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NBA Rookie Of The Year Watch: Parker Still in the Lead

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

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Three weeks of the season are in the books, and for the third week in a row Jabari Parker takes the top spot in Basketball Insiders’ Rookie of the Year Watch.

Despite being heralded as one of the most talented rookie classes of the last decade, this year’s rookie class collectively is struggling with consistency.  There have been flashes of excellent play from notable players like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, but overall it has been a shaky start for the rookies.  Basketball Insiders’ analyst Nate Duncan just released a thorough breakdown of some of the rookies, which you can find here.

With that said, let’s see who has made the biggest impression through three weeks of the season.

10.  Joe Harris, Cleveland Cavaliers:

Joe Harris jumps into the top-10 for the first time this season after emerging as a valuable 3-and-D role player for the Cleveland Cavaliers this last week.

Cavaliers head coach David Blatt has been looking for consistency on both ends of the court and found that this week with Harris.  Through his last three games, Harris is shooting 46.2 percent from beyond-the-arc and is playing solid perimeter defense.  Harris is playing the exact role that many have called Dion Waiters to adopt, and it is earning him playing time.  Waiters is the more talented player, but over the last week, Harris has been a valuable contributor for an up-and-down Cavaliers team.

9.  Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic:

It was announced on Sunday that Aaron Gordon is out indefinitely because of a broken left foot. This is unfortunate news for the athletic forward, who had recently found success with his improved shooting mechanics.

Through 11 games, Gordon is averaging 5.8 points and three rebounds per game.  He has struggled to find playing time, only playing more than 20 minutes twice so far this season, but was active in the limited minutes he did play.  Before the announcement of his injury, Gordon had put in some nice performances this last week against the Knicks, Bucks and Wizards.

This injury is an unfortunate setback for Gordon, but hopefully he will make a quick and full recovery.

8.  Dante Exum, Utah Jazz:

Jazz head coach Quin Snyder continues to play Exum less than twenty minutes per game, but the rookie guard has been impressive in limited minutes.

Exum isn’t filling up the box score, but has shown an unexpected level of maturity on both ends of the court.  He is playing within Utah’s offense, and has setup teammates for easy baskets with his court vision and passing ability.  On Tuesday, in just 15 minutes played, Exum registered nine points, five assists, one rebound and shot 3-of-5 from beyond the three-point line.

Exum will struggle to climb the rookie rankings until Synder gives him more playing time, but for now it is nice to see Exum making an impact in limited minutes.

7.  Kostas Papanikolaou, Houston Rockets:

Kostas Papanikolaou holds onto the number seven spot this week because of his ability to impact games in various ways.

Papanikolaou would quickly climb the rookie rankings if he could start putting together complete games.  Last Wednesday, Papanikolaou scored 14 points, and logged four assists, but didn’t grab a single rebound (after grabbing 10 rebounds in the previous game).  He then went scoreless against the 76ers and Thunder, but grabbed four rebounds in each game.  Then on Monday, Papanikolaou had his most complete game of the week, scoring eight points, grabbing four rebounds and registering five assists.

Papanikolaou seems to always impact the game in some way, which is why he continues to play big minutes for the Rockets.  But hopefully he finds more consistency like Bojan Bogdanovic has in Brooklyn.

6.  Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic:

Elfrid Payton drops four spots this week as he has been relegated to the bench with the return of Victor Oladipo.

Payton still leads all rookies in assists per game (5.1), but his lack of shooting is still a major issue.  Over the last four games, Payton shot 3-of-15 from the field and 0-for-1 from beyond-the-arc.  Payton’s shooting woes were mitigated in the first two weeks by his passing, but he registered just five assists over his last three games (after getting eight assists against the Knicks last Wednesday).  With Oladipo back, Payton will struggle to have the impact he had over the first two weeks of the season.  However, Payton is too talented to play just six minutes like he did Monday night against the Detroit Pistons.

5.  Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers:

Nerlens Noel returned to action this last week after missing a few games because of an ankle injury.  Noel didn’t score the ball much this last week, but he continues to be an active defender, averaging 1.3 steals and one block in his last three games (Noel leads all rookies in blocks and rebounds per game, and is number two in steals per game).

Noel’s offensive game is still a work in progress, but hopefully he can build some chemistry with Michael Carter-Williams and find some more scoring opportunities playing off of him.  Until then, Noel takes the fifth spot because of his defensive impact.

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

K.J. McDaniels had a quiet week for his standards, but holds onto his spot at number four mostly because no other rookie did enough to jump past him.

McDaniels went cold from the three-point line this week, making just two of his last 10 attempts.  He also failed to break double-digits in scoring, but somewhat made up for it by pulling in five rebounds in two of his last three games.

Hopefully McDaniels gets his shooting back on track and continues to put in a solid defensive effort moving forward.

3.  Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets:

As a 25 year old rookie with years of experience playing in Europe, it is not surprising that Bojan Bogdanovic has been one of the most productive rookies so far this season.  Bogdanovic has flown up the rankings over the last two weeks on the back of some strong scoring outbursts.

Over the last week, Bogdanovic scored 14 points against the Phoenix Suns, and 22 points against the Miami HEAT (though he scored just nine points against the Warriors and zero points against the Trail Blazers). Despite putting up a dud against the Trail Blazers, Bogdanovic has been one of the most consistent rookies this season, and has been rapidly improving as he gets adapted to the NBA game.  Most important for Bogdanovic, his shooting percentages have risen to 47.6 from the field, and 37.5 from beyond the arc.

2.  Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves:

Wiggins jumps to number two this week after putting up two solid performances in his last three games.  His best performance came against the Pelicans, where he scored 20 points, hit both of his three-point attempts and pulled in five rebounds.  The Timberwolves were thrashed by the Pelicans, but Wiggins’ performance was the lone bright spot for a Timberwolves team that is quickly losing any hope of competing for the playoffs this season.

Expect Wiggins to get more minutes as the Timberwolves fall further out of playoff contention (and with rumors that the Timberwolves are shopping Chase Budinger and Corey Brewer).

1.  Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks:

Parker holds onto the top spot for the third week in a row mostly because of the heavy minutes he is playing and the fact that no other rookie has done enough to jump ahead of him.

Parker’s overall statistics are slightly down from last week.  He is averaging 10.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.  He continues to lead all rookies in scoring, however Wiggins and Bogdanovic have closed the gap and are right behind him.  But to Parker’s credit, he is not putting up better numbers because he is playing within Milwaukee’s offense, isn’t forcing things too much and is putting in a lot of effort on the defensive side of the ball.

Parker will take another leap overall once he gets used to the NBA three-point line, where he is currently shooting 21.4 percent.  Until then, he will get the majority of his points from blowing by bigger power forwards and attacking the basket.

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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