NBA Rookie Rankings: Pistons’ Jaden Ivey drives way to top; Spurs’ Jeremy Sochan showing off defensive chops


The NBA season is already a month old, and some rookies across the league are starting to get bigger opportunities in part because of injuries to key players. Guys like Marjon Beauchamp are earning their spot in the rotation for when the Bucks get healthier, while rookies like Andrew Nembhard and Bennedict Mathurin are going to make it difficult for the Pacers to figure out what to do when Chris Duarte comes back from an ankle sprain.

In other rookie-related news, No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero is still sidelined with an ankle injury, making that four straight games he’s missed for the Magic. It appears as though Orlando is handling Banchero’s injury on a game-to-game basis, so he may be back in the lineup soon.

Now it’s time to break down this week’s NBA Rookie Rankings. Keep in mind that these rankings will reflect a rookie’s performance on a week-to-week basis only, not the collective season. These aren’t Rookie of the Year standings, but rather a reflection on what the player has done over the past week.

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum had this to say about Jaden Ivey after playing against him two times in the past two weeks:

“Super dynamic guard,” Tatum said. “Great body, super athletic. I’m excited to see if he keeps improving, and I like that he takes on that challenge. He doesn’t back down.”

Doesn’t back down is a great way to describe Ivey’s game. The Pistons rookie ranks second among his peers in shots within five feet from the basket, averaging six per game. That puts him behind only Paolo Banchero in that category, and Ivey’s making them at a 57.1 percent clip, an impressive efficiency rate for a rookie. He has great composure when he gets down in the paint, never rushing to throw a shot up, but instead knowing when to change his speed to get the edge around a defender. 

Time and time again against the Toronto Raptors this week we saw Ivey do some variation of that play. He’ll get the ball out on the perimeter, use his crafty handle to keep the defender guessing, then turns on the boosters to get right past whoever is standing in his way. What’s most impressive about Ivey’s ability to seemingly do this at will is his ability to put the ball high enough up on the glass so it’s just out of a defender’s reach. 

We’ve seen countless guards do this, and oftentimes a crafty handle and drive to the rim ends in a pinned shot on the glass because they didn’t go up strong enough or put the ball high enough so it wouldn’t get blocked. But this rookie already has that figured out, which is a testament to his high basketball IQ.

Another week, another strong performance from Mathurin off the bench for the Pacers. His statline in a win over the Raptors — 15 points, eight rebounds, three assists — is evidence that he had his fingerprints on every aspect of that game, and he did so while shooting the ball well from both the field (40 percent) and downtown (75 percent). None of this is surprising, by the way, especially the 3-point shooting, where Mathurin already ranks in the 93rd percentile amongst wing players on 3s this season (47 percent). But what really stands out about Mathurin’s 3-point shooting is his ability to shoot both off the dribble or in a catch-and-shoot situation. 

He can make tough shots like this off the bounce with a defender all in his face:

…go straight up with it off a catch:

…oh and he knows when to cut to the rim for an easy basket like this:

Mathurin provides so much on offense for the Pacers, and while he’s not starting just yet, I imagine that will change once more opportunity opens up in the starting lineup.  

After making his first start for the Pacers last week, in which he put up 15 points and five assists, head coach Rick Carlisle said this about the second-round draft pick: “Nembhard did what he does, which is just play an old school game with a lot of moxie.” Carlisle has also used the word “unafraid” to describe Nembhard, and when you watch him those adjectives certainly check out. 

He’s an aggressive defender, and has already been asked to guard Jamal Murray, LaMelo Ball and CJ McCollum since joining the starting lineup. He’s going to try and be disruptive when he’s out there defending, and while he certainly still has some work to do on that end of the floor, he’s shown flashes of being a defensive pest.

On offense, he’s got a smooth jumper off the bounce, can knock down 3s and get to the rim. Already he’s proving to be an effective piece in Indiana’s lineup, as the Pacers generate 4.7 points more on offense when Nembhard is on the floor as opposed to when he sits. 

Despite Nembhard’s impressive time in the starting lineup, it’s fair to wonder if Carlisle should have Mathurin out there in his place. But given both guards can give the Pacers scoring in a variety of ways, in addition to their passing, it’s a good problem to have if you’re Indiana. 

In two of Milwaukee’s last four games Beauchamp has had scoring totals of 20 and 19. In both of those games he grabbed eight rebounds, and he shot the ball incredibly efficiently as well. Oh and he’s also been starting for the past week while the Bucks have been dealing with a never-ending list of injuries to key players.

Beauchamp’s best performance of the week came in a loss to the Hawks, where he clearly caught Atlanta by surprise with every made shot. The way he got his first bucket of the evening is indicative of how little the Hawks expected from him, as they stuck Trae Young — the worst defender in Atlanta’s starting 5 — on Beauchamp. It resulted in Beauchamp getting an offensive board, which eventually led to an and-1 opportunity for the rookie.

After that play, the Hawks switched up the defensive assignments and put De’Andre Hunter on Beauchamp, though that still didn’t stop him from doing stuff like this:

When the Bucks are fully healthy, Beauchamp will move back to the bench, but his performance in this stretch of games shows that he’s worthy of a rotation spot moving forward.

When you watch Sochan play, the first thing that sticks out is his defense — well technically the first thing that sticks out is his pink-dyed hair, but you get the point. Sochan was put to the test against the Trail Blazers this week, getting constantly thrown into switches onto Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons, and while those guys certainly won those battles on numerous occasions, Sochan earned some respect with how he defended them as well. On multiple occasions he used his 6-8 frame to alter Lillard’s shots or disrupt passes. But his size makes him a versatile defender who can guard bigger forwards, and even get down in the paint and do stuff like this to centers:

Yep, that’s 7-foot-1 Rudy Gobert getting his shot rejected from the rookie Sochan, which is difficult for anyone in the league to do. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has already praised Sochan’s defense this season, which shows just how special this rookie is on that end of the floor.

“He can guard all five positions,” Popovich said. “He has got quick feet. He is long. He has got a knack for it and enjoys it. He is special in that way.”

That’s coming from a guy who has spent time coaching some of the best defensive players in league history, so you know that statement carries some hefty weight.

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