Other than the Golden State Warriors’ undefeated start, the biggest story of the early 2015-2016 NBA season might be the play of the league’s best first-year players. A few of the top picks in June’s draft are playing better than anyone could have expected, and that has resulted in a terrific race for Rookie of the Year.
While No.2 draft pick D’Angelo Russell hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire with the Los Angeles Lakers, the rest of the top four selections have been incredibly fun to watch thus far. Putting up impressive numbers and playing key roles in wins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis and Jahlil Okafor stand out as the best rookies of the 2015 draft class.
Below is a closer look at the top candidates for the 2015-2016 Rookie of the Year award.
Karl-Anthony Towns: The Frontrunner
It’s not much of a surprise that Towns has been the No.1 rookie, since he was the first pick in the draft. But the Minnesota Timberwolves probably didn’t expect him to be this good this fast, since he’s just 20 years old and only played one season of college basketball.
Not only has Towns been the NBA’s best rookie, but he has a chance to find himself in the All-Star Game. He’s averaging a double-double with 16.0 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, and he’s been the most efficient rookie by shooting 52.2 percent from the field and 90.7 percent from the free throw line. Towns' defense has been terrific, and his 2.4 blocks per game are tied for fifth among all NBA players.
Towns isn’t just putting up impressive numbers. The Timberwolves are 5-8 after posting the league’s worst record last season, and Minnesota will easily surpass the 16 wins they had a year ago. If Towns continues to be a walking double-double and Minnesota keeps getting better, it will be the No.1 picks’ award to lose.
Kristaps Porzingis: The Surprise Candidate
Even the most optimistic New York Knicks fans couldn’t have predicted this strong of a start to Porzingis’ rookie campaign. Phil Jackson was highly criticized for taking the unknown Latvian product, who was considered a project that wouldn’t be a major contributor for a few seasons. But Porzingis has become the talk of the NBA through 14 games, and he’s in the early conversation as the league’s best rookie.
Porzingis ranks third in scoring (13.2ppg), second in rebounding (8.8rpg) and third in blocks (1.5bpg) among all rookies. He’s the second-best player on the Knicks, who after an 8-6 start are looking like a playoff team. The rest of the top rookies are very likely to miss the postseason, but Porzingis is playing a key role on a team that could have the biggest turnaround of any team from last season.
The 7’3 forward is only shooting 42.7 percent from the field, but that number should improve as the season moves along. Only playing 26.1 minutes per game, Porzingis has made the most of his time on the floor, and he’s easily been the team’s most important player in two of their last four wins. By the time the season ends, the Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers could find themselves regretting passing on Porzingis.
Jahlil Okafor: Securing Third-Place
In a lot of other seasons, Okafor’s numbers would make him the favorite to be named the Rookie of the Year. He is ranked No.1 or near the top of most statistical categories, which will garner him his share of votes. But his lack of efficiency and the poor performance by his team will probably eliminate him from having a chance to win the award.
Okafor was a great scorer in college, and that part of his game has transitioned nicely to the NBA. He’s the top scorer among rookies with 17.9 points per game, shooting 46.8 percent from the field. Okafor ranks third in rebounds (7.7) and second in blocks (1.6) per game, and considering he’s the 76ers’ best player, those numbers might only improve. He’s given a lot more opportunities than Towns and Porzingis, playing 33.4 minutes per game and averaging nearly 17 shots a night.
Philadelphia is awful, having lost their first 14 games, and Okafor’s numbers would have to be significantly better than the rest of the rookies for him to win the award. He also loses points for being a liability on the defensive end. But Okafor seems all but guaranteed to finish in the top-three in voting, and the 76ers have themselves a scoring big man for years to come.