2015-16 Midseason Awards for the NBA's Rookie Class

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterJanuary 22, 2016

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 16:  Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the New York Knicks and Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves talk during  the game at Madison Square Garden on December 16, 2015 in New York City. The Knicks defeated the Timberwolves 107-102. 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 Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Half of an NBA season isn't enough time to predict which rookies will be superstars, role players and outright busts over the long haul. But through the first few months of 2015-16, the Association's incoming class has already put its predecessors and peers on notice.

Compared to last season's underwhelming newcomers, the league's current debutants have passed their initial tests with flying colors. Most of the top prospects have not only avoided major injuries, but they have either met or exceeded expectations out of the gate.

That could all change in the weeks and months to come, but before things turn (or don't), let's hand out some of our own superlatives to the new kids on the block.

Straight Outta Nowhere: Richaun Holmes, Philadelphia 76ers

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 20: Richaun Holmes #22 of the Philadelphia 76ers goes for the lay up against the Orlando Magic during the game on January 20, 2016 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dow
Fernando Medina/Getty Images

Awarded To: the top rookie either taken in the second round or signed after going undrafted

2015-16 Stats: 14 MPG, 6.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.7 BPG, 49 FG%, 72.3 FT%

Like a handful of youngsters in Philly before him, Richaun Holmes has parlayed a spot on the 76ers roster into a tantalizing NBA future. Holmes' raw numbers are hardly eye-popping, but if the kid were playing 36 minutes a night, he'd be averaging right around 16 points, six boards and two blocks.

In truth, Holmes, the 37th pick in 2015 out of Bowling Green, is no kid. As CSNPhilly.com contributor John Coon wrote and Philly head coach Brett Brown revealed, the 22-year-old Illinois native is far more mature than your average Sixer:

Brown noted that since Holmes is married and a college graduate, he has a different perspective than a one-and-done player. It influences how he approaches the game and puts him further ahead than some rookies in terms of his mind, body and skill development.

Holmes' game is starting to reflect that. Since late December, he's gone for 18 points and three blocks during a close loss in Utah, 17 points in a double-digit win over the Minnesota Timberwolves and 17 more with six boards and three assists in a 25-point blowout of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Best Bet to Break Basketball Twitter: Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

Awarded To: the most exciting rookie to watch from night to night

2015-16 Stats: 28.2 MPG, 14 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 2 BPG, 43.2 FG%, 33.6 3P%

You don't rack up as many nicknames as Kristaps Porzingis has as quickly as he has without doing something spectacular on the court. From The Kristappening and Porzingawd to Zinger, Porzilla and (my personal favorite) Three 6 Latvia, the Knicks' sensational rookie has earned each and every one.

How has he done it? With thunderous putback dunks...

...and threes from Jersey...

...and Dream Shakes...

...and putback dunks...

...and block parties...

...and have I mentioned the putback dunks?

All of this makes Porzingis the perfect fit to play 41 games a year at Madison Square Garden. Even if he doesn't develop into a bona fide superstar, the lithe Latvian should be able to light up the Big Apple—not to mention every social-media platform known to humanity—with 7'3" of excitement every time he takes the floor.

If only he had a more fun nickname in mind...

Most Likely to Get Buckets: Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers

Jan 18, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor (8) advances the ball during the second quarter against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Awarded To: the rookie with the most prodigious scoring potential

2015-16 Stats: 30.9 MPG, 17.6 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.1 BPG, 48.9 FG%

Jahlil Okafor was tagged as "NBA-ready" well before the 76ers selected him with the No. 3 pick in 2015. His low-post game has been the stuff of legend dating back to his high school days in Chicago. The 20-year-old has enough moves and counters in his arsenal to make even the savviest defender's head spin.

Since late December, he's started to score with the sort of efficiency that made him such a surefire prospect in the first place.

The difference, as Sporting News' Ian Levy explained, has been Ish Smith's return to the City of Brotherly Love:

Smith is a journeyman point guard, but what he offers may be exactly what Okafor and the 76ers needed. He has plenty of NBA experience, playing with nine NBA teams over six seasons, and the Sixers needed a veteran to help ease the transition for Okafor. But his play, even as an average NBA point guard, has been competent where the Sixers weren't. The result has been more efficiency and less negativity.

