2023 NBA Rookie of the Year: Top 10 Rankings After Season's Quarter Mark

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBAFeatured Columnist IVDecember 6, 2022

2023 NBA Rookie of the Year: Top 10 Rankings After Season's Quarter Mark

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    Is Paolo Banchero still the front-runner for Rookie of the Year?
    David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

    The first quarter of the 2022-23 NBA campaign is in the books, and its freshman class continues to impress.

    No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero is back to living up to his top billing after losing two weeks and change to an ankle injury. Jabari Smith Jr. is showing everyone why he was so firmly in the running for that No. 1 spot on draft night. Bennedict Mathurin continues making noise in the Circle City, and he isn't the only Indiana Pacers rookie to snag a spot on these rankings.

    Let's dissect the field and rank the 10 first-year players likeliest to capture Rookie of the Year honors by examining their season-long stats and placing a little extra weight on their recent performances.

10-6: Nembhard, Sochan, Griffin, Eason, Murray

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    Kings forward Keegan Murray
    Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

    10. Andrew Nembhard, Indiana Pacers

    Since returning from a four-game absence due to a knee injury, Nembhard has been hooping like he's making up for lost time. In his first game back, he buried the Los Angeles Lakers with a game-winning triple over LeBron James. Nembhard has handled starting duties his last three times out, averaging 11.7 points on 48.3 percent shooting and 7.3 assists against 2.3 turnovers in 33.2 minutes per game.

    9. Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio Spurs

    Sochan is an all-purpose energizer, and his two-way skill set is the kind that could really beef up a good team. On a rebuilding Spurs squad, his contributions aren't always as apparent (or impactful), but he touches more stat categories than most freshmen. He and No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero are the only rookies to notch 150 points, 75 rebounds, 40 assists, 10 steals and 10 blocks so far.

    8. AJ Griffin, Atlanta Hawks

    Griffin wasn't a rotation regular out of the gate in Atlanta, but the more minutes he receives, the harder it is to figure out why he wasn't. He may not have the deepest bag, but he stays in his lane and executes a helpful, two-way role for the fourth-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. Over his last eight outings, he's up to 13.4 points per game on 50/37/100 shooting.

    7. Tari Eason, Houston Rockets

    Eason is another versatile, defense-first player whose winning plays would be more celebrated in a more winning-friendly environment. Having said that, he's doing everything he can to strengthen the rebuilding Rockets, who have fared 12 points better per 100 possessions with him than without.

    6. Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings

    Murray still sports one of the best scoring averages in this rookie class (11.3 points per game, fifth), and he gets bonus points for filling a significant role on a Sacramento squad that might finally be ready to snap the hoops world's longest-ever playoff drought.

    However, where he loses some steam—and slips out of the top five—is with his sagging shooting rates. He seemingly smashed into the rookie wall pretty early. In his first six games, he had a wholly impressive 48.6/37.2/85.7 shooting slash. In the 14 contests since, his slash line has tumbled to 37.1/31.0/85.0.

5. Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - NOVEMBER 28: Jalen Williams #8 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives with the ball against the New Orleans Pelicans during a game at the Smoothie King Center on November 28, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Jalen Williams was the 12th player drafted this summer and the first to snag Rookie of the Month honors in the Western Conference.

    He suffered an orbital fracture in his first contest, but he basically hasn't been slowed down by anything else since. He sees major minutes whether starting or coming off the bench, and he has quickly emerged as one of this draft class' best inside-the-arc scoring threats.

    Armed with the agility to snake past defenders, the length to finish over the top of them and the touch throw in runners when he can't get all the way to the basket, Williams is a bucket in the half-court or out in transition. He's shooting a whopping 62 percent on two-pointers (75.5 percent inside of three feet) and ranks in the 77th percentile leaguewide on off-ball cuts.

    Williams can create offense in a pinch—for himself and his teammates—but he's best utilized as a finisher. That makes him a fantastic fit with expert table-setters like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey.

    Williams is one of six rookies averaging double-digit points (10.7). He also averages the fewest minutes of that group (25.2) and leads it in field-goal percentage (52.9).

4. Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets

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    DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 30: Jabari Smith Jr. #1 of the Houston Rockets looks to pass the ball during the game against the Denver Nuggets on November 30, 2022 at the Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

    Jabari Smith Jr. had a rough first month. He couldn't find his touch from three—or anywhere, for that matter—and since so much of his current offensive value is tied to floor spacing, he just wasn't bringing much to the hardwood. Through 15 games, he was averaging just 10.2 points on 31.3/29.9/84.4 shooting.

