Rookie Watch: How are the top picks faring so far?

Published November 14, 2022, 5:00 PMMiguel Flores

Let’s take a look at some of the top rookies and how they’re adapting to the NBA.

The NBA has been packed with so many big headlines and news in the first month that one big development has seemingly been overshadowed – this rookie batch is awesome already. Here, we look back at the top five picks of the 2022 NBA Draft and see how well each selection has worked out, so far. We'll also pinpoint some later picks that have good early returns.

Paolo Banchero – Orlando Magic

It was apparent since the preseason that Paolo Banchero was on another level. In the Summer League, he looked overqualified to be there. He was comfortable in the Magic’s preseason games, so the only concern was if he would continue breezing past the competition in the league.

The former Duke Blue Devil has done more than that. “He looks like a veteran”, “He looks so comfortable out there”, “He makes scoring look easy” and all the other clichés have been used to describe his game with no exaggeration. At 20 years old, Banchero already looks like he has 10 years of NBA experience.

In 11 games, Banchero is averaging 23.5 points on 46.1 percent shooting with 8.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists. It’s not like he’s doing this against the dregs of the league. He's faced some solid veteran defenders like Dorian Finney-Smith and Deandre Hunter, and even All-Stars like Jaylen Brown and Draymond Green. He hasn't struggled the way even the top flight rookies have. Banchero has been too big, too fast, or too smart for individual defenses to contain him.

He's going to be special for a long time and is exactly the piece the Magic needed – a go-to scorer. They deserve all the props for taking him with the top pick when most boards had him going at pick no. 3.

Chet Holmgren – Oklahoma City Thunder

It’s truly a bummer that Chet Holmgren is going to miss this entire season due to a Lisfranc injury to his right foot. But if you’re an OKC fan, you can already probably see how Holmgren fits into the future the team is building with how messed up the big rotation is.

Among Aleksej Pokusevski, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Kenrich Williams, Ousmane Dieng, Mike Muscala, and Darius Bazley, the Thunder have filled the power forward and center spots by committee. All of them have been inconsistent. 

It’s likely that none of those names will be on the roster of the next OKC playoff team, but that team should have Holmgren alongside Josh Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Now, if the Thunder can find another piece in next year's top-heavy draft, they could be on the highway to contention.

Jabari Smith Jr. – Houston Rockets

Among the top five picks, it’s been Jabari Smith Jr. that’s had the most challenging transition to the NBA. The Auburn standout looked like ahe had all the tools to immediately be productive coming into the Draft, but he’s only managed 10.5 points on a paltry 30.8 percent shooting.

His struggles can be attributed to uncharacteristically poor shooting as he’s only hitting 29.4 percent of his 3s. Smith Jr. has solid mechanics and was an above-average shooter in college so he should improve as the season goes on. But some of the blame can also be levied on the Rockets’ overall system. Smith has taken 56.7 percent of his shots from deep and has only attempted a handful of shots coming off off-ball screens.

Houston could give their rookie better looks to ease his transition, but that’s easier said than done when their two lead ball handlers – Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. – are both young and hungry to prove themselves.

Keegan Murray – Sacramento Kings

The Kings have a way with drafting players that can be effective on a winning squad. They did it in 2020, picking Tyrese Haliburton 12th overall. They sort of have that again with the fifth pick in the 2022 Draft in Keegan Murray.

Murray doesn’t do one thing great, but he already does a lot of things good. He’s pretty comfortable off the ball, cutting and spotting up to open the floor for Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox. He’s been about as good as a rookie can be on the defensive effort, making up for misreads with hustle and quickness. At six-foot-eight with a plus wingspan, Murray’s defensive potential could be greater than his offensive toolset.

In his first five games, Murray averaged 17.4 points on 49.3 percent shooting from the field and 39.5 percent from deep. Recently, he’s been playing through some personal problems, which caused his numbers to dip significantly. But it’s already apparent that the Kings picked up a necessary piece in their buildup to end the longest postseason drought in North American sports.

Jaden Ivey – Detroit Pistons

For someone who regularly produces highlight clips, Jaden Ivey has barely gotten any buzz this season. For a point guard, Ivey has adapted to the NBA rather quickly.

The former Purdue star has made all the Ja Morant comparisons look solid. Ivey has been electric on the fastbreak, which he helps the Pistons create by being a pest defensively. He has solid handles and has already picked up some of the NBA-level passes guards need to make off the pick-and-roll.

For now, he’s mostly surviving using his athleticism. He hasn't been burdened with too many playmaking chances as he’s spent more than half of his minutes playing alongside Cade Cunningham. He’s only shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 68.9 percent from the free throw line, but he still finds ways to contribute, averaging 14.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.5 steals.

The Pistons could be without Cunningham for the next two weeks, so Ivey will get an early test as the Pistons’ lone playmaker.

Ben Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard – Indiana Pacers

Rick Carlisle has embraced full experimental mode in Indiana and no players have benefitted more than their guards. Sixth overall pick Ben Mathurin and 31st overall pick Andrew Nembhard have benefitted from Indiana’s four-guard experiment.

Indiana’s own version of La Résistance have come off the bench and have been seaux. Mathurin, especially, has probably been the rookie surprise of the season. Coming out of Arizona, scouts expected Mathurin to need time to develop other skills aside from his scoring to carve out a role in the league. Indiana has pretty much given him free reign.

He’s averaging 20.4 points on 43.7 percent shooting from deep. He already has four games of 25+ points, including a pair of 30-point explosions. Mathurin's shot selection can be described as “yes, he will shoot that.’

Nembhard, on the other hand, has been making the most of some absences from the Pacers’ backcourt. It helps him a lot that Rick Carlisle has trotted out numerous four-guard, one-center lineups to speed up games. The former Gonzaga playmaker has grabbed the opportunity, putting up 10.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists over the last two weeks. It’s going to be hard to keep him off the floor with how much he offers as a shooter and passer.