Rookie of the Year Race: LaMelo Ball has jumped off to an early lead

Jan 14, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) brings the ball up the court during the first quarter of a game against the Toronto Raptors at Amalie Arena.

Rookie of the Year Race: LaMelo Ball has jumped off to an early lead


Rookie of the Year Race: LaMelo Ball has jumped off to an early lead

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After the strangest offseason in NBA history, this class of rookies has been thrust into an even tougher adjustment period than usual.

Now that we have had five weeks to evaluate them, however, we have a much better idea of who the best rookies have been. LaMelo Ball has been leading the pack, but to get a better sense of who his competitors may be for Rookie of the Year, we surveyed our staff.

Like our weekly MVP rankings, every member of our team voted on their personal Top 10 rankings for Rookie of the Year. We averaged out the results to get a cumulative ranking from the HoopsHype staff.

Every month, we will release our updated rankings for the Rookie of the Year race.

All relevant statistics are accurate as of Feb. 1, 2021 and are pulled from Basketball-Reference, RealGM or unless noted otherwise.

LaMelo Ball (Charlotte)

Jan 22, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) brings the ball up court against the Chicago Bulls during the second quarter at Spectrum Center.

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Last month, 19-year-old guard LaMelo Ball became the youngest player in NBA history to ever record a triple-double.

Ball is the only rookie to get one this season and, along with Miami Heat big Precious Achiuwa, is the only first-year player with multiple double-doubles.

The former Chino Hills standout got his first career on Monday and he made the most of the opportunity in the victory over the Miami Heat, recording 14 points with 5 rebounds and 7 assists.

On the season, as a distributor for his teammates, Ball is not just playing well for a rookie. According to Cleaning the Glass, his assist percentage (36.5 percent) ranks in the 84th percentile among all point guards.

He not only leads rookies in assists (128) but in rebounds (123) and steals (29) as well. Meanwhile, as a scorer, Ball trails only No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards in total output thus far. Perhaps the best news for Ball is that his jumper has been more effective than advertised.

Tyrese Haliburton (Sacramento)

Jan 6, 2021; Sacramento, California, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton (0) during the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bulls at Golden 1 Center.

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Back in December, we wrote about why Sacramento Kings rookie Tyrese Haliburton seemed like a favorite to win Rookie of the Year.

The 6-foot-5 lefty has played a crucial role in the second unit for Sacramento. His play has softened the blow of losing valuable wing Bogdan Bogdanovic to free agency. Plus, as the first draft selection made by the revamped front office, Haliburton has made the new management look more than capable.

One of his best games came at the end of last month during a victory against the Knicks on Jan. 22. He notched 16 points on the offensive end to go with an impressive 4 blocks and 2 steals on the defensive side.

The former Iowa State star is able to make a difference even without the offense running through him, considering that his assist-to-usage rate (1.49) is currently the best in the NBA among wings, per Cleaning the Glass.

Haliburton also has the second-most assists (98) and the second-most three-pointers (36) among rookies. His block percentage and steal percentage are both above average for his position as well. As he continues his career, the 20-year-old looking like a promising 3-and-D wing with a stellar secondary playmaking skill set.

Immanuel Quickley (New York)

Jan 31, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks shooting guard Immanuel Quickley (5) brings the ball up court against the LA Clippers during the third quarter at Madison Square Garden.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

While the New York Knicks had high hopes for lottery pick Obi Toppin, who won the National College Player of the Year, their later draft selection Immanuel Quickley has outperformed him thus far.

Largely thanks to the development of a signature shot, he leads all rookies in scoring per minute (23.0 points per 36 minutes) thus far among qualified players. He has scored 62 points on his floater, per Synergy, which currently trails just Luka Doncic and Trae Young for most in the league.

He has also been very solid as the ball handler in pick-and-roll sets and he has a low turnover rate, which will help him stay on the floor for longer periods of time.

As the Knicks are surprisingly contenders for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, Quickley may end up playing his way into the starting lineup.

James Wiseman (Golden State)

Jan 14, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Golden State Warriors center James Wiseman (33) drives to the net against Denver Nuggets forward Will Barton III (5) and guard Jamal Murray (27) in the fourth quarter at Ball Arena.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Due to a lack of positional depth and an extraordinary desire to help his development, No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman started the season in the first unit for the Golden State Warriors.

Wiseman, who is just 19 years old and played only three collegiate basketball games due to eligibility issues, may not have been ready for the role. He was eventually moved out of the starting lineup, though coming off the bench, he had his best performance of the season with 25 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 27.

While he is currently out with a wrist injury, he still leads all rookies in both rebounds (6.1) and blocks (1.3) per game.

Standing at 7-foot with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, he looks the part of an effective traditional big man. Even his jumper is not particularly there yet, at least his willingness to shoot the ball will make him a modern fit for the NBA as he continues his development.

