Rookie Power Rankings: Jabari Smith Jr. breaking out of early slump




 

The rookie class has had some impressive moments over the first quarter of the 2022-23 season as several players begin to separate themselves from the pack.

The group has dealt with its fair share of injuries with several first-rounders missing time to various issues. However, the players have each shown why they were high picks and have had several noteworthy performances to this point.

To make sense of it all, we took a look at the best recent performances of these first-year players and ranked them in the latest edition of the Rookie Wire Power Rankings. The rankings are not for Rookie of the Year purposes but, rather, to illustrate the best players week to week.

Andrew Nembhard, Indiana Pacers

 

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 9

Stats: 7.1 points, 2.9 assists, 2.3 rebounds

Nembhard recently missed four games due to a knee injury but returned on Monday in a huge way. The 31st pick produced 12 points off the bench, including the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer as the Pacers knocked off the Lakers on the road. The play further illustrated how Nembhard has stayed ready for his opportunity and has taken full advantage of it. Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said afterward that Nembhard has a chance to be one of the top 12-14 players in this draft class and we're inclined to believe him based on his early showing.

Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio Spurs

 

Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: N/A

Stats: 9.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 steals

Sochan has an endless motor and is stuffing the stat sheet on a nightly basis. He entered the NBA regarded as one of the top defenders in the draft class and has put that ability on display all season. In fact, his performance on Saturday versus the Lakers encapsulated what he can do every time he steps onto the court. The Spurs have seemingly gone into full-tank mode of late so expect Sochan to continue to have the opportunity to log heavy minutes this season.

Nikola Jovic, Miami Heat

 

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: N/A

Stats: 6.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and one assist

Jovic was recently thrust into the starting lineup with the Heat decimated by injuries. He is averaging 9.3 points, four rebounds and 1.5 assists in six games as a starter and had a career-high 18 points, six assists and four rebounds in a loss to the Wizards on Nov. 18. The 27th pick had just four appearances prior to this stretch, but stayed ready for his opportunity and made the most of it. Look for Jovic to continue playing a large role with Heat moving forward.

Tari Eason, Houston Rockets

 

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 5

Stats: 8.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.5 steals

Eason continues to produce on a nightly basis in fewer than 20 minutes per game off of the bench. He is averaging 16.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.8 steals per 36 minutes played through the first quarter of the season. The 17th pick is one of only eight rookies since the 1983-84 season to record at least 42 offensive rebounds and 29 steals through the first 20 games of a season. Eason plays with a tremendous amount of energy and effort and can do just about everything on the court. Look for that production to continue, as a result.

For more coverage on the Rockets, visit Rockets Wire

AJ Griffin, Atlanta Hawks

 

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: N/A

Stats: 8.4 points and two rebounds

Griffin was recently thrust into a larger role with the Hawks down a few players. He reached double figures in four straight games for the first time this season and is averaging 11.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals over his last six games. He even had the game-winning layup in overtime on Nov. 19 against the Raptors. The 16th pick has seemingly stayed ready for his opportunity this season and has offered a glimpse of what he can bring on a nightly basis.

Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder

 

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 8

Stats: 9.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists

Williams looks to be settling in on the court and is in the midst of his best stretch of the season. He is averaging 11.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists over his last 10 games. J-Dub has reached double figures seven times over that span, compared to just one such performance over his previous seven games.

The 12th pick is emerging as a key contributor with the Thunder and is producing on both ends of the court. The Thunder have performed well this season and Williams is a big part of their success this season. Though they may only be 8-13, they have played better than their record indicates and are absolutely worth your time on League Pass.

For more coverage on the Thunder, visit Thunder Wire

Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets

 

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 10

Stats: 11.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, one block

Smith looks to be breaking out of his early-season shooting slump. He is averaging 14.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and one block on 40% shooting from 3-point range over his last six games with the Rockets. Prior to that point, Smith was posting 10.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks on 28.6% shooting from beyond the arc.

The 20-year-old knew it was only a matter of time until he'd snap his cold spell, and it looks as though the third pick is doing just that. He dropped 21 points and nine rebounds on a season-high five 3s in a win over the Hawks on Nov. 25, which was likely his best all-around performance of the season. After a slow start to the season, Smith looks to be settling in.

For more coverage on the Rockets, visit Rockets Wire

Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons

 

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 3

Stats: 16.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.1 steals

Ivey is dealing with some knee soreness and has missed the last three games for the Pistons. He was having a strong run prior to the injury and recently became the fifth-fastest rookie in team history to reach 300 career points (19 games). He leads the rookie class in assists and is second in steals and third in scoring.

The fourth pick has emerged as a key player for the Pistons this season as the team deals with injuries to Cade Cunningham and several other players. He has performed at a high level and is seemingly improving on a nightly basis. With the opportunity to log heavy minutes, Ivey should continue to produce each game once he is cleared to return.

Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic

 

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 1

Stats: 22.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists

Banchero dropped one spot after recently missing seven games due to a sprained left ankle. He returned on Friday and has scored at least 18 points in each of his three games back and is coming off of a 24-point effort on Monday, his 10th 20-point game of the season. Remarkably, Banchero is still second in total scoring among rookies despite missing about two weeks of action. He is admittedly still working on returning to game shape but appears to be getting back into a groove on the court. He still looks to be the favorite to win Rookie of the Year and should continue to put up good numbers.

Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers

 

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 2

Stats: 19.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists

Mathurin, who was nominated to be the Player of the Week, is emerging as one of the top players in the rookie class through the first quarter of the season. He leads all rookies in total scoring and is one of two first-year players with multiple 30-point games (Paolo Banchero). He is also tied with Banchero for the most 20-point games (10).

He has played a crucial role off of the bench for head coach Rick Carlisle and leads all reserve players in the NBA with 381 total points. He is just scratching the surface of what he can become, but the sixth pick is a big reason why the Pacers are 12-8 entering play on Wednesday. He should continue to put up monster numbers this season.

Story originally appeared on Rookie Wire

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