-point range.  Gordon is known as a hard worker, and it looks as though his hard work is paying off, at least when he manages to get onto the floor.  Last Friday against the Minnesota Timberwolves Gordon scored 17 points, grabbed six rebounds, registered one assist, blocked two shots and made his two shots from three-point range in 22 minutes of action.  It’s unfortunate that Gordon’s minutes dropped after this impressive performance, but that is part of the usual struggle for NBA rookies.

8.  Dante Exum, Utah Jazz:

Exum had one of his best performances of the season against the Dallas Mavericks last Friday.  Exum scored 11 points, grabbed two rebounds, registered five assists, and knocked down 2-4 of his three-point attempts.  Exum played 27 minutes against the Mavericks, which was his most minutes played in any game this season.  He showed an ability to make accurate passes in crowded spaces, and looked very comfortable shooting the ball from deep.

Through eight games, Exum is averaging 6.3 points, 1.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists while shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from three-point range.  Exum has huge potential moving forward, but will struggle to climb the rookie rankings until he starts playing more than 20 minutes a game.

7.  Kostas Papanikolaou, Houston Rockets:

Papanikolaou continues to find ways to impact games through his rebounding, passing, and playmaking.  However, Papanikolaou needs to start hitting his shots, or he will continue to fall down the rookie rankings.

Through seven games, Papanikolaou is averaging 4.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game, while shooting 28.6 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from beyond the arc.  There was a temptation to drop Papanikolaou down the rankings even more because of his shooting percentages, but his overall impact on games, most notably his passing, holds him steady at seven for now.

6.  Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers:

After spraining his ankle last Wednesday and being held out of action since, Noel slides to six after finishing second overall last week.

Noel could have dropped more, but his per game averages of 7.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.8 blocks through five games mitigates the damage from missing these last few games.  Noel is expected to be back on Thursday (along with the reigning Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams) and should pick up right where he left off.

5.  Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets:

Bojan Bogdanovic comes in at fifth this week after being left off the list last week.  Bogdanovic had his best performance of the season against the Orlando Magic on Sunday, scoring 22 points and hauling in six rebounds.

Through six games, Bogdanovic is averaging 10 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.3 assists on 48 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc.  He looks very confident shooting from the perimeter, and has shown a knack for scoring at and around the rim.  His perimeter defense has been fairly good overall as well.

As long as Bogdanovic continues to play confidently and play heavy minutes, he should be a regular in the weekly Rookie of the Year Watch.

4.  K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers:

The more McDaniels plays, the more teams must wonder how they let him slip into the second round of this year’s draft.  McDaniels may not ultimately win Rookie of the Year, but he looks like a lock to win the biggest steal of the draft award (okay, that’s not a real award, but you get the point).

Through seven games, McDaniels is averaging 9.3 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.7 blocks per game on 48.1 percent shooting from the field and 42.1 percent from three-point range.  He is third among all rookies in per game scoring, second in blocks and fourth in three-point shooting percentage (though first among rookies that shoot more than two three-pointer per game).

There are at least a few teams that are kicking themselves for passing on McDaniels on draft night.  However, because of his unique contract situation, those teams will have a shot at acquiring him after this season.  If he keep playing the way he has been, he is sure to get a lot of attention next offseason.

3.  Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves:

Through six games, Andrew Wiggins is averaging 9.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, one assist and 1.2 steals, while shooting 43.1 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond-the-arc in 27.3 minutes per game.

Wiggins is fourth in per game scoring among all rookies and at times looks like he could average closer to 16 points per game.  His best game in the last week came against the Brooklyn Nets, where he scored 17 points, made his only three-point attempt and hauled in four rebounds.  In that game, Wiggins showed an ability to finish at the rim through contact and to knock down shots from the perimeter.

While Wiggins’ offensive production will fluctuate throughout the season, his commitment to playing tough perimeter defense seems like a constant, which is a major reason why he takes the number three spot in the rankings this week.

2.  Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic:

Payton takes hold of the number two spot this week despite scoring just four points total in his last two games.

Through eight games, Payton is averaging 7.2 points, six assists, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.4 steals, while shooting 34.8 percent from the field.  Most notable is Payton’s six assists per game, which is far and away the best among all rookies (Kostas Papanikolaou is second at 3.1 assists per game) and 1.4 steals per game, second best to Nerlens Noel.  However, Payton’s shooting has been shaky as he is shooting just 34.8 from the field and has attempted just one three-pointer so far.

