Rookie of the Year Race 2.0: LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton lead the way

Feb 28, 2021; Sacramento, California, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) dribbles the ball against the Sacramento Kings in the first quarter at the Golden 1 Center.

Rookie of the Year Race 2.0: LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton lead the way

DunkWire

Rookie of the Year Race 2.0: LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton lead the way

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It wasn’t long ago when the consensus public opinion was that the 2020 NBA draft lacked any real star power.

Executives around the league were reportedly concerned about LaMelo Ball, specifically. Some had questions about whether or not he had a broken jump shot. Others were worried that he was tanking interviews during the pre-draft process.

Flash forward, however, and Ball is arguably enjoying one of the best first seasons in NBA history thus far and is the bonafide leader of our Rookie of the Year rankings. That just goes to show you how much the perception of a player can change in a short amount of time.

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.

All relevant statistics are accurate as of March 2, 2021 and are pulled from Basketball-Reference, RealGM or NBA.com unless noted otherwise.

1
LaMelo Ball (Charlotte)

Feb 24, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) against the Phoenix Suns at Phoenix Suns Arena.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIOUS RANK: 1

19-year-old guard LaMelo Ball silenced any and all doubters since coming into the league.

He is averaging 20.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game during the 14 games he has appeared in the starting lineup. The first-year guard is also shooting 43.0 percent from beyond the arc during those games.

Ball had a 30-point performance against the Portland Trail Blazers on March 1. It was the second time that he has reached that mark in less than a month.

Not only does he lead all rookies in points (15.7 ppg) and assists (6.4 apg) per game but Ball ranks No. 1 in rebounds (6.0 rpg) and steals (1.6 spg) as well. He already has seven double-doubles while no other rookie has more than three.

While we could have predicted that he would be a good scorer and elite playmaker, the defensive metrics are sincerely quite a bit better than anyone could have expected. His steal percentage (2.4 percent) ranks 98th percentile among point guards, per Cleaning the Glass.

The Hornets are surely over the moon about the productivity they have gotten from Ball. It is still early but he looks like he already has all the makings of a foundational franchise piece.

2
Tyrese Haliburton (Sacramento)

Sacramento Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton looks to pass during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021.

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

PREVIOUS RANK: 2

Before recently tweaking his calf, Sacramento Kings rookie guard Tyrese Haliburton had been heating up. He had scored 10 or more points in 11 of his most recent 13 games, recording at least 16 points in four straight appearances.

Sacramento is in the midst of a rough season but the organization and its fans are beyond satisfied with Haliburton, who recorded 23 points and 8 assists on Feb. 21 against the Milwaukee Bucks and 23 points and 9 assists (to go with 3 steals) on Feb. 23 against the Brooklyn Nets.

Those games against title contenders, scheduled back-to-back, would surely be intimidating for even the most polished veteran. Haliburton, however, was able to step up and contribute on both ends of the floor.

The way that he is able to glide around the floor and find his teammates at the exact location without his defenders catching on is borderline wizardry. His playmaking is advanced beyond his years, as his assist-to-usage rate (1.33) currently ranks as the best among all NBA wings.

His jump shot has been better than advertised, too, and he has shown he can be a three-level scorer in this league.

Meanwhile, Haliburton is also recording steals at a remarkable rate while almost never committing fouls, which shows he has excellent basketball intelligence on defense as well.

Buy stock in Haliburton now because this is a 3-and-D player who is going to be in this league for a long time.

3
Immanuel Quickley (New York)

Feb 28, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley (5) drives to the basket against the Detroit Pistons during the second quarter at Little Caesars Arena.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIOUS RANK: 3

Last week, we wrote a full breakdown of what you need to know about New York Knicks rookie Immanuel Quickley.

Our article touched on the effectiveness of his floater and his jump shot, both of which have helped the Knicks exceed expectations so far this season. The most interesting stats we could find are in that link, above, but New York has recorded two more wins since it was published.

Quite simply, the Knicks have played winning basketball in 2020-21. During the 269 minutes that Quickley has played alongside Eastern Conference All-Star forward Julius Randle, per NBA.com, they have outscored opponents by 12.6 points per 100 possessions.

Quickley is taking care of the ball, recording a low turnover rate, and he is drawing fouls more often than he ever did in college. With one of the best free-throw percentages among all NBA players, he is going to earn more and more minutes as his career continues.

4
Jae'Sean Tate (Houston)

Houston Rockets' Jae'Sean Tate drives in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, in Cleveland.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

PREVIOUS RANK: 10

The way that front offices build around the edges is often what makes or breaks them from being contenders. Finding diamonds in the rough like Jae’Sean Tate will be a huge help for the Houston Rockets during their re-building process.

Tate, who came to the Rockets after earning All-NBL 1st Team honors in Australia last season, has been a high-impact player out of the gates for the Rockets.

He is shooting 61.2 percent on two-pointers, per Cleaning the Glass, which ranks 91st percentile among all forwards. He is a fearless finisher at the rim, cutting hard toward the basket. Tate has also been particularly effective going coast-to-coast as the ball handler in transition, according to Synergy, shooting 10-for-14 (71.4 percent) on these opportunities.

He is an irritant on the defensive side of the ball, able to keep up with the league’s speediest and most explosive players while giving them fits.

Perhaps most impressive is that even at 6-foot-4, he is also matching up against power forwards and holding his own. That kind of versatility will be his calling card to keep his place in a rotation.

5
Saddiq Bey (Detroit)

Feb 26, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Saddiq Bey (41) looks to pass the ball as Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes (40) defends during the first quarter at Little Caesars Arena.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIOUS RANK: Not Ranked

If Kentucky is the school that has produced the most All-Stars, it seems like Villanova would be the program with a direct pipeline to yield the consistent NBA role player.

