On a regular basis, we'll take rank of the NBA's top rookies. Instead of the traditional look-back at the prior week, we'll discuss different important topics. The rankings will always rank performance (so 1 is the top rookie, not necessarily the one with the best "topic of the week" characteristic). This week, we take a look at the playing time for the top rookies, along with others that may or may not have the same opportunities going forward.
NBA rookies are largely judged for end-of-year awards voting based off their raw numbers. For instance, Michael Carter-Williams won the rookie of the year award last year running away, despite his clear efficiency issues. While the lack of competition helped, Carter-Williams struggled mightily with his shooting, which depressed his scoring efficiency numbers.
But when voters combine the Sixers quick pace with his rookie-leading minutes and basic stats, an easy victory was in the stars. Playing time, and to a degree selfishness, make more of a difference in awards voting than quality of play. Keep an eye on minutes played, because it'll matter for voting more than it probably ever should.
And now, the week 1 rankings:
1. Elfrid Payton (Magic)
Number of Note: Leads all rookies with 7.7 assists per game
Elfrid Payton has started the season running. Without Victor Oladipo, Payton has inherited the point guard reigns in Orlando and has not disappointed. His minutes might decline when Oladipo returns, especially if the Oladipo-at-point experiment resurfaces. However, if Magic coach Jacque Vaughn even thinks of reducing Payton's minutes so that Ben Gordon sees the court, Vaughn should be axed immediately. Payton needs to play as much as possible, and Gordon should not derail that.
2. Jabari Parker (Bucks)
Number of Note: Shooting 35% in 34 minutes per game.
Jabari Parker, widely considered to be the ROY favorite, deserves that recognition. Despite decent competition, Jason Kidd has given Parker 34 minutes per game so far despite having a deep group of players at the forward positions. Against the Sixers on Friday, now-backup power forward Ersan Ilyasova played only five minutes in the Milwaukee victory. Between those two, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and starting small forward Jared Dudley, only so many minutes will be available. But so far, Kidd seems committing to making Parker a centerpiece and giving him the time to make it happen.
3. Nerlens Noel (76ers)
Number of Note: Shooting 38% through three games.
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Nerlens Noel shouldn't have any teammates breathing down his neck. Instead, Noel needs to stay healthy and improve his stamina. The Sixers being a fast-paced team, that plays into Nerlens' style. He can run and dunk and do a lot in space. But after missing a full season, he's still not in game shape and clearly tires as the game progresses. Along with potential foul and injury trouble, the stamina issue could keep Noel off the top line of rookies at the end of the season.
4. Nikola Mirotic (Bulls)
Number of Note: Seven of eight shot attempts are threes.
Nikola Mirotic might be the most talented and valuable rookie this season. Unfortunately, he's buried behind Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson in the Bulls front court. Mirotic might not even play during some games. When he does play, expect floor spacing in Chicago unlike you've ever seen before.
5. Andrew Wiggins (Timberwolves)
Number of Note: 21% usage rate through three games
Wiggins will play a lot in Minneapolis and get lots of good exposure for his development. Even if it results in occasionally poor play, like his foul on Jimmy Butler in the final seconds of a heartbreaking loss to the Bulls, being on a team where his development is the priority will be great for his future. He'll learn from his mistakes. And, so far, he's been assertive enough with the usage rate noted above. Expect his minute total to creep up from the current 25/game level to somewhere between 30-35. He'll be in the ROY discussion at year-end as well.
Aaron Gordon and Dante Exum face position-crowding issues on teams with multiple young players fighting for playing time. Their playing time should be tied to performance. Bojan Bogdanovic, teammate of Dario Saric on the Croatian national team, started both Nets games so far but has had little to show for it. Doug McDermott might face the same time crunch that's impacting Nikola Mirotic. Unlike Mirotic, the clogging on the wings in Chicago is manageable, and McBuckets should be a valuable spacer that gets playing time ahead of Tony Snell.
Marcus Smart can't shoot - on a shooting-depleted Boston team with a shooting-happy coach, he might struggle for minutes behind a more capable shooter like Marcus Thornton. Ben McLemore is playing poorly enough in Sacramento that Nik Stauskas might swipe his job via the two greatest words in the English language. And finally, injuries have sapped K.J. McDaniels' playing time in Philadelphia, but there's no reason to play him less going forward. That is, unless there's some direction from above to limit his exposure. Only time will tell in that regard.