    It always felt like he would snap out of this funk, though. His combination of size and net-shredding had him in the mix for the No. 1 pick and caused the Houston Rockets to draft him at No. 3. That stroke was too pure not to surface at some point.

    Well, that some point is here.

    Over his last seven outings, a stretch that includes Rockets' wins over the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, he's up to 14.7 points per game on 48.1/44.4/90 shooting. He's had at least three triples in six of those contests, snagged 13 boards in one and had 20-plus points in consecutive games for the first time.

    The light bulb has clicked, and if it stays illuminated, the 6'10" forward just might shoot his way into the top three of these rankings.

3. Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons

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    DETROIT, MICHIGAN - DECEMBER 01: Jaden Ivey #23 of the Detroit Pistons celebrates his second half three pointer while playing the Dallas Mavericks at Little Caesars Arena on December 01, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 131-125 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Jaden Ivey has earned a level of trust few peers from his class can match. He's one of two rookies, along with Banchero, being entrusted with 30-plus minutes per night.

    That matters. Quantity isn't everything, but it's definitely something. We can nitpick Ivey's spotty shot selection and ball control, but they don't completely cloud over the production. If the campaign closed today, he'd be only the 29th freshman ever to average at least 15 points, four assists, four rebounds and a steal.

    He's still learning the finer points of life in the Association, and growing pains will probably remain a part of his basketball story for a while. That should surprise no one. He's a 20-year-old with only 21 career outings under his belt, and he's surrounded by one of the league's weakest supporting casts, particularly with Cade Cunningham sidelined with a shin injury that could cost him the rest of this season.

    Ivey's numbers aren't the cleanest around, but his stat sheets are among the loudest in this crop of first-year hoopers. That's enough to keep him nestled in at No. 3 for now, and he could make a push for the top two if he cleans up his execution issues.

2. Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers

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    PORTLAND, OREGON - DECEMBER 04: Bennedict Mathurin #00 of the Indiana Pacers shoots the ball against Drew Eubanks #24 of the Portland Trail Blazers during the second half at Moda Center on December 04, 2022 in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images)
    Soobum Im/Getty Images

    Despite what a lot of the early-season evidence suggested, it turns out that Bennedict Mathurin isn't actually a point-producing machine. It's a bit of a bummer, too, since his cooldown effectively coincided with the opportunity knock that was Paolo Banchero's ankle-related absence (more on that in a minute).

    Luckily, Mathurin had already done enough heavy lifting to not feel any real heat for the No. 2 spot. There's enough season left for this to change, but for now, he seems locked into a two-man race for Rookie of the Year honors.

    He's averaging the second-most points per game among rookies (18.5) and is tied for the class lead in threes (2.1). More importantly, his efficiency impresses just as much as his volume. Buoyed by a 39.3 percent connection rate from distance, he's on track to become only the 12th rookie to average 18 points with a 56-plus true shooting percentage.

    With all of that said, though, his recent run-in with the rookie wall has stopped him from putting major pressure on Banchero for the top spot. Over Mathurin's last 10 outings, he's shot only 37.9 percent overall and 28.9 percent from deep.

1. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic

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    Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero (5) drives to the basket against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
    AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

    Paolo Banchero lost seven games (nearly one-third of Orlando's season) to an ankle injury, and his hold on the No. 1 spot remains as strong as ever.

    His production is such that it feels fairer to judge him against previous first-year phenoms instead of his current peers. Among current rookies, he sits first in points (21.8), third in rebounds (6.5) and third in assists (3.6). Should those averages hold, he'd become just the fourth rookie ever with a 21/6/3 stat line.

    If it's possible, though, Banchero's eye-test readings might be even better than his box scores, as The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor detailed:

    At 6-foot-10, he’s fluid like a guard, utilizing shifty crossovers, but he can still plow through defenders like stars his size traditionally would. Banchero can lower his shoulder to drive opponents underneath the basket, then spin like a ballerina from left to right to dunk over him with both hands. Or he can use crossovers to step back into jumpers unless he decides to counter by driving back into the paint to dunk over the entire defense. He makes the types of abnormal plays you see from megastars, and so far he has excelled in isolations.

    Banchero's numbers haven't bounced all the way back from their pre-injury levels, but he recently reeled off three consecutive games with at least 20 points and four assists, so that feels more a matter of when than if. He'll need to speed up sooner than later to maintain his relatively comfortable edge on the rookie field, but he remains in pole position to snag the biggest prize for first-year players.

    Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com and accurate through Dec. 4.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.