Ranking 2023 NBA Rookie of the Year Candidates After Las Vegas Summer League

Jonathan WassermanJuly 16, 2022

Ranking 2023 NBA Rookie of the Year Candidates After Las Vegas Summer League

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    David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

    The top 2022 NBA draft picks delivered in summer league. And their performances now point to a potentially heated 2023 Rookie of the Year race.

    Based on what we saw in California, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, each team at the top of June's draft should be feeling good about their selection.

    Most of these rookies project to have sizable roles right away. Just like last year, when Scottie Barnes beat out Evan Mobley and Cade Cunningham, we could be looking at multiple rookies who'll have legitimate cases built around stats and impact.

5. Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons SG

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    David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

    Stat prediction: 14.0 points, 3.0 assists, 42% FG, 32% 3PT

    Before an ankle injury suffered in game No. 2, Jaden Ivey had scored 31 points in 37 summer-league minutes. His speed and explosiveness came alive with Vegas' extra space and pace. And between Cade Cunningham's gravity and Saddiq Bey's shooting, Ivey should continue to see gaps and paths toward the rim once the season starts.

    In limited action, Ivey's three-ball (three of six) and passing (eight assists) both looked good as well. They'll be the keys to his Rookie of the Year chances when competing with 2022's top-four picks. Ivey, who shot 25.8 percent from three as a freshman and 25.6 percent over his final 15 games last season, seems likely to go through typical inconsistency for a rookie. And with Cunningham and possibly Killian Hayes handling the ball, Ivey's assist numbers aren't likely to surpass last season's 3.1 per game.

    He'll still have the opportunity with his off-the-dribble bursts and shot-making to score regularly. Ivey's athleticism in transition, quick move to turn the corner or split defenders at the point of attack and floater game should consistently translate to points in the paint. Assuming he approaches 30 minutes a night, he'll add secondary playmaking as well.

    Ivey figures to be a top-five impact Rookie—he just won't have enough supporting stats to win the award.

4. Jabari Smith, Houston Rockets PF

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Stat prediction: 15.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 42%FG, 37% 3PT, 0.8 BPG

    Jabari Smith didn't shoot threes as well in summer league as he did at Auburn, but there shouldn't be any concerns about his shot-making skills. The fact that he still averaged 15.0 points despite missing jumpers should be seen as encouraging, considering the only predraft red flags questioned his explosiveness and off-the-dribble game for two-point scoring.

    Smith executed a handful of successful drives and finishes going both right and left. Still, once the regular season starts, he's going to generate most of his points out of pick-and-pops, catch-and-shoots and elbow rise-and-fires.

    His ability to just elevate and shoot without needing many dribbles should translate quickly and allow him to fit in a lineup with guards like Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green who like to handle and create.

    Smith also looked outstanding at times defensively in Las Vegas, mostly by sliding his feet. He might not block shots at a high rate (averaging 1.3 per game), but he will contest most in one-on-one situations with how well he sits in a stance and moves laterally.

    After making just 42.9 percent of his twos in college, he's still likely to have some difficulty separating and converting inside the arc. There may also be lengthy stretches of games where he's forced to float outside, spot up and hope for a pass into a rhythm jumper.

    A lower field goal percentage for his position and limited supporting stats may hurt his Rookie of the Year case. But Smith still figures to score, earn second-chance points, add value defensively and look like a top-three pick.

3. Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder PF/C

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    Stat prediction: 14.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 47% FG, 34% 3PT, 2.2 BPG

    Summer league gave us a glimpse at Chet Holmgren's long-term upside and immediate translatable strengths, but also challenges he'll face early that will make a run at Rookie of the Year difficult.

    Right away, he should pick up easy baskets by rolling to the net and waiting for passes by Josh Giddey. Even without any strength, his mobility, length and fluidity will consistently lead to catch-and-finishes into multiple dunks a game, especially with Giddey facilitating.

    With the ball in space around the arc, he's also shown he can put it down, attack a gap and get above the rim for a driving bucket. The Oklahoma City Thunder's spacing might not be the best once the season starts, but Holmgren should be able to capitalize as a ball-handler when a lane does open up.

