The term “rookie wall” is often used to describe how first-year players may hit a roadblock in the midst of their seasons as they adjust to the 82-game schedule and increased competition level in the NBA.
With teams well into the second halves of their schedules, some rookies appear to be slowing down of late. However, there are others that are seemingly heating up at the moment and are continuing to play at a high level.
Indiana’s Bennedict Mathurin fits that bill.
The sixth pick (more on him below) is coming off one of his best outings of the season on Tuesday to lead the Pacers to a win over Chicago. The group snapped a seven-game losing streak with the win to set up a prime rookie matchup on Wednesday against Paolo Banchero and the Magic.
To make sense of it all, we looked at the best recent performances of these first-year players and ranked them in the latest edition of the Rookie Wire Power Rankings. The rankings are not for Rookie of the Year purposes but, rather, to illustrate the best players week to week.
Mark Williams, Charlotte Hornets
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Last Rank: N/A
Stats: 7.0 points and 5.3 rebounds
Williams checks in for the first time this season. He was used sparingly to begin the season but has played a major role with the team of late. Williams is averaging 7.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks on 60.8% shooting from the field in 15 games since Dec. 26. Included in that stretch: A 17-point and 13-rebound performance on Dec. 29.
The 15th pick also tied a season high with 17 points, six rebounds and five blocks on Jan. 18 in a win over the Rockets. With the performance, Williams became only the second player ever to reach that stat line in 20 minutes or fewer. After spending time in the G League, Williams appears to be settling in with the Hornets and is producing on a nightly basis.
Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder
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Last Rank: 3
Stats: 11.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and one steal
Williams’ production has dipped some of late, but the 12th pick is still averaging 10.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists over his last six games with the Thunder. He is emerging as one of the most productive rookies this season and has dazzled with his feel for the game and ability to affect games on both ends of the court. The Thunder (23-24) figure to compete for a playoff spot this year and it will be awesome to see the likes of Williams & Co. perform in high-pressure situations.
For more coverage on the Thunder, visit Thunder Wire
Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets
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Last Rank: 6
Stats: 12 points, 6.9 rebounds and one assist
The Rockets have been a trainwreck, but Smith continues to show flashes on the court. He scored a career-high 27 points and eight rebounds on Jan. 13 in a loss to the Spurs, and looked great at getting into the paint and finishing at the rim in that outing. The efficiency still isn’t there — Smith boasts a 50.3 true shooting percentage — but the third pick is making an impact in other areas of the game. He is dealing with a sprained right ankle and has missed the last two games, but could return as soon as Wednesday.
For more coverage on the Rockets, visit Rockets Wire
Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio Spurs
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Last Rank: 7
Stats: 9.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists
Sochan has emerged as one of the most productive rookies this season on both ends of the court. He is eighth among rookies in scoring and seventh in rebounding. His 23 games in double figures are the most by a Spurs rookie since Kawhi Leonard (2011-12).
Also of note: He has made tremendous strides as a free-throw shooter.
Of course, Sochan debuted a one-handed free-throw form on Dec. 19. He had been shooting 45.8% (11-of-24) from the stripe in 23 games prior to that point. Since then, though, Sochan is converting 74.5% of his attempts (38-of-51) in 18 games with the new form.
The ninth pick continues to become more comfortable on the court as the season progresses and that is resulting in some great performances. He is making great strides in all facets of the game and is emerging as one of the top rookies, as a result.
Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz
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Last Rank: N/A
Stats: 7.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocks
Kessler has started in each of the last seven games for the Jazz, and is averaging 11.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.3 assists over that span. He put up the first 20-20 game by a rookie since Gorgui Dieng (2014) with 20 points and 21 rebounds in a win over Minnesota on Jan. 16. He is fourth in the league in blocks among all players and leads the rookie class by a wide margin. In fact, Kessler has twice as many blocks (90) as the next-highest rookie (Christian Koloko, 45). The 7-footer is emerging as one of the most productive big men in the league and a force for the Jazz in the paint. He appears to be a steal for the Jazz from the Rudy Gobert trade and will likely be in line for plenty of end-of-season recognition.
Jalen Duren, Detroit Pistons
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Last Rank: N/A
Stats: 8.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and one assist
Duren recently missed five games due to an ankle injury but has returned in a major way. He put up 11 points and 12 rebounds in his return on Jan. 19, and is coming off a career performance on Monday: 23 points, 15 rebounds, two blocked, two steals and one assist. He became the youngest player in NBA history to record at least 23 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks in a game (19 years, 66 days).
The 13th pick now leads the rookie class in rebounding and double-doubles (10). Though the Pistons have lost four straight and eight out of their last 10, the development of Duren and fellow rookie Jaden Ivey should be worth monitoring over the second half of the season. They will have the opportunity to play through their mistakes and continue to learn on the fly, which will certainly help moving forward.
Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons
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Last Rank: 4
Stats: 15.1 points, 4.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds
Ivey has scored in double figures in nine straight games and is averaging 15.3 points, 6.1 assists and 4.6 rebounds over that span. He is still adjusting to playing a larger role than anticipated this season due to the injury to Cade Cunningham, and is working to limit his turnovers with such a high usage percentage (23.9).
Of course, the former Purdue standout was known more as a two-guard entering the NBA so his recent role with the Pistons will give him the chance to play both positions when Cunningham is back on the court. The fifth pick has been electric on the court and it should be worth monitoring how he can progress over the rest of the season.
Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings
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Last Rank: 5
Stats: 12.3 points and 4.3 rebounds
Murray has been on a tear of late, and is performing at a high level. He is averaging 15.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and one assist on 46.9% shooting from 3-point range over his last seven games. Included in that span: A career-high 29 points and 14 rebounds in a win over the Thunder on Jan. 20. It was his second straight double-double effort.
The fourth pick has seemingly put any early-season shooting woes behind him and is shooting efficiently from the field now. He recently set the franchise record for games with five or more 3s by a rookie (6). Murray is playing as confidently as ever and is a major reason why the Kings are up to third in the Western Conference.
Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
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Last Rank: 1
Stats: 20.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, one steal
Banchero continues to lead the rookie class in total scoring (780 points), despite playing nine fewer games than Bennedict Mathurin (763 points). He is still viewed as the front-runner to win Rookie of the Year, though Mathurin appears to be closing the gap a bit of late. Fans will be in for a treat on Wednesday as it will be the first time this season that the two players will square off on the court after Banchero missed the first two meetings in November.
Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers
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Last Rank: 2
Stats: 17.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists
Mathurin is coming off the aforementioned dominating performance on Tuesday to lead the Pacers to their win over the Bulls. He scored 15 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter as it was the eighth time he has scored in double figures in the final period.
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle loved the effort by Mathurin.
He is second among rookies in scoring and leads all players off the bench (769 points). He is viewed as one of two favorites in the Rookie of the Year race and perhaps the front-runner for Sixth Man of the Year. It is certainly far too early to decide either, but Mathurin is having quite a year.