NBA Rookie of the Year 2023: Jabari Smith tops the list, Jaden Ivey a sleeper
Sportsnaut12 days ago
The 2023 NBA Rookie of the Year race is going to be interesting with the 2022 draft absolutely loaded at the top. The likes of Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero and Jabari Smith are seen as generational type talents.
A bit further down the totem pole, former Purdue star Jaden Ivey and high-scoring forward Keegan Murray from Iowa are going to make names for themselves with their news teams.
One of the few fourth-year seniors that went in the first round over the past few years, Agbaji picked up his game big time as a senior. In fact, he improved all four seasons with the Jayhawks.
This type of experience and his three-point shooting ability could make the wing an immediate-impact performer at the next level and impact his standing in the NBA Rookie of the Year rankings.
Verdict: Right now, Agbaji could find himself in the Cavaliers’ rotation with Collin Sexton likely to be traded or sign with anoher team in free agency. Whether that’s enough to be considered a top-end candidate for this award remains to be seen.
A top-14 recruit out of Arizona back in 2021, Washington played exceedingly well for John Calipari as a freshman. There’s a whole heck of a lot to like about his game.
His quickness off the dribble and ability to blow past the defender out on the perimeter should help him make an immediate impact at the next level.
Verdict: We love Washington’s fit with a rebuilding Houston Rockets team. There’s a darn good chance he’ll see a ton of action next to Jalen Green in the backcourt as a rookie.
7. Malaki Branham, wing, San Antonio Spurs
Malaki Branham college stats (2021-22)
13.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 50% shooting, 42% 3-point
Branham remained home to join the Buckeyes after being a top-32 recruit. It was seemingly a great decision with the 6-foot-5 guard looking very much like a lottery pick.
Branham compares favorably to wings such as DeMar DeRozan in that he’s a great pull-up shooter from the mid-range. That’s a lost art in today’s game. An ability to create off the dribble and actually hit the three when he looks for his shot is also big.
Verdict: Branham’s ability to compete for the NBA Rookie of the Year depends on what San Antonio does at the wing position. It has a surplus in that of Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker, Devin Vassell and Joshua Primo. One or more of these players should be moved.
The 91st-ranked recruit back in 2020, Mathurin has turned himself into a lottery lock after improving each of his two seasons with the Wildcats.
What we saw from him down the stretch last season should help the guard in making the transition to the NBA. He averaged 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists over the final 15 games of the season.
Verdict: An ability to score in isolation has proven to be a huge bonus to Mathurin’s game. On a rebuilding Pacers team without a go-to scorer, this could be invaluable for him moving forward.
Top-end 2023 NBA Rookie of the Year candidates
5. Keegan Murray, forward, Sacramento Kings
Keegan Murray college stats (2021-22)
23.5 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 55% shooting, 40% 3-point
A Naismith Award finalist as college basketball’s best player this past season, Murray offers a great combination of experience and upside. He saw extensive action as a freshman before taking over a lead role this past season.
Of the 35 games the 6-foot-8 forward played for the Hawkeyes as a sophomore, he scored 20-plus points 26 times. That’s just absurd.
Verdict: Compared to Pascal Siakam by some, Murray’s game translates extremely well to the next level. That is to say, top-notch shooting and an above-average presence on defense. He should make an immediate impact in Sacramento.
4. Chet Holmgren, forward/center, Oklahoma City Thunder
The No. 1 recruit in 2021, Holmgren more than lived up to that billing as a freshman for Gonzaga. His ability to score from all three levels is exceptional for someone who stands at 7-foot.
Holmgren can spot up and shoot over pretty much any defender with his frame. He’s elite when it comes to putting the ball on the court and can spot up from distance.
Verdict: The only real question here is the presence of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in OKC. He will take some scoring opportunities away from Holmgren. Even then, the youngster’s overall game translates well into being a top ROY candidate.
Yet another low-level recruit (87th in 2020), Ivey expanded his game big time for the Boilermakers as a sophomore. The 6-foot-4 guard improved in every major statistical category.
There’s a lot to like here from an athletic ability. Ivey can blow past defenders out on the perimeter and does a tremendous job finishing in the lane. That’s a great first step at the next level.
Verdict: An improved mid-range and outside shooting game had Ivey skyrocketing up the board His usage will dictate whether he’s a top-end NBA Rookie of the Year contender. But we’re banking on it with Detroit set to rely on him starting next to 2021 No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham.
Banchero pretty much checks all of the boxes. He boasts tremendous athleticism for a 6-foot-10 forward and shows flashes on defense. He’s strong, quick, can hit the mid-range and has all of the intangibles to be an elite-level NBA performer.
Verdict: A surprise No. 1 pick of the Magic, Banchero will be given every opportunity to be their go-to guy as a rookie. It’s a team withut a top scoring option and a bunch of youngsters needing to fill their roles.
1. Jabari Smith, forward, Houston Rockets
Jabari Smith college stats (2021-22)
16.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 43% shooting, 42% 3-point
There’s really not a lot to dislike about Smith’s game. The No. 4 recruit in 2021, this 6-foot-10 forward can hit from pretty much any spot on the court.
Smith has the size, athleticism and potential to be a franchise cornerstone type player. He displayed this continually during his one season with the Tigers.
Verdict: Smith boasts a pro-ready game. He’s headed to a Rockets team that still needs an infusio of talent. There’s no reason to believe he can’t be the NBA Rookie of the Year when all is said and done.