    He also looked comfortable shooting from three in summer league (8-of-19), and between his lack of physicality, the Thunder's need for space/shot-making and Holmgren's ability to grab-and-go into pull-up transition threes, the former Gonzaga Bulldogs star should be looking at plenty of opportunities to connect from deep.

    Defensively, the combination of foot speed, length and instincts is sure to translate to shot-blocking, whether he's playing the 4 or 5. Forget just rookies—he's a candidate to finish near the top of the NBA leaderboard in rejections.

    The worry with Holmgren for 2022-23 focuses on his scoring and how well the self-creation translates. In summer league, we've seen him get stripped or lose the ball when trying to beat defenders. He delivery/execution isn't the quickest. Playing back to the basket, a lack of strength leads to tough fallaways. Despite flashes of face-up moves and speciality shot-making, he's still going to be mostly reliant on being setup or getting putback chances.

    To win Rookie of the Year, Holmgren's case will need to revolve around exciting plays, efficiency and defensive impact. Because it seems unlikely he'll average as many points as the other four top-four picks, the 7ft starlet may just fall short of being Rookie of the Year.

2. Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings F

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    Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

    Stat prediction: 15.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 45% FG, 34% 3PT, 0.8 BPG

    NBA-ready was a plus on Keegan Murray's pre-draft scouting report after the 21-year-old averaged 23.5 points at Iowa. And while summer league success doesn't always translate to the NBA, much of Murray's scoring production from California to Las Vegas felt translatable.

    The improved shooting looked highly convincing over the past two weeks. On his 17 made threes in six games, Murray showed easy range, a quick, confident release and the ability to shoot off movement. Even if his percentage this season isn't near 40.0, Murray clearly has the shot-making skill to drill over a three per game and complement his post/inside offense.

    Otherwise, the off-ball scoring at Iowa expectedly carried right over to summer league, where he used his motor, instincts and timing to finish off transition and cuts. Playing alongside De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, he should continue to rack up easy baskets by spot-up shooting and moving without the ball.

    The big question predraft asked whether he'd be able to create for himself in the half court. But he's had promising success in a Sacramento Kings uniform, mostly by driving and compensating for quickness/explosiveness with deceleration and body shielding for finishing.

    Murray also looked like an asset defensively, demonstrating the awareness, IQ and anticipation to read passing lanes and make rotations and plays on the ball.

    His Rookie of the Year case will be powered by scoring production, efficiency and defensive activity. He'll average more points than No. 3 pick Chet Holmgren and shoot better from the field than No. 4 pick Jabari Smith. Murray just won't check as many boxes stat-wise as our projected favorite, but he looks poised to finish as a top-two impact rookie for 2022-23.

1. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic PF

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Stat prediction: 17.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.5 APG, 45% FG, 28% 3PT, 0.7 BPG

    Bleacher Report's No. 1 prospect and the NBA draft's first pick should also be favored to win Rookie of the Year.

    Paolo Banchero only needed two games in Las Vegas to explain why he'll have an edge over the field. It mostly revolves around his passing, which will give him a unique positional stat that separates him from Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, Keegan Murray and other NBA bigs.

    Banchero, who averaged 4.1 assists over Duke's final 14 games, racked up six assists in each of his summer league matchups. Improved off-the-dribble play and playmaking as a high school senior initially led to early 2022 draft hype, and from Duke to the Orlando Magic, they've continued to become differentiator skills that create versatility for Banchero to be used as a facilitator, as well as a top scoring option.

    Meanwhile, at 6'10", 250 pounds, he's still the most physically prepared and fundamentally well-rounded among incoming rookies. Against 4s, his face-up driving and spin moves are sharp enough to translate, and his mid-range touch, power and footwork should continue to work for post, pull-up and inside scoring.

    Banchero isn't likely to shoot a high percentage from three yet, but he looked comfortable last week from NBA range against the Houston Rockets (two-of-three). And after hitting 44 threes in 39 college games, he's flashed enough shot-making to still pose a threat.

    The No. 1 overall pick should have priority for touches and minutes over Jonathan Isaac and Wendell Carter Jr. in Orlando. Already with weight/measurements that mirror Julius Randle's, a polished, three-level scoring skill set, passing IQ that could lead to near triple-doubles and an expected full-time role, Banchero is the Rookie of the Year bet to make before the season.


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