Since last we checked in on the rookies of the NBA, Timberwolves head coach Sam Mitchell has started handling Karl-Anthony Towns with kid gloves, Kristaps Porzingis’ hype has built even further, and a new name on the wing has begun to catch up on the top 5. And none of them have been in the headlines as much as Jahlil Okafor. But we’ll get to him in a minute.
You can be forgiven for not having watched much, if any, of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson so far, because he’s on the woeful Brooklyn Nets. But the Nets have been feisty in spurts, losing to the Cavs only thanks to a last-second hook shot from LeBron James on Saturday, and even beating the Atlanta Hawks. And Hollis-Jefferson has been a big part of that feistiness.
Rondae might still be the less-talented wing out of Arizona from this draft, but Stanley Johnson is still finding his way on the Detroit Pistons, who incidentally were beat by Jefferson’s Nets on Sunday. Jefferson went 0-4 in that game, but even though he has no three-point range, he’s shown a surprising mid-range jumper and is averaging 49 percent from the field. More importantly, he’s been the tough wing defender he was promised to be, averaging 1.6 steals a game and taking a lot of defensive pressure off Joe Johnson. He’s one of only four rookies with a positive Box Plus/Minus according to Basketball-Reference, and his defense is the reason. As long as he continues to play within himself on offense, he’ll keep earning the bounteous minutes he’s getting and proving to be a steal in the late first round. Hope for the Nets! Who would have thought!
5. Jahlil Okafor
Yes, he’s still leading all rookies in points per game. But he’s been the most talked-about rookie this past week for all the wrong reasons. The Sixers aren’t going to gain any attention for playing well anytime soon, so Okafor will not have many opportunities to change the public narrative surrounding him going forward, and that could very well hurt his chances as Rookie of the Year.
Even sticking to the court, Jah has regressed. His field-goal percentage has dropped, and he’s turned the ball over at least three times in every game but one since the last rankings were published. He’s rebounding at a better rate, but if a big man is supposed to be a team’s primary scorer, he really needs to average better than 50 percent from the field to even have a prayer at efficiency. Okafor is sitting at 46 percent, and if he wants people to stop talking about whether he’s just being a dumb kid or something worse, he’s going to have to improve on the court.