The 2015-2016 NBA season is closing in on the midway point, and there has been no shortage of storylines. Entering the season, plenty of talk surrounded the incoming rookies and their ability to reverse the fortunes of some struggling teams.
While this rookie class in nowhere close to the 2003-2004 class that included LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, there has been solid production from some notable names. Few of the top rookies were expected to make a significant impact on a team's immediate title hopes, but the early returns have generally been positive.
To this point, the Rookie of the Year award appears to be a three-man race between Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis and Jahlil Okafor. All three have already proven they can handle the adjustment to the professional level, and each has posted solid statistics in their first year.
While Okafor immediately showed his NBA form, a case can be made that's it a two-man race based on recent awards. Towns and Porzingis shared Rookie of the Month honors in both November and December, making them the first duo to do so in the first two months since Ricky Rubio and Kyrie Irving in 2011.
Below we take a look at the top candidates for 2015-2016 NBA Rookie of the Year:
Karl-Anthony Towns: The No. 1 overall pick is living up to the billing and then some. He’s second among rookies in scoring and first in rebounds while playing 29 minutes per night. Towns has the highest player efficiency rating of any rookie (21.68) and he has helped the Timberwolves jump from No. 30 to No. 20 in points allowed. Minnesota won all of 16 games last season and has already won 12 with Towns anchoring the middle. Minnesota’s mix of youth and age has allowed Towns to learn from the likes of Kevin Garnett while finding chemistry with young star Andrew Wiggins.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks: The 7-foot-3 Latvian is one of the biggest reasons the Knicks have matched their 2014-2015 win total in just 36 games. Porzingis is fourth among rookies in PER (17.95), third in points (13.2), second in rebounds (8.1) and first in blocks (1.94) per game. With a few less minutes of court time in December his averages dipped slightly but his percentages from inside and outside the arc have only progressed in his rookie season. He’s an inside-out threat that makes him difficult for big men to guard while altering shots if not blocking them in the paint on defense. He and Anthony have also developed a rapport, as the attention paid to each of them has helped out the other.
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers: Some would argue Okafor is at a disadvantage playing for Philadelphia (4-33). Others would call it an advantage because of all the court time he sees and the little amount of pressure on him. He does lead all rookies in minutes (30.8 per game), but however you look at it, Okafor came into the league a ready-made scorer and hasn’t disappointed one bit. The No. 3 pick is the most offensively polished rookie in the league, evident by his leading all newcomers in scoring with over 17 points per night. His role in the offense is significant and he’s relied on more than most rookies, leading the Sixers in minutes and scoring.
D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers: Despite struggling with turnovers, Russell has displayed the fundamentally sound game that got him selected No. 2 overall by the Lakers. Russell has been coming off the bench of late but is still seeing significant minutes, including down the stretch. His growth could be stunted by the presence of Kobe Bryant but his ball-handling skills, passing, perimeter play and vision are already clear indicators that there’s a ton to work with. He fills up the stat sheet all over as well, averaging 11.6 points, 3.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds.
Dark Horse Candidates: Some players may not be in the forefront of the discussion but need not be forgotten. Justise Winslow is building the reputation as an elite defender in Miami even if his offensive game is still developing. Stanley Johnson is playing a large role on an over. 500 team in Detroit. Denver has two rookies in Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic that give the Nuggets some hope for the future, as well.