If an undersized journeyman can make that much of a difference for Okafor, just imagine what the Duke product might accomplish when (or if) the Sixers finally add an above-average point guard to their process.

Sharpest Shooter: Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Awarded To: the rookie with the prettiest shooting stroke

2015-16 Stats: 20 MPG, 9.1 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, 48.4 FG%, 43.8 3P%

Devin Booker began his pro career with a level of fire rarely seen—even in NBA Jam. Through his first 20 games for the Phoenix Suns, he knocked down 73.9 percent of his threes.

He's tailed off considerably since then (31.6 percent from deep over his last 18 games), but that's done little to diminish Booker's reputation as a burgeoning sharpshooter. 

"Good shooters, all they need is the half of a step," said Suns coach Jeff Hornacek—a former marksman himself, per SB Nation's Dave King.

"It doesn't matter how much pressure there is. If you just get a half of a step and you can go right into your shot, it should have no effect on it. I think that's a big thing for a shooter, knowing that it's not going to have any effect on you. And that's kind of where Book (Devin Booker) is at in that regard."

Booker has plenty of time to get to that next level. At 19, the Kentucky product is currently the NBA's youngest player.

You wouldn't know it from the way he's performed. Since taking over for the injured Eric Bledsoe in late December, Booker has averaged 15.8 points on 48.2 percent shooting from the floor.

Didn't Ask For This: Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Awarded To: the rookie who's fallen short of expectations relative to where he was drafted

2015-16 Stats: 29.4 MPG, 10.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 5.8 APG, 3.8 TOPG, 1.0 SPG, 32.1 FG%, 26.1 3P%

However you slice it, Emmanuel Mudiay's rookie season has thus far bordered on disaster. He missed 14 games between mid-December and early January after re-aggravating the same ankle injury that limited him to 10 games in China last season.

But that came as a reprieve from Mudiay's muddled play for the Nuggets.

As a shooter, Mudiay's been Bizarro Booker. Among rotation regulars (i.e. 10 or more games played, at least 20 minutes a night), his field-goal percentage (32.1 percent) ranks as the worst league-wide and his turnover ratio (16 percent) is the second-highest of any guard, behind only Sacramento Kings wing Ben McLemore.

Still, it's far too early to slap Mudiay with the dreaded "bust" label. For one, he doesn't turn 20 until early March.

And when it comes to big, physical point guards who've struggled to shoot and take care of the ball at the outset, Mudiay is hardly alone. Russell Westbrook had many of the same problems as Mudiay during his rookie season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Last anyone heard, that guy turned out alright.

"If he’s really gonna be our future, let’s throw ’em out there," said Denver coach Michael Malone, per the Oklahoman's Erik Horne. "It’s conversations like that, with examples of how (the Thunder) gave the ball to Westbrook. Let’s accelerate the growth of you and our roster by letting you grow through your mistakes."

Best Off The Bench: D'Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers

Jan 7, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell (1) celebrates after making a shot against the Sacramento Kings during the fourth quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 118-115. Manda
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Awarded To: the most effective rookie who spends most of his time as a reserve

2015-16 Stats: 27.1 MPG, 11.9 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.2 SPG, 40.5 FG%, 32.5 3P%

Overall, D'Angelo Russell has been about as productive off the bench as he was when he was starting next to Kobe Bryant and Jordan Clarkson in L.A.

Zoom in from the forest to the trees, though, and you'll see that Russell's most promising performances have come since Byron Scott subbed him out for Lou Williams.

In his second game as a reserve, Russell, the No. 2 pick in 2015, erupted for 23 points and hit some clutch shots to send the Lakers to overtime in what turned out to be a one-point loss to the Timberwolves. He nearly pulled a similar trick earlier in January, when he led L.A. all the way back from a 27-point deficit in Sacramento before Scott pulled him in a Lakers loss to the Kings.

Russell won't be on the bench forever. Chances are, he'll be back in the starting lineup for good once Bryant isn't around and there's (finally) room for the youngster to breathe in the Lakers offense.

"This change wasn't so much based on [Russell and Julius Randle] not performing up to their capability," Scott explained at the time, per Lakers Nation's Serena Winters. "It's based on where we are as a team."