1.  Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks:

We all knew Parker would be able to score the ball at the pro level, and so far he is one of just two rookies to average double-digits in scoring (the other being Bojan Bogdanovic).  Through eight games, Parkier is averaging 10.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, one assist and 1.1 steals, while shooting 41.9 percent from the field and 25 percent from beyond-the-arc in 28.8 minutes per game.

Parker’s rebounding numbers have declined somewhat, and he hasn’t registered a double-double since November 1, but he continues to make an impact each night.  He looked particularly good against the Detroit Pistons on Friday, scoring 18 points on a combination of athletics dunks, points in transition, and mid-range jumpers.

Particularly encouraging is Parker’s ability to grab rebounds and push the ball in transition.  The only other power forward in the league who does this regularly is Blake Griffin, which is one of the things that makes him such a unique and effective big man.  Parker doesn’t have Griffin’s size or strength, but he is showing a well-rounded game that keeps him on top of the Rookie rankings for a second consecutive week.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Danuel House Optimistic About Future

David Yapkowitz speaks to Danuel House about life as a two-way player for the Houston Rockets & what he hopes comes out of his time in the G League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

David Yapkowitz

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Opportunity is everything in the NBA. Last season’s implementation of two-way contracts gave a lot more players potential opportunities in the league that may not have been previously available.

One player who has used two-way contracts to showcase himself and really prove that he belongs in the NBA is Danuel House Jr.

House actually began his career two years ago as an undrafted rookie with the Washington Wizards. However, he suffered a wrist injury only about a month into the 2016-17 season.

He was subsequently cut by the Wizards and used the summer to heal up before joining the Houston Rockets for training camp prior to the start of last season. He ended up being one of the final cuts in camp, and he joined the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

His strong play earned him a two-way contract with the Phoenix Suns after only two months of G League play. This year, he rejoined the Vipers, only to earn another two-way contract with the Rockets. Having had some experience now with a two-way, it’s something that House sees as being beneficial.

“It’s got its good perks and its bad perks. But then the NBA is just trying to open more doors for more guys to be seen and have an opportunity,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s a good idea, it’s gonna work the kinks out so it can be more beneficial to the players. It’s still new and it’s still trending and working itself through the NBA.”

This season has been a bit of a whirlwind for House. He initially joined the Golden State Warriors for training camp, only to have them cut him before the start of the season. After spending about a month with the Vipers, the Rockets called him up, only to cut him and then eventually re-sign him to a two-way deal.

Due to injuries in the Rockets lineup, House saw meaningful minutes right away, even being placed in Houston’s starting lineup. He had some solid performances down the stretch of last season with the Suns, but this season he really looked the part of a legitimate NBA rotation player.

When a player signs a two-way deal, they are allotted a maximum of 45 days of NBA service, meaning that the rest of the time they must remain in the G League. If a player exceeds the 45-day limit, they must be sent back down to the G League unless they’re able to reach an agreement on a standard contract with the NBA team.

Because of the Rockets’ necessity of House in the rotation, he used up his NBA days last month. He and the Rockets were unable to agree on a contract, so he returned to the G League with the Vipers. While there haven’t been many updates as of late, he’s still hopeful that something can work out with the Rockets.

“Hopefully I can go back to Houston and compete for a title. There’s nothing like learning from James [Harden] and Chris Paul, Gerald Green, Eric Gordon and those guys,” House told Basketball Insiders. “And now with the additions of [Iman] Shumpert and Kenneth Faried, I’m just excited to hopefully get something done so I can be out there and competing with those guys.”

Initially, House wasn’t playing with the Vipers upon returning to the team. But he made his return to the court a few weeks ago on Feb 8. In that game, House shook off some initial rust and ended up having a solid performance including hitting the game-winning free-throws.

In the past, the G League was often times seen as a punishment for NBA players. The league didn’t have that great of a reputation, but over the past few years that image has started to change. The competition has gotten a lot stronger, and according to House, there are plenty of guys who are that close to making it to the NBA.

“The competition here is real. There’s a lot of dudes out here that got a lot of talent that they can showcase. They just want their one opportunity, their one chance that I was so fortunate and blessed with,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I know not to come out here and take it for granted, that’s why I’m playing hard and of course still trying to be a student of the game and learn.”