Desmond Bane (Memphis)

Jan 11, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane (22) drives to the basket against Cleveland Cavaliers forward Cedi Osman (16) and center JaVale McGee (6) during the second half at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

After four very strong collegiate seasons at TCU, 6-foot-5 wing Desmond Bane has emerged as perhaps the most NBA-ready player in his draft class.

During a recent victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 30, Bane hit all three of his connections from beyond.

His three-point percentage (50.9 percent) is the best in the league among the 228 players who have recorded at least 35 attempts from beyond the arc. On non-corner three-pointers, above the arc, he is 22-for-37 (59.5 percent) thus far. That is the best in the NBA among everyone with at least ten attempts in this zone.

The closer you look at it, the numbers just keep getting more absurd for Bane. For example, when shooting off the catch in a set offense, per Synergy, he is averaging 1.67 points per possession. That ranks second-best among all players who have already had at least 30 opportunities off the catch in a half-court offense.

Bane is quietly having a great season for any professional basketball player, let alone a rookie.

Tyrese Maxey (Philadelphia)

Jan 12, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) passes the ball against the Miami Heat during the third quarter at Wells Fargo Center.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers got a value pick in former Kentucky standout Tyrese Maxey, who was surprisingly still on the board when they picked at No. 21 overall.

Maxey has thus far had a fluctuating role with the organization considering that unlike other rookies, he plays for a team that has one of the best records in the NBA. This means that he occasionally only plays spot minutes and is relegated to the bench in favor of veterans.

But as the Sixers were hit with players who had to miss time due to coronavirus protocol, Maxey has stepped up comfortably and confidently.

His 39-point performance against the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 9 is currently the single-game high for any rookie so far this season. It is also the most in any rookie’s first start since 1970.

Xavier Tillman (Memphis)

Jan 7, 2021; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Xavier Tillman (2) goes to the basket against Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lamar Stevens (8) during the first half at FedExForum.

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies may have struck gold with former Michigan State star Xavier Tillman. He looks poised on the floor and has been incredibly efficient, especially when setting screens and rolling to the basket alongside Ja Morant.

After ten games, he has recorded seven assists with just four turnovers thus far. His low turnover rate (5.8 percent) ranks in the 97th percentile among all bigs, per Cleaning the Glass. His ability to take care of the ball makes him appear like a polished veteran and not someone new to the league.

Because of this, Memphis has outscored opponents by 12.9 points per 100 possessions when Tillman is on the floor. When looking at rookies who have played at least twelve minutes per game, that is currently the best mark.

Plus, the advanced statistical measurements absolutely love Tillman. His player efficiency rating (17.9) currently ranks second-best among rookies.

Anthony Edwards (Minnesota)

January 25, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (1) dunks the basketball against Golden State Warriors center James Wiseman (33) during the first quarter at Chase Center.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves selected Anthony Edwards as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft and the results have been a mixed bag thus far.

Even though he has made just three appearances in the starting lineup, per Cleaning the Glass, he is a ball-dominant player whose usage rate ranks in the 88th percentile among all forwards in the NBA. The offense is running through Edwards, whose 13.6 points per game is the highest among all first-year players.

Unfortunately, though, the Timberwolves have been outscored by 100 points when Edwards has been on the floor, which is the second-worst mark among rookies.

The good news is that Edwards is both explosive and incredibly athletic. He has some ferocious vertical pop and there have been times that he looks set to be a dominant scorer in the NBA. If he can become more effective when he takes jumpers off the bounce, he can climb on these rankings in the future.

Cole Anthony (Orlando)

Jan 22, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony (50) dribbles the ball while Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon (7) defends in the first quarter at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic are letting 20-year-old guard Cole Anthony have every chance to succeed as he trails only Cleveland Cavaliers’ Isaac Okoro for the most minutes played among rookies.

In some ways, that has paid off considering that outside of the first three picks in the 2020 NBA draft (Edwards, Ball and Wiseman), Anthony is the leader in total scoring thus far. The 6-foot-3 point guard has been an above-average rebounder for his position as well.

While he has struggled with efficiency, he has been one of the more prolific scorers as the ball handler in the pick-and-roll. His output on this play type (115 points) ranks eighth-best among all players in the Eastern Conference, per Synergy.

Jae'sean Tate (Houston)

Jan 16, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets forward Jae'Sean Tate (8) drives past San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) in the second half at the AT&T Center.

Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Rockets rookie Jae’Sean Tate has had a strange path to the NBA. Tate spent four seasons at Ohio State before heading overseas, playing one year in Belgium and another in Australia.

Now enjoying his first season in the NBA, he has been a fixture in the rotation for the Rockets. He is averaging 24.2 minutes per game and has made nine appearances in the starting lineup. Houston is simply a better team when is on the floor and his plus-minus (59) on the season, which is the best among rookies, reflects that.

The 6-foot-4 forward has been effective as a scorer near the rim and cutting to the basket.

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