Rookie Ladder: Eight freshmen ready for Rising Stars spotlight

NBA.com Global on Feb 01, 2019 07:31 AM
Rookie Ladder: 8 freshmen ready for Rising Stars spotlight
Rising Stars official logo

By Drew Packham, NBA.com

If you’re like me, there’s nothing you enjoy more during All-Star weekend than the Rising Stars game.

The game, which used to pit Rookies vs. Sophomores (my personal favorite iteration), has evolved through the years and now pits first and second-year players against each other in a battle of U.S. stars versus international standouts.

This week, the rosters were revealed for the Mtn Dew Ice Rising Stars, and it should be a fun one.  

Three rookies will suit up for the U.S. Team -- the Sacramento Kings' Marvin Bagley III, the Memphis Grizzlies' Jaren Jackson Jr. and the Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young. Team World will feature five rookies: the Phoenix Suns' Deandre Ayton (Bahamas), the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic (Slovenia), the LA Clippers' Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Canada), the Brooklyn Nets' Rodions Kurucs (Latvia) and the Minnesota Timberwolves' Josh Okogie (Nigeria).

The U.S. Team will be led by honorary coach Kyrie Irving, while Dirk Nowitzki will lead Team World.

When Doncic was asked about playing for his German teammate, the Mavs rookie joked that he’d be seeking a team change.

“I told him he’s got to play hard or I’m going to sub him out,” Nowitzki said. “I’m going to be tough on him. I’m going to teach him a lesson.”

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1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week: No. 1

Another week, another incredible noteworthy performance for Doncic. This time, Doncic got his second triple-double in 10 days by putting up a career-high 35 points with 12 rebounds and 10 assists in Dallas’ loss to Toronto. In scoring 35, he became the first teenager in NBA history to tally a 30-point triple-double and the fourth rookie to get a 35-point triple-double. The others? Stephen Curry (Feb. 10, 2010), Jason Kidd (April 11, 1995) and Michael Jordan (Jan. 14, 1985).

2. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

Last week: No. 5

Young makes a jump this week thanks to Ayton’s injury and a week of solid performances. In three games, Young averaged 26.3 points and 7.7 assists while shooting 63.6 percent from the floor (40.9 on three's). Young had a 30-point, eight-assist outing in a loss at Portland, then followed that with an impressive 26 points and seven assists to help the Hawks beat the Clippers in L.A. for the first time since 2016. ''He's really been composed over the last couple games,'' teammate John Collins said after the win in L.A. ''He's made an effort to really make the right play.''

3. Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings

Last week: No. 3

Bagley had another solid week, capped off by a 17-point, 12-rebound showing to help the Kings blow away the Hawks on Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time). Bagley can score in so many ways -- mid-range jumpers facing up his defender, low-post spins to the baseline and even has the handles to get to the rim on the break. In his three games this week, Bageley averaged 15 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks to help him maintain his third rung. If Young hadn’t had such an outstanding week, he might’ve climbed up to second.

4. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

Last week: No. 2

Ayton held his No. 2 spot last week, but he gets bumped down this week after missing his sixth straight game with a left ankle injury. He’s getting closer to return, though (Phoenix doesn’t play until Sunday, PHL time), so once he returns he should climb right back up the Ladder.

5. Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

Last week: Not ranked

In four games this week, Jackson averaged 12 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks as the Grizzlies continued to struggle. His best game came in the Grizzlies’ lone win, in which he put up 20 points with six rebounds in a 106-103 victory agianst the Pacers.

Just missed the cut:

Mikal Bridges, Phoenix Suns

Bridges has made a name for himself with his work on the defensive end, but this week he had a pair of double-digit scoring games, putting up 16 with six rebounds in a loss to the Lakers. Bridges followed that up with 17 points, six rebounds and four steals as the Suns nearly pulled off the upset in San Antonio. His scoring uptick could be attributed to him finding his outside touch, as he’s gone 6-for-11 in those two games. Bridges also hasn’t had less than five rebounds in the last four games, filling a need as Deandre Ayton’s been sidelined with an ankle sprain.

Allonzo Trier, New York Knicks

Trier falls out of the Top 5 this week after coming down to earth a bit. In four games, the Knicks’ rookie averaged 10.5 points in 21 minutes per game, but had an uncharacteristic 0-for-7 shooting night in New York’s loss in Charlotte.

Frank Jackson, New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans are banged up and seeking answers amid the Anthony Davis drama, and Jackson is making the most of his opportunity. Jackson, who has started the last two games, has averaged 11.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in 24.2 minutes per game over his last four games.

Kenrich Williams, New Orleans Pelicans

It’s a small sample size, but the undrafted rookie out of TCU has been huge over the last two games. In New Orleans’ win in Houston, Williams had eight points and grabbed 16 rebounds in 30 minutes, then followed that with 21 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in Wednesday’s (Thursday, PHL time) loss to the Nuggets. In the NBA, it’s all about making the most of opportunities and Williams is taking advantage of the team’s injury woes and proving he can contribute in the league.  

Kevin Knox, New York Knicks

Knox had a strong finish to his week to return to the bottom five this week. Knox put up 19 points in a loss the Hornets, hitting 3-of-4 3-pointers, then led New York with 17 points in Wednesday’s (Thursday, PHL time) loss to the Mavs, while also grabbing five rebounds. Knox has certainly seen his production dip, but he’s been more assertive of late, which is a good sign.

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(All stats through Jan. 31, PHL time)

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