Most Likely To Get Someone Fired: Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 26:  Bobby Portis #5 of the Chicago Bulls goes for the layup during the game against the Dallas Mavericks on December 26, 2015 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees tha
Glenn James/Getty Images

Awarded To: the rookie who, according to his play and where he was drafted, was clearly overlooked

2015-16 Stats: 14.5 MPG, 6.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 46.2 FG%, 31.6 3P%

Twenty-one teams said "no" to Bobby Portis before the Chicago Bulls said "yes" to the reigning SEC Player of the Year out of Arkansas with their first-rounder.

Among those that passed on Portis: the Milwaukee Bucks. As Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski revealed on The Vertical Podcast with Woj, the Bucks had eyes for Portis but opted instead for UNLV's Rashad Vaughn at No. 17.

Per Woj (h/t Pro Basketball Talk's Dan Feldman), the decision wasn't Bucks general manager John Hammond's, but rather the work of head coach Jason Kidd: "He goes to Milwaukee with the title of head coach, but since the day Jason has arrived there, he’s been in charge of personnel. That’s not a secret."

Neither is Portis anymore. With Joakim Noah all but done for the season after injuring his shoulder, Portis has been thrust into a more prominent role in the Bulls' frontcourt rotation. Since mid-December, he's scored in double figures five times, including a pair of impressive double-doubles against the Knicks.

The 20-year-old Arkansas product has the tools to be an effective pick-and-pop partner for Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Portis has knocked down a solid 41.4 percent of his long twos.

Vaughn, on the other hand, has hit an abysmal 29.7 percent of his shots as a Buck. That might not be bad enough to get Kidd canned, but Vaughn's struggles, coupled with Portis' promising play, could make it tough for him to convince the Bucks brass to hand him the keys to the front office. 

Least Fun To Play Against: Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 04:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers drives on Justise Winslow #20 of the Miami Heat during a game  at American Airlines Arena on January 4, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by do
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Awarded To: the top rookie defender

2015-16 Stats: 26.6 MPG, 5.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.3 APG, 38.8 FG%, 24 3P%

Offensive opportunities have been difficult to come by for Justise Winslow, what with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside and Luol Deng divvying up possessions on South Beach.

Winslow will have to sharpen his shot and strengthen his skills before he can stake a claim in Erik Spoelstra's offense. In the meantime, the 19-year-old out of Duke has put his size (6'7", 225 lbs), strength and motor to good use as a suffocating perimeter defender.

Credit: NBA Savant

"He's got a lot to learn, but he's a good, solid defender," Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George told ESPN's Israel Gutierrez. "He's got great feet. He's real aggressive. That's what you want out of your young defenders." 

High praise, indeed, from an All-Defensive performer, but not as high as comparing Winslow to, say, himself.

"It's good he's getting the big matchups now. And then it's all about experience over time," George went on. "Same with Kawhi, myself. We gradually got bigger roles and bigger situations. He'll make his name on the defensive end, for sure. It just becomes a part of your game to start out. Hopefully, offensively, he'll grow; but defensively, he's got a chance."

The rash of injuries across Miami's roster could open up more shots for Winslow. Either way, the Heat will look for him to butter his bread with his defensive marks.

Most Likely To Succeed: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 19:  Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves works against Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center on January 19, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. New
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Awarded To: the rookie of the year so far

2015-16 Stats: 29.3 MPG, 15.9 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.8 BPG, 

If you're the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, you're bound to be saddled with great expectations—as both the presumptive top prospect in your class and for the future of whichever franchise selects you.

Living up to all that is no cakewalk, though you could hardly tell from watching Karl-Anthony Towns strut his stuff for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Among his fellow rookies, Towns ranks second in scoring (15.9 points) and blocks (1.8 per game) and first in rebounding (9.7 boards) while shooting 52.3 percent from the floor and 38.9 percent from three.

Skill-wise, the New Jersey native's game is tailor-made for today's NBA. On offense, he can beat his man off the bounce, stretch out beyond the arc and work wonders as the screener in the pick-and-roll. And when he winds up with the ball on the block, Towns has all the moves he needs to score in traffic.

Defensively, the Kentucky product already registers as a top-20 rim protector by opponent field-goal percentage in the NBA. 

With Towns and Andrew Wiggins in tow, the T-Wolves could have not only two consecutive Rookie of the Year winners, but also a tandem fit to terrify the rest of the league for years to come.

All stats are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise, and accurate as of games played on Jan. 21, 2016.

Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.


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