NBA Rookie Of The Year Watch: Napier Joins Race

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Andrew Wiggins almost jumped Jabari Parker for the top spot this week after a 29-point scoring outburst against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday.  However, Parker has put in some solid performances recently as well, and his overall contributions to the 8-7 Milwaukee Bucks keeps him in the top spot for the fourth week in a row.

Nikola Mirotic and Shabazz Napier both jump into the top-10 this week as both have received an increase in playing time because of injuries to teammates.  Napier makes his first appearance in the top-10 after recently showing off an efficient offensive game and surprising accuracy from beyond-the-arc.

The rookies continue to be inconsistent collectively, but it is nice to see that some, such as Kostas Papanikolaou, are contributing to playoff teams.

Now, let’s take a look at how the rookies stack up against one another four weeks into the season.

10.  Dante Exum, Utah Jazz:

The Utah Jazz and Dante Exum had a rough week.  Exum arguably should have fallen out of the top-10 as he scored a collective four points over the last three games, and his limited playing time is preventing him from impacting games.  However, no other rookie has done enough to bump Exum completely off the list at this point.

Exum’s shooting has fallen off recently as he is just 5-of-16 from the field in his last four outings.  Still, Exum’s shooting mechanics look solid, and he is playing a different role than he is accustomed to.  If he doesn’t start getting more playing time and a bigger role, a player like Marcus Smart, who is getting close to returning from injury, could soon bump Exum out of the top-10 completely.

9.  Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls:

Last Friday, against the Portland Trail Blazers, Nikola Mirotic scored 24 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and hit 4-of-7 from beyond-the-arc.  It was Mirotic’s best performance so far this season and his first NBA double-double.

Mirotic has filled in nicely at times for Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson, who have both missed time recently because of injuries, but his lack of rebounding limits his impact for a Bulls team that currently ranks 18th on the boards.

Despite this limitation, Mirotic is adding nice spacing to the Bulls’ offense, shooting 38.2 percent from beyond-the-arc this season and 50 percent in catch-and-shoot opportunities.

8.  Shabazz Napier, Miami HEAT:

Shabazz Napier is making the most of his recently expanded role with several injuries to the Miami HEAT backcourt.  Napier has scored in double-digits six games in a row and is averaging 12.3 points per game in that span.

Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that he has shot over 50 percent in each of those games, and has not shot under 50 percent since going 1-of-3 on November 12.  Also noteworthy is that Napier is shooting 41.5 percent from three-point range on 2.7 attempts per game.

While Napier’s scoring has been a nice boost for Miami, his assists and turnovers have been less than stellar.  In 23.1 minutes per game, Napier is turning the ball over 2.3 times, while only dishing out 2.3 assists.

7.  Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic:

Elfrid Payton put together a solid week as he continues to adjust to a reduced role with Victor Oladipo back from injury.

Payton put together two solid performances in two consecutive nights.  He scored 16 points, grabbed two rebounds and dished out five assists against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, and followed that up with nine points, three rebounds, four assists and five steals against the Miami HEAT on Saturday.

Payton is still a non-factor from three-point range, which is why he is taking 62.8 percent of his shots less than 10 feet from the basket (where he is still shooting just 36.6 percent) .  However, Payton, like Kostas Papanikolaou, finds ways to impact games despite his shaky shooting.  That, and his perimeter defense continues to be very impressive for a rookie.

6.  Kostas Papanikolaou, Houston Rockets:

Kostas Papanikolaou has recently received an increase in his minutes because of injuries to Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones.  Last Wednesday, against the Los Angeles Lakers, Papanikolaou had 19 points, six assists, six rebounds and made 4-of-7 from beyond-the-arc.

However, as we have come to expect from Papanikolaou, his shooting went cold the following two games (4-of-17 collectively), though he continued to contribute a couple of rebounds, assists and steals each game.  Papanikolaou continues to make an impact for a contending Rockets team that is currently struggling with injuries to its front court.

Papanikolaou will really start jumping up the rankings if manages to improve his three-point shooting, especially considering he gets several catch-and-shoot opportunities each game, but is shooting just 27.1 percent in those situations.

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

K.J. McDaneiels had his best scoring performance of the season last Friday against the Phoenix Suns, finishing with 17 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the field in 28 minutes.  However, this was McDaniels’ only double-digit scoring performance in his last seven games.

Despite the inconsistent scoring, McDaniels gets a high mark here for playing tough perimeter defense and shooting 38.5 percent from beyond-the-arc, and shooting an even better 41.9 percent in catch-and-shoot opportunities from beyond-the-arc.  He is shaping up to be an athletic 3-and-D player with major upside.

4.  Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers:

Nerlens Noel has scored in double-digits in three of his last four outings, while pulling in 7.5 rebounds in that same span.  He is also contributing a few assists, steals and the occasional blocked shot.  He had his best game of the season against the New York Knicks on Saturday, scoring 17 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in 39 minutes of action.

Noel is playing huge minutes for a terrible 76ers team and is doing the things we expected from him.  We would, however, like to see him increase his rebounding and shot blocking especially considering how many minutes he is playing (he has only registered more than one block in three of out the 12 games he has played in thus far).

3.  Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets:

Bogdanovic is developing an odd trend where he puts up a few big performances and follows them up with absolute duds.  He put up 19 points against the Milwaukee Bucks last Wednesday, and proceeded to score five points collectively in the following two games.

Despite the inconsistency, Bogdanovic is still third in scoring among all rookies at 9.9 points per game, and he is playing a major role for the Brooklyn Nets.  It would be nice if he were shooting better than 33.3 percent from beyond-the-arc, but Bogdanovic partially makes up for that with his surprising ability to score around the basket (75 percent within five feet of the rim).

2.  Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves:

Wiggins exploded for 29 points against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday.  With veteran teammates falling to injury, Wiggins is taking on more offensive responsibilities.  He now leads all rookies in per game scoring (12.5), and is playing effectively on both sides of the ball.

Wiggins’ three-point shooting has been a pleasant surprise so far this season.  He is currently 8-of-16 from beyond-the-arc for the season and his shooting mechanics look very good.  He is, however, less effective off the dribble, which is something that was apparent from his college days.

Still, the combination of Wiggins’ surprisingly effective perimeter shooting and impressive defense has him in the running to soon take over Parker at number one.  Parker holds the slight edge this week, however, for being a significant contributor on what is currently a playoff team.

1.  Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks:

Jabari Parker has scored in double-digits in five of his last six games and is rebounding the ball fairly well in that same span (6.3 rebounds per game).  He had his best scoring performance of the season last Wednesday against the New York Knicks, scoring 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field.  He also pulled down seven rebounds in that game, but didn’t attempt a single three-pointer.

Parker has been playing within himself all season and is a major contributor for an 8-7 Bucks team that is currently ranked fifth in the Eastern Conference.  Parker is looking increasingly comfortable against NBA competition and it wouldn’t be surprising to see his scoring and rebounding start increasing as the season moves forward.

Which rookies have impressed you? Leave a comment below.