As we get further into the season we're seeing more parity on this weekly Rookie Rankings list, which just shows that every player gets going at their own pace. The usual suspects of Paolo Banchero and Bennedict Mathurin still appear regularly here, but we're also seeing guys like Jeremy Sochan, who has quietly become one of the best defenders in his rookie class and is beginning to expand his offensive game. There are also names like Jalen Duren, who has been the best rookie rebounder on a Pistons team filled with young talent. It's a good sign that shows the 2022 NBA Draft was more than just the top five or six guys, and while Sochan and Duren were lottery picks, we're starting to see them, as well as guys picked later in the draft, get more comfortable at the NBA level and as a result, they're having more notable performances.
Now it's time to break down this week's Rookie Rankings. Keep in mind that these rankings will reflect a rookie's performance on a week-to-week basis only, not the collective season. These aren't Rookie of the Year standings, but rather a reflection on what the player has done over the past week.
If you haven't watched much San Antonio Spurs basketball this season then I don't blame you. They have the fourth-worst record in the league with a roster of young, unrefined talent that is still trying to gain its footing in the league. However, just because the Spurs are racking up losses, doesn't mean there aren't reasons to tune into a game every now and then. One main reason to flip on a Spurs game would be to watch Jeremy Sochan, the bright-haired forward who is already getting attention for his elite defense. But Sochan proved this week that he's not just a defensive specialist, as evidenced by his career-high 23 points in a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Sochan showed no fear in attacking the rim, and he was all over the offensive glass for second-chance points.
It's actually not uncommon to see Sochan fighting under the basket to create second-chance opportunities for the Spurs, because after having six offensive boards against the Pelicans, the rookie then had five more against the Thunder later in the week. But it wasn't just his aggressiveness in the paint that made his career-high performance stand out. Sochan also knocked down two triples, which marks just the third game he's made more than one 3-point attempt and the first one since the opening month of the season.
We're also seeing Sochan bringing the ball up the floor at least a few possessions a game, as the Spurs seem to want to develop him into a point-forward, likely in the similar archetype of a Giannis Antetokounmpo. Though Sochan doesn't have the same height, and the strength isn't there yet, his aggressiveness in attacking the rim in the open floor is certainly evidence that it could work with the right development.
In one game this week Smith put up 24 points and 10 rebounds while going 10-of-17 from the field with three assists. It was wholly overshadowed by Luka Doncic's 50-point stunner on the Rockets, but it doesn't diminish an efficient offensive performance from the rookie who had the impossible task of guarding Doncic. While the Mavericks superstar guard managed to score regardless of who was in front of him, it was a valuable learning lesson for Smith.
But this is the NBA, and with 82 games it's easy to shake off a win or loss and move on to the next one, and two games later Smith ended up holding Jayson Tatum to 3-of-12 from the field and 1-of-8 from 3-point range as the primary defender on the MVP candidate. It was a prime example of Smith's defensive prowess. He was fighting through screens and using his length to limit Tatum's space each time he pulled up for a jumper. And while he only finished with six points on 2-of-10 from the floor, he balanced that out with a defensive performance that will certainly show other players around the NBA that he's capable of holding his own against top guys in the league.
Williams is perhaps one of the most consistent rookies in this class. He always plays controlled, but with explosiveness that will catch you off guard. He never forces anything, isn't afraid to test a big at the rim and can score off the dribble. Let's just look at his fourth-quarter performance against the Spurs this week in which he scored nine of his 15 points on 4-of-5 from the field, to go along with three assists and three rebounds.
First, there's this pull-up, fadeaway jumper off the bounce where he stops on a dime after executing a nasty behind-the-back crossover to create some space between the defender:
Then there's this great cut to the basket and strong finish at the rim off a great feed from Josh Giddey:
Oh, and the highlight of the quarter which put the perfect bow on a standout night for Williams was this dunk that was completely unexpected.
He has such a great feel for the space around him on the floor, and likely already knew that he could pull off that spin move and elevate for the dunk, which is probably why he was smiling while running back on defense. Williams continues to shine the more opportunity he's given to create for the Thunder, and if he continues in this direction it can only lead to good things for his career and OKC's future.
Not only does Duren rank first among rookies in rebounds per game this season (8.6), as well as first in offensive rebounds (3.4), but he also ranks sixth in the entire league in offensive boards. That's just a testament to how much effort he puts into that area of his game. It's because of Duren that Detroit ranks seventh in the league in second-chance points (15.9), and once he develops more touch around the basket, that number is likely to go up as he will be able to benefit more from those offensive boards.
Duren was a highly-touted big man coming into the draft as a hyper-athletic big who fits the mold of what a modern center should be. He uses that athleticism to catch lobs, be an ideal pick-and-roll partner for Detroit's guards and be a threat in the transition game. He's doing all those things so far for the Pistons, but there are still areas where his game can grow, primarily his low-post scoring and overall effectiveness in half-court offense when the pace of the game slows down.
Looking at Ivey's raw stats the buzzwords and phrases that may come to mind are "high volume, low-efficiency scorer." That phrase is always a diss to whichever player it is tagged to, and it has become a chip on the shoulders of guys like Devin Booker and Zach LaVine who have had to shed it over their careers. But context matters, just as it did when Booker and LaVine were given those labels, and the same is true for Ivey.
He's bound to have inefficient nights, especially since he's been given even more responsibility with Cade Cunningham shelved for the season due to injury. But for every inefficient scoring night that Ivey has, he'll also rack up five assists and a handful of rebounds. He'll put in the effort on defense which sometimes results in a steal. In fact, Ivey's recorded a steal in seven-straight games, proving that despite being undersized on that end of the floor, he's still going to put in the work and commitment to not be a liability to his team.