Let's talk about age. Rookies come in all shapes and sizes, because anyone with no NBA experience is considered a rookie. Bojan Bogdanovic is an international veteran (and - spoiler alert - top ranked rookie here) and has a significant experience edge on someone like, say, Dante Exum (who also makes the list this week). Pablo Prigioni is like 36 and was a rookie two years ago.
I'm nowhere near official enough to have a ROY vote, but if I did have one, I'd struggle with a decision between voting for players that have more experience versus ones with less. Should I vote for pure value, when a more experienced player is likely to provide more value? Or should there be a curve?
My main problem with such a curve is that it would be so subjective. How do you assign credit to a young player for his performance despite his inexperience? What weights should you use? Dante Exum playing well against competition that is leagues better than he'd ever experienced is worth something. I just don't know how to properly assign credit to it. Do I base it off expectations or just the eye-test?
Because I can't conclusively give an answer to any of these questions, at this point I consider it proper to only consider experience levels when players are sufficiently close - so as to use it as a tie-breaker. This could change as I think more about it, but today I believe one experienced rookies clearly stands above the rest anyway.
1. Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets)
Last Week: 3
Number of Note: Has made all 10 of his free throw attempts this season.
So Bogdanovic has had the two best statistical games of this rookie season so far, and has been far and away the best rookie with a large role on a competitive team. Even discounting his performance for age, Bogdanovic comes out on top for me.
There are moments on the court where you can see his experience come through. For one, he's comfortable in his own skin. Bogdanovic knows where to be on the court and doesn't stretch his limits. It's like he's not a rookie at all, which is sort of the point when you bring in an international veteran.
One thing Bogdanovic especially excels at is cutting through the lane at opportune times. Nets blogger/beat writer Devin Kharpertian pointed this out on Twitter a couple of days ago, but I first noticed it during a game last week against the Phoenix Suns. Bogdanovic saw an open lane after a post-up by Joe Johnson and a kick-out pass to a shooter (Mirza Teletovic) resulted in an open shot at running to the rim. Bogdanovic cut to the lane from the elbow extended, thus drawing the attention of the entire defense, which collapsed in response. If the defense doesn't collapse, he gets an easy layup. Instead, it resulted in an open Kevin Garnett jump shot, because his defender prioritized defending in the lane, as is expected.
Typically, young players just don't have a sense of timing for when to cut and when not to cut. This is where older age helps, and where it's almost a disservice to call Bogdanovic a rookie, because that's not a rookie move.
2. Jabari Parker (Bucks)
Last Week: 1
Number of Note: Has played at least 20 minutes in every game this season.
Parker isn't asked to do much other than score and try hard on defense, which to me is kind of a bummer. The Bucks, now with a record of 6-5, are trying to win and develop Parker and company simultaneously. It's a bit hard to prioritize both. Fortunately, Parker is playing well enough to contribute, but he's the future. He (and Giannis Antetokounmpo) should be the focus right now, not winning. Visions of the first year of the Doug Collins era are dancing in my head.
Because of this, Parker is not showing his age. He doesn't try to do too much, or play outside himself. It makes him potentially more effective, but to me this slows the learning process.
3. Dante Exum (Jazz)
Last Week: Not ranked
Number of Note: Has not played 20 minutes in the last 20 games.
I pretty much explained Exum above - Exum still struggles for minutes, but he excels in the ones he's playing, especially given the curve he must adjust to. He made three consecutive threes last night, and his shooting overall has been really impressive.
4. K.J. McDaniels (76ers)
Last Week: 2
Number of Note: (ahem) Has just one start this season.
K.J. is almost 22, which nowadays is fairly old for a rookie. Out of necessity, McDaniels played the role of a key offensive player at Clemson. He developed useful skills during that time. Primarily, McDaniels can put the ball on the floor, especially when driving on the right side of the court, and take the ball hard all the way to the rim. He's also developed NBA three point range over the summer, which many rookies are initially unable to do. Combine those two things, and K.J. is a valuable rookie immediately.
5. Aaron Gordon (Magic)
Last Week: Not ranked
Number of Note: Shooting 58% from the floor.
Injuries suck. As the fourth overall pick in the draft, Gordon was a rookie many thought would impact games right away. Scoring was and will always be an issue, but his youth, skills, and athleticism were expected to carry the 19-year-old Gordon early.
In his first few games, Gordon struggled for playing time in a crowded Magic frontcourt. With Channing Frye returning from an early season injury, Gordon's playing time appeared to be falling away even more. Flash forward to last week, and Gordon started getting more consistent minutes. With Gordon on the court, the Magic could switch pick-and-rolls with their forwards without much worry, if any at all, as Gordon has the length and athleticism to defend almost any position.
His offense began to come around too, and through starting to put it all together, he made a lot of people look smart. Then he broke a bone in his foot. Foot injuries can be tricky to both diagnose and recover from. Gordon joins Marcus Smart and Julius Randle, among others, on the shelf. He'll be off the list this time next week, as he should remain out for a while.
Andrew Wiggins (4)
Elfrid Payton (5)