NBA Rookie of the Year Watch – Feb. 18

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The Rookie of the Year race is heating up, with one rookie even earning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. With new faces seemingly emerging right and left, the margin between the bottom and top of this edition of Basketball Insiders’ rookie ladder is narrower than ever before. With that being said, let’s take a look at which rookies are leading the charge.

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

Once again, Ball finds himself atop this ladder, despite the Charlotte Hornets facing a schedule postponement due to COVID-19. So far this season, Ball is averaging 14.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game.

In eight games since he was named a starter, Ball has bumped those averages up to 20.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.8 steals. In those appearances, Ball has also improved his shooting to 44.6 percent from the floor and, more notably, 43.9 percent from beyond the arc on over seven attempts per game.

Ball, along with Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward, has the Hornets firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff race. It’s been a while since the Hornets were able to boast a star-studded roster, but this year is much different, with all three playing like All-Stars.

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

The Sacramento Kings might be on a four-game losing streak, but Haliburton has been on fire as of late. While he had a career-high 21-point showing just prior to our last ladder, Haliburton has topped that twice since, scoring 23 points in a win over the Denver Nuggets and 22 points in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Among the rookie leaders, the 6-foot-5 guard out of Iowa State has some of the best shooting splits, hitting shots at a 49.8 percent clip while shooting 44.3 percent from deep. Whereas Ball is the flashy and enigmatic rookie, Haliburton plays like a 10-year NBA vet in his first season and deserves legitimate consideration for the award.

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

Since the last update, Edwards is absolutely killing it for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Going forward, he should have even more of an opportunity to step into a leadership role after the unfortunate injury to D’Angelo Russell. In the last two weeks, Edwards is averaging around 18 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.

However, Edwards’s inconsistency and accuracy issues will continue to prevent him from climbing higher on the list. In a Feb. 17 overtime matchup with the Indiana Pacers, Edwards finished with just 8 points on 3-of-15 shooting.

In some games, it feels like Edwards is poised to be the NBA’s next star. In others, it feels like he’s trying to do too much, instead of letting the game come directly to him. In Russell’s absence, it’ll be interesting to see if Edwards struggles or prevails.

4) Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets (Previous: Honorable Mention)

Tate is an easy player to root for, with an unusual path to the NBA after going undrafted in the 2018 NBA Draft. After graduating from Ohio State, Tate took his career overseas and dominated in Belgium and Australia before signing with the Houston Rockets this offseason.

The 6-foot-4 forward plays bigger than his frame indicates and is quickly becoming an integral part of what has been a fun Houston Rockets team. Tate is averaging 9.5 points and 5 rebounds per game while shooting 54.4 percent from the field. Over the last two weeks, Tate scored in double figures in all but two games and is coming off a strong performance against the Philadelphia 76ers in which he put up 19 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists on 7-of-11 shooting.

Tate is fifth amongst rookies in minutes played, only trailing three of the top five picks in the 2020 NBA Draft and Haliburton.

5) Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks (Previous: 4)

The rookie fan-favorite Quickley is continuing to improve his overall stock for the New York Knicks and is up to 12.5 points per game on 37.9 percent shooting from deep. After the acquisition of Derrick Rose, New York’s guard rotation is suddenly crowded, a good problem to have.

Quickley is coming off a disappointing game in which he shot 1-of-12 from the floor, but in the three games before that, he scored 16 points each in wins against the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards, then 25 points in a win against Houston. Quickley’s averages seem to come from two extremes; either he shoots poorly or he shoots well, with no in-between. If Quickley is to rise on this ladder and truly enter the Rookie of the Year conversation, he will need to improve his consistency on that front.

6) Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons (Previous: Not Ranked)

Bey is a hot commodity this week for a young Detroit Pistons corps that suddenly looks quite excellent, bolstered by the addition of Dennis Smith Jr. via trade with New York. In the past two weeks, Bey is averaging 15.3 points per game while shooting a whopping 56.4 percent from the floor and 55.9 percent from deep.

Bey’s efforts earned him the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award, opposite Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns, who earned the Western Conference equivalent. While the selection was relatively shocking, his 30-point outing in an upset over the Boston Celtics was itself worth the award, as he finished that game shooting a perfect 7-of-7 from downtown.

Honorable Mention: Desmond Bane (Previous: 6)

Bane’s fall to honorable mention is less of an indictment of his play than it is a testament to how talented this draft class is turning out to be. Missing the last four games for the Grizzlies hurt his position on the ladder, but Bane’s still averaging 10.3 points on 48.2 percent shooting from three.

Other rookies like Payton Pritchard, Xavier Tillman, Theo Maledon and Isaiah Stewart are all looking impressive so far, with plenty more youngsters ready to emerge. Be sure to check back with Basketball Insiders for the latest news and updates surrounding the NBA, and stay tuned for the next edition of the rookie ladder!