Expectations were sky-high for the New Orleans Pelicans this season but, with the injury to Zion Williamson and a relatively dismal start, the bandwagon emptied in a hurry. The Pelicans still possess a deep, talented roster but injury-related absences have taken away a lot of luster and, in general, injuries are an unfortunate component to any NBA formula. There is one positive takeaway from the roster situation in New Orleans, though, and that is an uptick in playing time for No. 8 overall pick Jaxson Hayes.
The 19-year-old center is averaging 16.7 minutes per game in 10 appearances this season, with his usage peaking with 56 total minutes in a back-to-back over the weekend. Hayes had the reputation for being exceptionally raw as a prospect and, while he has not shed that label by any stretch, the hyper-athletic big man is producing in an efficient way.
Hayes is shooting a blistering 68.9 percent from the floor, taking advantage of high-quality shot opportunities and minimizing damage elsewhere. Defensively, Hayes is certainly a work in progress but the glimpses are there to shed light on his upside as a rim protector, and the length that he brings to the table is potentially dynamic.
On a per-minute basis, Hayes has been one of the most effective players in this rookie class and, while that may not continue throughout the entire campaign, there is enough to be excited about what he can accomplish with more exposure. Where does Hayes stack up against his counterparts this week? Let’s find out.
- Goga Bitadze – Speaking of players that have been good on a per-minute basis, Bitadze would be helping other teams more than he’s helping the Pacers. Alas, that is the nature of the beast for some rookies.
- Darius Garland – Efficiency has been an issue for Garland, who is shooting only 33 percent from the floor. It’s generous to even have him included here but his workload is (much) larger than most first-year players.
- De’Andre Hunter – Like most rookies, Hunter is struggling with his efficiency but the No. 4 pick is a legitimately helpful two-way player. Not many can say that.
- Cameron Johnson – He doesn’t do much else right now, but Johnson has converted nine three-pointers in his last three games.
10) Jaxson Hayes
If the Pelicans fall out of the playoff race (which still hasn’t happened, mind you), Hayes might even play more and that would be fun.
9) Coby White
In some ways, White mirrors Garland in struggling from an efficiency standpoint but the North Carolina guard utterly exploded in back-to-back games this week. He made news with a fourth-quarter barrage in a win over the Knicks and, two nights later, White connected on six more threes against Milwaukee. He fell back after that but the statistics all count.
8) Rui Hachimura
Hachimura’s tools have always been intriguing and he’s flashed them at times. He is shooting 51 percent from the floor and, despite a meager 21 percent from three, the early returns are fairly encouraging in Washington.
7) Tyler Herro
The production is down for Herro in November, averaging only 10 points per game. Still, his three-point shooting (40 percent in November and 38 percent for the season) is a legitimate weapon that helps him to sustain.
6) RJ Barrett
The advanced metrics don’t love Barrett’s performance to this point but the box-score numbers are solid. He is averaging 15.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game on a putrid Knicks team, with not a lot of help (or floor spacing) around him. It’s tough to argue against that.
5) Eric Paschall
Paschall now has a trio of 25-point games under his belt and the odds of that were absolutely astronomical before the season. Circumstances are dictating that the former Villanova forward is getting opportunities that no one could have envisioned, and he’s taking advantage of them with big-time production.
4) Kendrick Nunn
After a bit of a lull, Nunn has had 20+ points in three straight games once again. He’s pretty much a single-minded offensive player but, when Nunn has it going as a scorer, the results are pretty impressive. For now, his efficiency (58 percent true shooting) has been good enough and his production speaks for itself with 17.8 points per game this season.
3) PJ Washington
It’s not always spectacular but Washington is playing a lot of minutes and playing well when he’s on the floor. His per-game averages won’t blow you away (13.1 points, 5.8 rebounds) but the former Kentucky big man is efficient and productive. Unfortunately, he’s doing it in relative obscurity but that shouldn’t diminish what the lottery pick has accomplished on a surprisingly competitive Hornets team.
2) Brandon Clarke
Clarke leads all rookies in almost every advanced metric, with 70.4 (!) percent true shooting and a PER north of 22. His workload isn’t as large as some of his counterparts but when he plays the results are tremendous. No one should be surprised that the second-best college basketball player in the country last season is enjoying immediate success, but it’s still happening.
1) Ja Morant
One could argue that Clarke and even Washington have been better than Morant on a per-minute basis, but neither is carrying close to the workload of the Memphis point guard. Throw in the fact that Morant leads all rookies in scoring and assists, and you have kind of have a runaway right now for Rookie of the Year — pending Zion Williamson’s return, of course. It will be interesting to see where Morant’s three-point shooting stabilizes (currently at 42 percent) and how his body holds up to a full season in the NBA. For now, though, he would be a decisive ROY winner.