Stephen Curry is all but guaranteed to be named this season’s MVP, but he isn’t the only NBA player that could be a unanimous selection for an individual award. The race for Rookie of the Year has been over for quite some time, though a few first-year players stand out among the rest.
The top of the 2015 NBA Draft has proven to be strong after just one season. Jahlil Okafor won’t win the award after missing 29 games, but he looks like he’ll be a reliable scorer for years to come. D’Angelo Russell had a tumultuous end to his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers, but he showed plenty of promise as a starting point guard.
The No.1 overall pick in the draft was as good as advertised, and a few other big men were much better than expected. Below is a look at the top three rookies of the 2015-2016 NBA season.
1) Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Drafted first overall by the Timberwolves, Towns quickly jumped out to a hot start. He scored 28 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in just his second game as a pro, giving Minnesota an encouraging glimpse of what was to come. The agile center didn’t miss a game, leading all rookies with 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. His 1.68 blocks per game were second among rookies.
Towns’ numbers weren’t just good by rookies' standards: he finished the regular season as one of the best centers in all of basketball. He ranked third in points, eighth in rebounds and sixth in blocks per game at his position. The Kentucky product was especially good in the second half of the season, averaging 20.8 points and 11.0 rebounds per game after the All-Star break.
Minnesota wasn’t very good with a 29-53 record, but Towns didn’t have a whole lot of help. Based on the way he played down the stretch of the season, Towns should be an All-Star next year. At just 20 years old, he could be an MVP candidate within the next few years.
2) Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Jokic didn’t receive the same hype as players like Towns and Okafor, but he was probably the second-best rookie this season. As the 41st overall pick in 2014, the seven-footer could prove to be one of the best second-round draft picks in recent years.
Playing 80 games for the Nuggets, 55 of which he started, Jokic made the most of his 21.7 minutes per game. Averaging 10 points and seven rebounds per game, the 21-year-old Serb ranked eighth in points and tied for third in rebounds among first-year players. Even as a center, his 2.4 assists per game were seventh-best among all rookies.
Jokic's 21.58 PER was tied for 24th in the NBA, ranking ahead of players like Paul George, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony. He was a key contributor to a Denver team that was more competitive than many experts expected. Denver only won 33 games, but they were tied for the 10th seed in the West.
3) Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Few knew what to expect from the fourth overall pick from Latvia. Having never seen him play, New York fans were irate when the selection was made, and Porzingis was even booed at Barclays Center in Brooklyn when NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced the team’s pick. But that sentiment didn’t last very long, and Porzingis has quickly become one of the most popular players for any professional team in the Big Apple.
Porzingis didn’t waste time showing what Phil Jackson and the Knicks saw in him. With an array of put-back dunks and impressive blocks, the 7’3 Porzingis showcased an athletic ability that few big men in the NBA possess. He had four 20-point games in November, and a 24-point, 14-rebound, seven-block performance in Houston in the 14th game of the season that made him an early frontrunner to be named the Rookie of the Year.
Porzingis slowed down in the second half of the season, and he missed the final seven games with a shoulder injury. But his 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game are good enough to make him this year’s third-best rookie. New York fans don’t have much reason to be optimistic after a 32-50 season, but their 20-year-old budding star will give them a reason to watch in 2016-2017.