Recently, during a media availability session, Rockets star and perennial MVP candidate James Harden expressed hope that the Rockets and House could work something out. Harden told reporters that they all know how good House is and what he brings to the team.

In 25 games for the Rockets this season – including 12 starts – House put up nine points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 39 percent from the three-point line. He’s in the mold of a three-and-D type player, but he also moves well without the ball on cuts to the rim and can attack the basket as well.

“My role was to play defense and make the right read,” House told Basketball Insiders. “Shoot when I’m open, drive, attack the rack, and run the floor. Of course, defend and rebound and make good reads. It was easy.”

As it stands, the Rockets have 12 players on their roster, and a pair of two-way deals for House and Vincent Edwards. House is not eligible to rejoin the Rockets until the G League season concludes. Even then, he won’t be eligible to play in the playoffs as per two-way deal restrictions.

The Rockets will need to add at least two players to get up to the league-mandated 14 players on the roster. House would appear to be a good candidate for one of those spots, but that remains to be seen. But regardless of whether or not it works out in Houston, House is confident that he’s done enough to prove he belongs in the NBA.

“It gave me the utmost confidence, but my hard work, my passion, and my faith in the man upstairs gave me the ability. I asked him to guide me through the journey and he’s been taking care of me,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I’m so grateful that the opportunities and I used my ability to perform and do something I love to take care of my family.”

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PODCAST: Checking In On Clippers & Lakers, East Arms Race, Warriors’ Challengers

Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Ujiri Leading Golden Era of Raptors Basketball

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri has taken big risks in going all in for the 2019 season and – with a potentially shortened window – it’s the right move, writes Lang Greene.

Lang Greene

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The Toronto Raptors (43-16) are on pace for their fourth consecutive 50-plus win season and barring a collapse of epic proportions will shortly secure their sixth straight trip to the playoffs.

Make no mistake, this is the golden era of Raptors basketball. Period.

The easiest thing in the world to do is play a situation safe. Minimize risk and accept the near certain outcome. Heading into the season, as previously constructed, the Raptors were already on a trajectory to reach 50 wins and secure a playoff berth. However, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri made the risky decision to turn off cruise control and go all in on a championship this season.

The reason was simple – five straight trips to the Eastern Conference playoffs netted only one trip past the second round and some seriously embarrassing postseason eliminations. So sure, the franchise could have stayed the course with the previous roster framework, but realistic title aspirations were a stretch at best.

To begin the roster reconstruction, the Raptors traded All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan, big man Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first round pick to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and veteran guard Danny Green.

Green and Leonard immediately provided Toronto with championship heart and grit, something lacking from the team in year’s past. The trade was a huge risk for Ujiri with free agency looming this summer for Leonard (and Green) and having to say goodbye to DeRozan, a homegrown talent and the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.

Toronto rolled early this season and have remained near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, but Ujiri doubled down at the trade deadline by acquiring former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol in exchange for Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and a 2024 second-round draft pick.

In just over six months, Ujiri was able to acquire two former Defensive Player of the Year award winners while gutting his roster of familiar faces fans came to know during the team’s recent run to prominence.

The Raptors currently sit one game out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The moves are driving results and most believe the Raptors are legitimate title contenders. But the risk for the franchise is most definitely real. Gasol, Leonard and Green are all expected to hit the unrestricted free agency market this summer which could leave the franchise facing a real possibility of losing all for nothing in return.

The prospect of losing Leonard and Gasol would undoubtedly take Toronto from the top of the East to a club scrapping to even make a playoff run in 2020. Ujiri went all in for a title this season. Leonard’s future is uncertain and so is Gasol’s. But the prospect of truly competing for a title was too tantalizing to pass up after years of setbacks around playoff time.

Inevitably all teams must go through a time of rebuilding or reloading. Despite Toronto’s previous success, their window was limited in nature and closing rapidly, so you have to admire Ujiri’s daring to be great mindset.

For reference, the Atlanta Hawks reached the postseason 10 consecutive times from 2008-2017 but the franchise’s front office played it relatively safe during their run devoid of any major moves. The Hawks watched All-Star performers Al Horford and Paul Millsap ultimately leave for nothing in return. Atlanta’s rebuild is in good shape with guard Trae Young, big man John Collins and an additional lottery pick this season.

However, the team never swung for the fences during their run – something Ujiri wouldn’t let happen – despite the huge risks needed to be potentially a champ.

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