We've heard about the "rookie wall" and how it can creep up on players midway through the season and their production, efficiency and impact just take a nosedive. But what about when the opposite is happening? Maybe we call it the "rookie ladder" or the "rookie Juggernaut," you know like the superhero from X-Men whose biggest scene was literally just him breaking through a bunch of walls. Maybe this visual will jog your memory:
The name probably still needs to be workshopped, but the point I'm trying to make is that there's a slew of rookies right now who are breaking through that rookie wall and putting together some of their best performances. Keegan Murray is arguably the best example right now, a guy who is having the best month of his young career, while also having a positive impact on a winning team. Walker Kessler is another rookie that comes to mind who may not be putting up monster numbers but is starring in his role for the Jazz, while being the best rookie defender in the league. You can also add AJ Griffin to that list who is shooting over 50 percent from the field and 3-point territory. All three of these guys exemplify rookies who instead of hitting the rookie wall have managed to climb over it or attack it head-on and as a result, have made some of the biggest positive impacts on their teams.
Now it's time to break down this week's 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 the player's performance over the past week.
Murray is going to be one of the best players out of this draft. He didn't get as much attention as some of the other top picks, but in terms of month-to-month growth, there hasn't been a more impressive rookie. In January alone he's averaging 14.5 points while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 51.8 percent from deep. He's rebounding the ball at a more aggressive rate than at the start of the season, and he's looking for his shot more as he grows into his role as a complementary piece to this suddenly potent Kings offense.
This week, Murray scored a career-high 29 points in a win over the Thunder, in which he needed just 12 shots to get there, missing only two of them. He also finished with 14 boards to help the Kings to what was their sixth-straight win. Murray's improvement in moving without the ball has opened up new layers to Sacramento's offense, and his two-man game with Domantas Sabonis has flourished.
Murray's benefiting from the defensive attention Sabonis draws, and as a result, he's getting a lot of open looks and knocking them down.
There aren't a lot of positives the Pistons can take away from their 150-130 loss to the Bucks, because when you allow a team to drop that many points on you, it's just worth forgetting about. But Duren's finishing around the rim was certainly a point that the Pistons should be excited about. Duren's a physical and athletic big man who can play above the rim but has some finesse in his post moves, too. All of that was on full display against the Bucks, even if the game was already in hand for Milwaukee for much of the contest.
His chemistry with the guards is progressing, he has good hands when getting the ball under the basket and he's always finishing strong, even with defense draped on him.
Duren's also always crashing the glass on the offensive end, and when he corrals a rebound, it almost always results in something like this:
The Pistons have found their big man for the future, and I can only imagine how impactful he'll be when Cade Cunningham returns next season.
After a short-term stint in the starting lineup last week, Mathurin returned to a bench role, and he nearly single-handily helped the Pacers come back from a 21-point deficit to shock the Bulls. Mathurin finished that game with 26 points, 15 of which came in the fourth quarter to help his team stage a comeback. He went 6-of-7 from the floor, with each made shot more difficult than the last.
Mathurin was living in the paint against Chicago, baffling every Bulls defender in front of him after every bucket. For the month of January, Mathurin is making 54.7 percent of his shots within five feet of the rim, his highest mark of the season since October. It shows that after a couple of low-efficiency months for the rookie he's able to bounce back and help his team win.
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Despite another solid week from Banchero, the highlight for the Magic centered around the return of Jonathan Isaac, who had been sidelined with a torn ACL since 2020. He made his return to the NBA after a lengthy rehab process when Orlando took on the Celtics and made this sweet highlight with Banchero during the third quarter of that game:
Listen to the pop of that crowd when Banchero finishes that dunk off a steal and assist from Issac. That single play encapsulates a lot of potential for this Orlando team going forward. It's still too early in Issac's return to make any grand statements, but just imagining the lineups the Magic can throw out there that features so much height and versatility is a scary thought. Between Banchero, Issac, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr and Bol Bol, Orlando has a bright, tall future ahead of it.
We're starting to see Sochan knock down 3s with some regularity right now, as evidenced by three-straight games this week where he knocked down two triples. For a kid who shot 29.6 percent from deep in his lone season at Baylor, that is a marked improvement, and something we'll likely start to see more of from him. If Sochan can develop that 3-point shot to be a consistent weapon, he'll be a dangerous 3-and-D player in this league. He's already shown off his defensive chops against some of the league's best, and with some refinement, he could be making All-Defensive teams down the road.