NBA Rookie Ladder: Trae Young, Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic Looking Like Stars

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterNovember 21, 2018

NBA Rookie Ladder: Trae Young, Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic Looking Like Stars

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    Bart Young/Getty Images

    The second month of the NBA season has seen some rookies get comfortable and others hit the wall.

    This year's class has performed notably strong early on. Many of 2018's lottery general managers have looked good for their selections.

    The current top-three rookies are putting up numbers that stack up with NBA stars.

    These rankings are based on current impact and not long-term potential.

10. Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Key stats: 7.7 PPG, 66.7 2FG%, 37.1 3FG%

    Miles Bridges has a meager 13.9 percent usage rate, but he's delivered offensively when given an opening. 

    An explosive leaper, Bridges has shot 81.6 percent inside of five feet, flying in for easy baskets off cuts and missed shots. And he's hit 41.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot opportunities.

    The rookie hasn't spent much time scoring in between or handling the ball. He's taking what's given to him as a finisher and a spot-up shooter, only attempting double-digit shots once this season. 

    Depending on his role, Bridges' impact could fluctuate, but he's proved to be an effective NBA player when called on. And he figures to continue sparking the lineup in spurts with shot-making, power dunks and defensive playmaking. 

9. Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Key stats: 13.2 PPG, 2.4 APG, 45.0 FG%, 52.2 3FG%

    Averaging 14.3 points in November, Collin Sexton has found a scoring rhythm, with his jumper fueling the streak.

    He's made 11 of his last 16 three-pointers, and he's now hit 40.9 percent of his 5.9 pull-ups per game. Sexton, who's always excelled by driving and attacking, has done an admirable job of adjusting and successfully using his dribble jumper.

    However, he had trouble involving his teammates at Alabama, and that has carried over to Cleveland. The Athletic's  Joe Vardon reported Cavaliers teammates have suggested the rookie, who's averaging only 2.4 assists to 2.2 turnovers, "doesn't know how to play."

    Sexton's floor game and defensive IQ have raised questions, but he could still emerge as a legitimate NBA scoring weapon.

8. Mikal Bridges, Phoenix Suns

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Key stats: 8.0 PPG, 1.3 SPG, 47.9 FG%, 39.2 3FG%

    Mikal Bridges has already overtaken Josh Jackson for a spot in the Phoenix Suns rotation. Their rookie has made a stronger impact with his shooting, defense and general maturity.

    With Bridges on the floor, Phoenix is scoring 9.3 more points per 100 possessions and giving up 13.9 fewer points. 

    He's hitting 39.2 percent of his threes and 58.8 percent of his shots inside of 10 feet. A whopping 75 of his 90 field-goal attempts this season have come off either one dribble or none. The Suns don't rely on Bridges to create offense, but he also doesn't take bad shots or hold the ball.

    A versatile, aggressive defender averaging 2.4 steals per 36 minutes, the first-round pick has been a strong fit for this Suns rotation.

7. Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings

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    Steve Yeater/Associated Press

    Key stats: 12.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 51.0 FG%

    With the Sacramento Kings being surprisingly competitive and Nemanja Bjelica shooting 49.2 percent from three-point range, head coach Dave Joerger hasn't been willing to fully unleash Marvin Bagley III. 

    The rookie has been a weapon around the basket, shooting 70.0 percent inside five feet and giving his guards a bouncy finishing target. His quick jump beats defenders to the rim, and he's flashed the ability to face up and attack in a straight line or turn over his shoulder into one-handers.

    The advanced stats don't paint Bagley in a flattering light, as he ranks No. 429 of 430 total NBA players in real plus-minus, per ESPN. Opponents are scoring 119.5 points per 100 possessions with Bagley on the floor, compared to 107.7 when he's off.

    He's still been productive and efficient enough offensively. Bagley would benefit greatly from a big-man partner who could stretch the floor and defend.

6. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Key stats: 10.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.8 APG, 46.8 FG%

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continues to start for a Los Angeles Clippers team that's tied for the best record in the West.

    He's had success improvising off dribble hesitation moves. Shooting 46.8 percent, Gilgeous-Alexander has shown off his diverse layup and runner packages. And though his limited shooting range has held him back, he's been relatively accurate, knocking down 38.2 percent of his pull-ups and 42.9 percent of his 0.9 catch-and-shoot attempts per game.

    Gilgeous-Alexander's long arms, quick hands and anticipation have also showed on defense.

    Only averaging 2.8 assists to 2.0 turnovers, he hasn't given the Clippers as much playmaking, but the No. 11 pick has otherwise emerged as a two-way role player for L.A.

5. Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Key stats: 11.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 46.5 FG%

    Wendell Carter Jr. has been effective on both ends for the Chicago Bulls, averaging double figures in scoring and emerging as a tough rim protector.

