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Several NBA rookies have already debuted in the smaller Summer Leagues run in Sacramento and Utah. But with the Las Vegas Summer League kicking off last night, we’re about to get a much closer look at the rest of this rookie class.
A lot can change between now and the beginning of the season but based on team rosters, presumed roles and some of the early returns we’ve seen so far, we can start to build a ranking of which players might have the best shot at winning NBA Rookie of the Year.
Which players have the best chance at winning NBA Rookie of the Year?
5. Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons
Ivey was very impressive in his Summer League debut, finishing with 20 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists on 14 shots from the field. He flashed all of the things that made him such an appealing prospect — speed and explosiveness in the halfcourt and transition, excellent finishing through, around and over the defense — and even knocked down a pair of smooth catch-and-shoot 3s. However, we also saw a bit of the rougher edges in Ivey’s game and he finished with five fouls and five turnovers.
Ivey has incredible physical tools but there could be a steep learning curve as he figures out how to leverage those to consistently create advantages against an NBA defense. With less of a veteran structure around him and Cade Cunningham holding so much offensive responsibility as the primary creator and initiator it could take him a bit longer than some of these other rookies to consistently stand out.
4. Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers
Mathurin is the only player on this list who hasn’t played a Summer League game yet but the pairing of his skill set and likely role create the potential for him to put up some numbers this season. He projects to be a high-level shooter and off-ball threat who finds scoring opportunities running off screens, making cuts and working with curls and dribble hand-offs around the elbow.
Tyrese Haliburton will be handed the reins of the offense and the team has some complementary pieces like Myles Turner, Jalen Smith, Chris Duarte and Buddy Hield to throw multiple threats at the defense. Mathurin should get plenty of opportunities to work around those veterans, scoring opportunistically.
3. Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings
Murray’s Summer League debut was overshadowed a bit by Holmgren but he was an absolute beast in the three games of the California Summer League Classic, against the Lakers, Warriors and Heat. In those three games, Murray averaged 19.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game, on 51.1/43.8/100.0 shooting splits.
Murray is likely to start at the 4 for the Kings right from the beginning of the season and De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, Kevin Huerter and Harrison Barnes give him a well-balanced offensive structure to play off of. His skills are polished enough to contribute immediately as a complementary scorer and his role and team context provide more support and less pressure than any of the other rookies on this list.
2. Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder
Holmgren got off to an incredible start, setting a record for blocks in his first Summer League game and finishing with 23 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists on just 9 shots. He showed off the full range of his offensive skill set with some terrific passes, a smooth handle and several absurd pull-up 3-pointers. Things were a little tougher in his second game where the size and strength of Kenny Lofton Jr. seemed to wear him down. But even in that game, Holmgren managed an 11-point, 12-rebound double-double and through two games he’s put up 7 assists and 8 blocks.
There will be some games this season where Holmgren gets overpowered or when his jumper isn’t falling but between his shooting, ball-handling and rim protection he just has so many different ways to impact a game. Playing with Josh Giddey, Lu Dort and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander may hurt his Rookie of the Year case — he’s unlikely to have as much offensive primacy as Banchero will. But he’s still going to put up some big numbers and his unique skills will be hard to ignore.
1. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
Banchero got the better of Jabari Smith in his Summer League debut, finishing with 17 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and a steal in just 25 minutes, shooting 5-of-12 from the field and 2-of-3 from beyond the arc. It wasn’t quite as dominating a performance as it looked in the box score, with Banchero making several tough shots. The shotmaking was a positive but it would also have been nice to see him create some larger advantages for himself in this setting — creating easy shots instead of making tough ones.
But Banchero also hit a smooth catch-and-shoot 3 and knocked down a stepback off the dribble. Although he only attempted three shots from beyond the arc, outside shooting is such an important swing skill for him that seeing him look so comfortable from that distance was very encouraging. And, of course, his strong passing skills were on complete display, picking up potential assists both with easy, obvious reads to the open man and with some eye-popping passes through tight windows.
Banchero may not be the “best” or most impactful rookie this season but he seems, both in terms of skill and opportunity, likely to be the most productive.
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