NBA Rookie of the Year rankings: Banchero rolling as All-Star break nears
The All-Star Game on Feb. 19 will serve as the unofficial end to the first half of the NBA season. So far, one rookie has outshined the rest of his first-year cohorts.
That said, the quickly approaching Feb. 9 trade deadline could shake up multiple squads. It could potentially give the other four names on this list, plus several others, renewed hope at taking the top spot down the stretch.
Here's our ranking of the top five Rookie of the Year candidates.
5. Jalen Williams
Previous ranking: NR
Williams, the 12th pick in the 2022 draft, has emerged as a do-it-all swingman for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He's fourth among rookies in both scoring (tied with Jabari Smith Jr.) and assists per game. Shooting 50.4% from the field, Williams has been far more efficient than other contenders for this spot, like Jaden Ivey and Smith.
The 6-foot-6 wing has become a key piece for the Thunder, averaging 31 minutes per game since moving into the starting lineup permanently near the end of November. Williams guards three positions and is a dynamic slasher, leading all guards with 50 dunks on the season. Williams might already be Oklahoma City's third-best player behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey.
4. Keegan Murray
Previous ranking: 4
Murray has started in all but two appearances for one of the West's top squads. The Sacramento Kings forward is embracing his role as a dependable floor-spacer alongside stars De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. He sits fourth among rookies in 3-point percentage (40.3%) but is far-and-away the leader in triples made (120).
Murray was among the most productive players in college basketball last season, and he's showing elements of that game as the 2022-23 campaign progresses. The Iowa product has caught defenses napping on backdoor cuts and has been more aggressive on the glass lately. Murray is averaging 7.5 boards over his last 10 contests, with all three of his double-doubles coming within that span.
3. Walker Kessler
Previous ranking: NR
Kessler enters the race after a terrific stretch to begin the new year. In 15 contests since the calendar turned, the 7-foot-1 center is averaging 9.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks in just 23.9 minutes per game.
Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardy had no choice but to insert Kessler into the starting lineup, replacing Jarred Vanderbilt. The Jazz have won seven of 11 contests since making that switch, with the young big man racking up a 20-20 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves and blocking seven shots against the Toronto Raptors.
Kessler isn't just the best defender among rookies; he's one of the most impactful defensive players in the entire NBA. He's fifth in blocks per game and second on a per-minute basis. Kessler's 8.3% block rate trails only Jaren Jackson of the Memphis Grizzlies.
2. Bennedict Mathurin
Previous ranking: 2
Mathurin continued to make a commendable push for the Rookie of the Year prize, even as his Indiana Pacers stumbled down the Eastern Conference standings over the last month. A significant reason behind Indiana's slide was the absence of All-Star Tyrese Haliburton. He missed 10 games with injury while the Pacers went 1-9 with six double-digit losses.
Mathurin was hardly to blame, though. He put up 20.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.4 assists during that stretch but struggled with his outside shot (28.2% on 3.9 attempts per game). Unless Mathurin plays a leading role in a dominant second-half resurgence for Indiana, the 20-year-old will likely just miss out on the first-year hardware.
1. Paolo Banchero
Previous ranking: 1
The Rookie of the Year award is Banchero's to lose as the NBA's All-Star break approaches. The 6-foot-10 forward has played a central role on an improving Orlando Magic squad, showcasing the same offensive versatility that made him a household name at Duke.
Banchero can take the rock coast-to-coast, post up, create off the bounce, and make plays for others. The Seattle native paces all first-year players in points (20.3 per game) and ranks 10th in the league overall in free-throw attempts (368). His 17.1% assist percentage places him in the 84th percentile among forwards, per Cleaning the Glass.
Honorable Mentions: Jaden Ivey (Detroit Pistons), Jeremy Sochan (San Antonio Spurs), Jalen Duren (Detroit Pistons)