    He's excelled by finishing off cuts and rolls, and despite his low shooting percentages from outside, he's hitting 1.1 catch-and-shoot jump shots per game and converting 79.6 percent of his free throws.

    His passing is a bonus. He's averaging nearly as many assists as point guards Gilgeous-Alexander (2.8) and Sexton (2.4).

    Carter has also caught on defensively, averaging 1.9 blocks per game (second among rookies) and allowing opponents to shoot just 48.9 percent against him, the second-lowest mark (behind Hassan Whiteside) among players who face at least 5.0 shots per game.

    He's showing good instincts around the basket with his finishing, defensive rotations and timing as a shot-blocker. Carter should only benefit from the extra space Lauri Markkanen will create upon his return from injury.

4. Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Key stats: 12.8 PPG, 49.4 FG%, 4.6 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 1.3 SPG

    Before the draft, Jaren Jackson Jr. separated himself from other prospects with his defense. And he leads all rookies in blocks per game. But Jackson's offense has carried him into the top five of the rookie ladder.

    He's creating new ways to score out of the post, both by facing up and with his back to the basket. Jackson is using his length and both hands around the rim, where he's shooting 69.1 percent.

    His perimeter shooting hasn't translated to the NBA's deeper arc, as he's missed 26 of his first 34 threes. He is making 74.5 percent of his free throws.

    And opponents are converting just 52.4 percent of their shots against Jackson, who's been undisciplined (3.8 fouls in 25.3 minutes per game) but also disruptive.

3. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

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    R Brent Smith/Associated Press

    Key stats: 16.8 PPG, 8.3 APG, 39.1 FG%, 1.4 3PTM

    Trae Young has been streaky, which should have been expected based on the extent to which he relies on skill and precision over athleticism, plus the fact he doesn't have supporting talent to take away pressure. But his volume production outweighs the inefficiency.

    Arguably the most surprising development of Young's success has been his effectiveness in attacking and finishing around the basket. Despite lacking size (6'2", 180 lbs), strength, length and explosiveness, he's shooting 56.0 percent on 15.6 drives per game. Among the 31 NBA players averaging at least 10 drives per game, only Giannis Antetokounmpo, Russell Westbrook and Caris LeVert are converting at a higher rate than Young.

    He's shaking defenders by changing speeds and finishing with crafty, difficult layups.

    It's encouraging to see Young average 16.8 points per game while missing 76 of his 100 three-point attempts. He's only made 22.6 percent of his 6.2 pull-up attempts per game. Young's shot-making and history suggest his jumper should start falling more often.

    Compared to his scoring numbers, it's less of a shock to see Young rank fourth in the league in assists per game and fifth in turnovers per game. His vision and setup ability off penetration and ball screens have carried over, as has his freewheeling, uptempo style, for a team that's missing playmakers.

2. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

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    Michael Gonzales/Getty Images

    Key stats: 16.4 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 61.1 FG%

    With Devin Booker and T.J. Warren combining to take 31.8 shots per game, Deandre Ayton has been able to settle in and play to his strengths.

    He leads all rookies in player efficiency rating, per, and among NBA players who attempt at least six shots per game inside five feet, Ayton's 75.7 percent shooting ranks No. 1.

    Strong, long and light on his feet, Ayton has quickly emerged as an elite finisher. But he's also making 43.6 percent of his 2.4 catch-and-shoot chances per game, and he's been effective around the short corners and key.

    Ayton hasn't done anything to extinguish the narrative surrounding his suspect defensive instincts. But he's also on pace to become the only rookie to average at least 15 points and 10 rebounds on 60.0 percent shooting.

1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Maverics

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Key stats: 19.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 4.1 APG, 45.3 FG%, 2.4 3PTM, 37.5 3PT%

    Luka Doncic ranks first among rookies in scoring and threes, second in assists and third in rebounds. And he's shooting a respectable 45.3 percent from the floor.

    Sustaining that production and efficiency would mean joining Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Grant Hill and Larry Bird as the only rookies to average at least 19 points, six rebounds and four assists while shooting over 45.0 percent.

    Much of his early success has been tied to off-the-dribble scoring. Doncic is hitting 2.9 pull-ups per game at a 42.6 percent clip and making 46.3 percent of his 5.1 attempts per game that come against defenders within two to four feet. Though not an explosive athlete, he is using his size (6'7", 218 lbs), clever handle and footwork to create enough separation, and then he's converting by tapping into his unique skill and instincts.

    A dual threat out of pick-and-rolls and an improved one-on-one player, Doncic has looked like the most advanced, complete rookie in the 2018 class.


    Stats courtesy of and Basketball Reference and accurate through Tuesday unless otherwise noted.


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