Making a mark in the NBA is tough sledding for a first-year player, with the grinds of the 84-game regular season, the travel, the practice schedule and the competition with bigger, stronger more experienced veteran standing in the way of success.
But there are some players that simply standout because of their talent, their moxie and, let’s face it, their youthful swagger.
Here’s a list of the top rookies in the league as the schedule zooms past the midpoint and toward the All-Star Game, set for Feb. 11 in Salt Lake City:
Paolo Banchero, F, Orlando
Banchero, the Duke product and the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, shrugged off an early-season ankle injury that kept him out of seven games and has been impressive, leading the rookie class in scoring (20.5 points per game).
He’s a grinder and not afraid of contact, making frequent trips to the lane that have netted him elevated amounts of free throw attempts per game.
Banchero has eclipsed the 20-point threshold 26 times in his first 43 career games.
Bennedict Mathurin, F, Indiana
Mathurin is a lot like Banchero, which is a good thing, but maybe even tougher.
He’s second in among rookies in scoring (17.9 PPG in five less minutes per game than his Orlando counterpart). Unlike most other rookies on this list, Mathurin has shined as a reserve.
Mathurin is averaging 23.7 points per game since moving to the second unit six games ago. He has played more than 30 minutes in all six of those games, so he’s getting plenty of chances.
Jaden Ivey, G, Detroit
Ivey might be the best all-around player among the rookies, scoring at a 15.1 ppg clip while leading the first-year players with 4.5 assists per contest.
Ivey’s play, his athleticism and explosiveness jump off the page, even as he’s shown a little wear and tear for the load he is being asked to carry.
Keegan Murray, F, Sacramento
Murray was the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for December and has been a huge part of the Kings rise in the standings.
He leads the first-year players by making 2.5 3-pointers per game. Against Oklahoma City on Jan. 27, Murray became the first Kings rookie with at least 29 points and 14 rebounds in a game in 33 years.
Murray also made his 100th 3-pointer of the season during the game, tying him with Dallas’ Luka Doncic as the NBA players who got to 100 3s the fastest.
Walker Kessler, C, Utah
There is a bit of a drop-off from four to five on this ranking but Kessler gets the nod because of his recent improvement and the fact that we wanted a big man on the list.
Kessler ranks fourth in the league in blocks per game (2.0) despite playing just over 20 minutes per contest.
Yes, he only scores 7.7 points per game (12th among rookies) but is making shots at a 71.6 percent pace, which is extraordinary.