Detroit Pistons wing Saddiq Bey is next in this lineage, introducing himself to the greater basketball community on Feb. 15., winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

Bey, 21, recorded 30 points on just 12 attempts from the field on Feb. 12 during a game against the Boston Celtics. He has since been moved into the starting lineup and is doing a great job spacing the floor as a legitimate threat on the perimeter.

His teammates already know that if you hit Bey while he is spotting up, he is able to make a connection with a no-dribble jumper off the catch. The 6-foot-8 wing is shooting 40.6 percent on his three-pointers, which is a perfect place for him to be at this point in his career.

6
Anthony Edwards (Minnesota)

Feb 24, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Edwards (1) goes to the basket past Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) during the second half of an NBA game at United Center.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIOUS RANK: 8

The highs have been high and the lows have been low for Anthony Edwards during his first professional season, which has already included the dismissal of former head coach Ryan Saunders.

There is always pressure for the No. 1 overall pick and Edwards has given his fans something to cheer about behind the tune of 14.8 points per game, second-best to Ball among rookies.

His dunk against the Toronto Raptors was easily one of the most memorable, electrifying moments of the season thus far. The highlight showcased exactly why his athleticism was so touted and coveted during the pre-draft process.

Edwards, however, has been a bit of a “chucker” and his jumper has not been falling very often despite how often he is taking them. As such, the advanced numbers have not been kind to him.

FiveThirtyEight.com’s RAPTOR Wins Above Replacement grades Edwards as the sixth-worst in the NBA. BBALL Index’s Wins Added puts Edwards as the fifth-worst. ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus mark for wins places Edwards as the fourth-worst.

Of course, none of these metrics prevent Edwards from improving as his career continues. For example, Zach LaVine is a player who was in a similar position during his first few years in the league and he has since blossomed into one of the game’s best scorers and a bona fide All-Star.

Edwards has shown flashes of star power and it is not unreasonable for folks to believe he will become a more effective player. It may take time, but in the meanwhile, fans can enjoy the good while learning from the bad.

7
Desmond Bane (Memphis)

Memphis Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane (22) plays in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn.

(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

PREVIOUS RANK: 5

We have learned a valuable lesson about draft evaluation from Desmond Bane: if prospects shoot better than 43.0 percent during a four-year span, perhaps they are good shooters.

The 22-year-old has cooled off a little bit from beyond the arc but he is one of the more intriguing first-year players in the NBA. He is averaging 1.25 points per possession on his jump shots, per Synergy, which currently ranks in the 94th percentile among all NBA players.

Bane uses his jumper well no matter if he is above the arc, on the corners or even from midrange. While he still needs work running the pick-and-roll for him to take that next step in his game as more of an on-ball creator, he is in a comfortable place for the Grizzlies at this point.

8
James Wiseman (Golden State)

Feb 28, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Golden State Warriors center James Wiseman (33) takes a shot over Los Angeles Lakers guard Wesley Matthews (9) in the first half of the game at Staples Center.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIOUS RANK: 4

When the Golden State Warriors selected James Wiseman with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft, they had interior defense on their mind.

As a rim protector, they have gotten what they wanted, as he leads all rookies with 1.1 blocks per game. Generally speaking, Wiseman is contesting shots near the basket at a promising rate. All things considered, his size and length have been useful as the Warriors go against the league’s top big men.

Offensively, however, his results have been a bit more of a mixed bag.

He is posting up a bit too often and the results have not been particularly effective on either the left or right block. Plus, he rarely passes out of the post, which has limited the opportunities of those around him a bit.

Wiseman is not operating as the roll man in ball screens as often as one would hope for a modern big man. But albeit a small sample size, he is shooting 40.0 percent from beyond the arc, and that’s incredibly encouraging.

Golden State will take the little victories for Wiseman, who has missed time due to injury. They can chalk the rest up to an expected development curve. Overall, while he has not been dominant, he has looked the part of an NBA center.

9
Patrick Williams (Chicago)

Mar 1, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Patrick Williams (9) dribbles the ball against Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) during the second quarter at the United Center.

Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIOUS RANK: Not Ranked

It is legitimately hilarious that Patrick Williams did not start a single game during his one-and-done season at Florida State but he has since appeared in the first unit in every game that he has played for the Chicago Bulls.

While it may take some time before Williams is the star many expect he can eventually become, there have been games where he has looked like a player who can carve out a nice role for himself in this league.

For example, he scored 20 points while adding 7 rebounds, 2 steals and a block on Feb. 5 against the Orlando Magic.

He still needs to expand his range, pushing those long midrange looks to come behind the perimeter. Plus, we haven’t yet seen the playmaking skills that were highlighted in his pre-draft scouting report coming out of college.

But as that comes together, this raw prospect can turn into a valuable piece sooner than later.

10
Cole Anthony (Orlando)

Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony moves the ball against the Chicago Bulls during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in Orlando, Fla.

(AP Photo/John Raoux)

PREVIOUS RANK: 9

Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony has not played much since our last update of this exercise because of a cracked rib, originally diagnosed as a strained shoulder.

He had been playing particularly well before the setback, though, scoring 16 points with 7 rebounds on Feb. 2 against the Toronto Raptors and 17 points with 9 assists on Feb. 6 against the Chicago Bulls.

Much like Edwards, thus far, Anthony has struggled with his efficiency. He needs a lot of work, especially, as the ball handler in pick-and-roll sets.

But there is good news, too, and that he’s not afraid to do the little things. Anthony has been fairly effective as a rebounder and, surprisingly, as a shot-blocker during his rookie campaign.

OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES:

Isaiah Stewart (Detroit), Xavier Tillman (Memphis), Payton Pritchard (Boston), Isaac Okoro (Cleveland), Tyrese Maxey (Philadelphia)

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