Rookie Power Rankings: Paolo Banchero reigns supreme at the halfway point

The season is at the halfway point as most teams around the NBA have played at least half of their 82 games as the schedule heads toward a jam-packed lineup on Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

With the first half of the season in the books, the basketball community has gotten a great look at the current rookie class. While Paolo Banchero and Bennedict Mathurin look to have separated themselves as the top two players, others have had great performances, as well.

Banchero is the overwhelming favorite to win Rookie of the Year with Mathurin behind him in second. It looks to be down to those two players for the annual award, while the race to fill out the two All-Rookie teams should be much more competitive.

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.

Jaden Hardy, Dallas Mavericks

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: N/A

Stats: 5.5 points and 1.2 rebounds

Hardy is getting the opportunity to play for the first time this season. He has played in each of the Mavericks‘ last four games and is averaging 10.3 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists during that span. He put up back-to-back 15-point efforts last week and helped Dallas defeat New Orleans on Saturday. With Kemba Walker out of the picture now, Hardy could see an expanded role in the backcourt moving forward.

Malaki Branham, San Antonio Spurs

Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 10

Stats: 7.2 points, 1.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists

Branham continues to play a larger role of late with the Spurs. He has scored in double figures in three straight games for the first time this season and is averaging 12 points on 48.3% shooting from the field during that span. He is getting into the paint with ease and scoring by getting to the rim or pulling up from the midrange. His recent run has been great for his development as the 20th pick looks to be settling in on offense.

Andrew Nembhard, Indiana Pacers

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: N/A

Stats: 8.4 points, 3.7 assists, 3.1 rebounds, one steal

Nembhard is coming off one of his finest performances of the season, producing 19 points, four assists and four steals in a win over Charlotte on Sunday. It was the 11th time of the season Nembhard scored in double figures as his 19 points were his second-most this season.

He was recently voted the biggest steal of the draft by a media panel as the 31st pick is contributing at a high level as a starter. Needless to say, Nembhard is getting it done on both ends of the court and is a big reason why the Pacers are sixth in the East entering play on Wednesday.

Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio Spurs

Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 9

Stats: 8.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists

Sochan continues to impress on a nightly basis. He is showing real progress as a playmaker for the Spurs and has demonstrated a high IQ and feel for the game through his first 35 games. Sochan is emerging as a tremendous defender in the early going and is often tasked with guarding the opposition’s best player. On top of all of that, Sochan can still get up and throw down some highlight-worthy dunks, such as this one:

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Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 7

Stats: 11.8 points and seven rebounds

Smith has struggled a bit to shoot, but is staying productive in other ways. He is averaging 10.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists and one steal on 22.6% shooting from 3-point range over the last two weeks. He registered a double-double in that span with 14 points and 13 rebounds on Jan. 4, and is second among rookies in that category (7).

The third pick has also shown some improvement recently with his passing and finishing around the rim, which were two areas he struggled with earlier this season. Things have gone sideways quickly for the Rockets after losing 12 out of their last 13, but the progression of Smith should be worth monitoring over the second half of the season.

For more coverage on the Rockets, visit Rockets Wire

Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 5

Stats: 11.7 points and 3.7 rebounds

Murray, the Western Conference Rookie of the Month in December, has been hot of late from beyond the arc. He is averaging 11 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.1 steals on 54.5% shooting from 3-point range over the last two weeks. He went 5-of-6 from distance on Monday as the Kings set a franchise record with 23 3s in a win over the Magic. Murray leads the rookie class in total 3s (87) and 3-point percentage (41).

Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Last Rank: 2

Stats: 15 points, 4.1 assists, four rebounds

Ivey leads all rookies in assists and is third in scoring and steals. To take it one step further: His 164 total assists are the fifth-most by a Pistons rookie through their first 40 career games. He is continuing to improve as a shooter and is converting 43.5% of his 3-point attempts over the past two weeks, which is an encouraging sign for the team.

The Pistons have leaned on Ivey quite a bit this season, and have done so even more since Cade Cunningham went down with his injury. Ivey is learning to navigate through some mistakes and turnovers, but the fifth pick is progressing and is showing that he can eventually become a franchise cornerstone.

Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 8

Stats: 11.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists

Williams and the Thunder are coming off a great showing versus the Heat in their first game on TNT since the bubble. Though it came in a losing effort, the team gave the country a glimpse of the free-flowing, pass-heavy basketball it displays on a nightly basis.

The 12th pick is emerging as a key player with the Thunder and is averaging 13.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists over his last seven games. He recently scored in double figures in seven straight games (Dec. 19-Jan. 3), his longest such streak of the season.

For more coverage on the Thunder, visit Thunder Wire

Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers

Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Last Rank: 3

Stats: 17.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists

Though Mathurin is coming off a season-low four points on Sunday, the sixth pick is playing like the best rookie not named Paolo Banchero. Mathurin is second in the rookie class in scoring and is one of two first-year players with multiple 30-point games (Banchero).

Perhaps most impressive: Mathurin leads all players in bench scoring with 701 points. He is likely your front-runner to win Sixth Man of the Year and is looking to become only the second rookie to win the award (Ben Gordon, 2005).

Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 1

Stats: 21.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, one steal

Banchero, who grew up in Seattle, Washington, had the opportunity to play in the Northwest for the first time on Tuesday. He registered his seventh double-double of the season with 19 points, 10 rebounds, three steals, two assists and one block in a win over Portland as the Magic improved to 16-26 this season.

The top pick has scored at least 15 points in seven straight games and continues to play like the best rookie. Since our last rankings dropped, Banchero was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month, and felt as though he could have played even better. That could be a scary thought for the league.

Story originally appeared on Rookie Wire