NBA

NBA Rookie Rankings: Chuma Okeke shines for the Magic; Anthony Edwards comes up clutch for the Timberwolves

The NBA trade deadline caused some shake-ups on several rosters around the league, as a number of contenders added and subtracted to improve in time for the playoffs, and lottery-bound squads sold off assets to prepare for the future. While no rookies were traded last Thursday, there were several around the league who benefited from the moves made by their teams. Chuma Okeke is a prime example of that this week, but more on that later. We’re inching closer toward the finish line of the regular season, and some rookies have started to hit their strides with more opportunities, while others are just getting more comfortable at the pro level. 

Now moving on to this week’s rookie rankings. These rankings will reflect a rookie’s performance on a week-to-week basis only, not the collective season, so these aren’t Rookie of the Year standings. With that straightened out, here is a look at the top rookies this week.

Edwards was just named Rookie of the Month for his monster performance throughout March where he put up a career-high 42 points in one game. He’s really come alive on offense for the Timberwolves since the All-Star break, and he continued that hot streak by scoring 20-plus points in three of his four games this week. Against the Knicks, he showed how clutch he can be by scoring 12 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Wolves to a comeback win.

He was incredibly efficient from the floor, shooting 42.9 percent through four games, but as has been the story throughout this season, his 3-point shooting leaves a lot to be desired. He attempted 7.5 3-point shots this week and made only 23 percent of them. Edwards has to get better from beyond the arc, otherwise, teams will begin to adjust and sink in to take away drives and mid-range jumpers.

After trading away much of its core players at the trade deadline last week, the Magic entered full rebuild mode. Little did everyone know, Okeke would be the new face of the franchise. OK, that may not be entirely true, but his performance this week definitely showed that Okeke was underutilized while being trapped behind Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon on the depth chart. He was pushed into the starting lineup after the trade deadline, and proceeded to score a career-high 22 points Four days later, he led a comeback against the Clippers to secure a win.

He can do a little bit of everything: pull up from long range, work in a few mid-range jumpers and put the ball on the floor and attack the rim. Against the Clippers, he knocked down some tough shots in traffic, bouncing off defenders and getting off-balanced looks for buckets. If there’s one bright spot from the Magic selling off half their roster, it’s that Okeke gets more opportunity the rest of the season. Let’s see what he can do with it.

The month of March has by far been the best for Maledon this season, and in this week’s three-game stretch with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander sidelined, the rookie stepped up. Thunder coach Mark Daigneault has called Maledon a “perfectionist,” because of his commitment to continuously improve without settling for less. It certainly shows when you watch him play, because he’s constantly making the right play on offense, whether it’s the timing of his pass to a teammate for an assist, or not settling for a poor shot selection in favor of a high percentage attempt. The Thunder may be in the middle of a rebuild, but Maledon’s progression this season has shown OKC that they may have a diamond in the rough with this young guard.

Haliburton’s maintained his spot in the starting lineup since returning from injury back in February, and the move has paid off thus far. In the nine games he’s started, the Kings have gone 7-2, and Haliburton has played exceptionally well during that span. This week, he logged his second career double-double, putting up 15 points and 10 assists in a win over the Spurs, to go along with four boards and two steals. He’s been a stat-sheet stuffer for Sacramento this season, and his versatility to be able to play on or off the ball alongside De’Aaron Fox in the backcourt allows the Kings to play incredibly fast. 

The Warriors have been running more pick and rolls with Wiseman and Stephen Curry to try and establish some chemistry between the two that can serve as a foundation for next season and beyond. It’s something that many people have called for, as Wiseman’s natural athleticism makes him a pretty dangerous lob threat, and his ability to knock down jumpers gives him the ability to pop out and knock down a mid-range shot. Here’s how it looked this week against the Bulls:

On the first two plays in that video, the Bulls opted to double Curry on the switch, the first of which resulted in a made 3-pointer from him and the second a lob assist to Wiseman who was left wide open in the paint. More of that is going to happen as teams have to quickly decide whether they’re going to double Curry and leave Wiseman open for a potentially easy bucket at the rim, or allow Curry to go to work after the screen. It has the potential to create all sorts of headaches for opposing teams if Curry and Wiseman can build chemistry. 

When the Wolves faced off against the Nets this week, McDaniels gave James Harden some problems while guarding him. Look at this:

Rookies really shouldn’t be able to do this, especially against an MVP and one of the best in the league at creating his own shots and scoring on just about anyone. McDaniels showed patience in guarding Harden that night, along with great footwork and overall awareness on that end of the floor. He’s a 6-9 power forward who is locking up guards on a rather regular basis, and this week his offensive game started to bloom. If he’s able to be more productive on offense, and continue to progress on the other end of the floor, the Timberwolves would’ve gotten a steal with this draft pick as a late first-round selection.

Pokusevski is currently sidelined due to health and safety protocols, but prior to that he had an impressive performance against the Mavericks where he posted 21 points. He’s still incredibly raw, and hasn’t found his touch yet from beyond the arc, as he shot 21.4 percent in his two games this week, but he’s shown flashes of being able to knock down that shot. If he can find some consistency from deep, and progress in other areas of his offensive game, he’ll likely get that unicorn tag given to guys like Kristaps Porzingis who can be a threat from long range despite being seven feet tall.

With every passing game, Tate proves every team in the league wrong for letting him go undrafted last year. At 25 years old he’s naturally far ahead of where most rookies are mentally, and over the course of the season he’s only gotten more comfortable in the league. From the way he attacks the game, which is basically always running at 200 percent energy, to the smart decisions he makes while on the floor, he consistently makes big plays for the Rockets

So this will be the most insane thing you probably see all week:

Williams is 6-7, DeAndre Ayton is 6-11, and Williams met the 2018 No. 1 overall pick at the top of that lob and simply said “nah.” That’s a typical play Phoenix runs, and Ayton has a pretty high success rate at jamming home those lobs, but Williams just absolutely obliterated that idea blocking and then snatching the ball all in mid-air. Insane.

Bey had the worst game of his career this week, where he went 0-for-8 from the field and 0-for-7 from deep for zero points in a loss to the Blazers. A game that would be a whole lot more worrisome if he wasn’t consistently putting up solid numbers on a nightly basis. He became the first rookie to make 100 3-pointers this season, which is far more indicative of how he’s played all season long.



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