The NBA heads into the 2023 All-Star break this weekend, and it’s truly been an action-packed season. As usual, the rookie class has shown the rest of the league why they’re in the NBA. A number of rookies have balled out for their respective teams and have made an immediate impact, whether from the starting lineup or the bench.
Some of the rookie class members have been invited to All-Star weekend to participate in the Rising Star Challenge alongside standout players from the sophomore class and G League. The challenge will take place on Sunday, February 19, and will bring excitement.
With All-Star Weekend action kicking off on Friday, February 17, in Salt Lake City, I decided to give my thoughts on the standout members of the rookie class. Below, I will give my picks for the best rookies of the 2022-2023 NBA season.
1. Paolo Banchero – Orlando Magic
Just as expected coming out of Duke University, the number-one pick Paolo Banchero has displayed his impressive basketball abilities this season. Banchero currently leads his team in points, 19.9, rebounds, 6.6, assists, 3.6, and steals, 0.9 per game.
Although sitting in 13th in the Eastern Conference and unlikely to claim a playoff spot, Banchero has the Magic headed in the right direction and beginning a new era of basketball in Orlando.
Among all rookies, Banchero leads the way in points per game, has the third most assists per game, and ranks fourth in rebounds and steals per game.
Despite Banchero’s immense talent, he still has a few things he needs to work on before he can rise the ranks to NBA superstardom. The largest issue is his overall shooting efficiency, as he shoots 41.9% from the field, 28.1% from beyond the arch, and 75.3 from behind the line. None of these numbers are horrific, but they definitely give Banchero room for improvement in the future.
2. Benedict Mathurin – Indiana Pacers
Coming out of Arizona, Mathurin has provided the Pacers a solid boost off the bench this season. The sixth overall pick has displayed impressive offensive skill and has contributed greatly to the Pacers’ improvements this season.
Currently, among rookies, Mathurin has the second most points per game, with 17.2. Third in free throw percentage, shooting 82.9% from the stripe, 7th in assists per game, with 1.4, and 9th in rebounds per game, with 4.1. Mathurin has also displayed his skill beyond the arch, averaging 31.9% on 4.3 attempts per game.
The Pacers have definitely added another impressive young talent to their arsenal.
3. Jabari Smith – Houston Rockets
Although this pick may be disputed by some, the third overall pick out of Auburn has improved his game over the course of the season and become an essential fixture in the Houston starting lineup. The 6’11” Power Forward has provided productivity on offense and his stout defensive presence, as he leads his team with 1.0 blocks per game.
Among all rookies, Smith ranks 2nd in three-pointers made per game, with 1.6, 3rd in blocks, 1.0 in rebounds, 7.0 per game, 4th in free throw percentage, 79.4% from the line, and 5th in points per game, with 12.0. Smith has displayed his ability to excel around the perimeter and down low in the paint.
However, the Auburn product definitely has a lot he needs to improve before taking the next step in his game. The main issues in his game revolve around his field goal and three-point percentage. Smith shoots a 38.9% clip from the field and 30.1% from deep. Both of these figures rank 12th on the Rockets and definitely show that Smith will have his work cut out for him this offseason.
4. Walker Kessler – Utah Jazz
The 2021-2022 SEC Defensive Player of the Year had a hectic beginning to his career when he was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies with the 22nd pick in the 2022 NBA draft and was then quickly dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
However, this wasn’t Walker Kessler’s final landing spot, as he was dealt again as a piece in the blockbuster trade for Rudy Gobert from the Utah Jazz, which would end up where Kessler would finally call home.
The Jazz will surely be happy with their acquisition of the young Auburn product, as the big man has provided solid depth on both ends of the floor. His defensive presence may be most impressive, as he not only leads his team and all rookies in blocks per game, with 2.1 but ranks 5th in the entire NBA.
In addition to leading the rookie class in blocks, Kessler ranks 1st in field goal percentage, shooting 71.2% from the field, 2nd in rebounds per game, with 7.7, and 12th in points per game, with 8.2. Kessler has proven to be an efficient scorer with a strong presence down low, but he definitely has areas where he needs to improve.
The most pressing area of his game that he needs to work on is his free throw shooting, as he has shot an abysmal 54.5% from the stripe this season.
5. Jaden Ivey – Detroit Pistons
Heading into the All-Star break, Detroit Pistons fans have few things to feel good about as they sit dead last in the Eastern Conference. Jaden Ivey is one of them. The Purdue product has proven he was worth the 5th overall pick and has displayed his impressive all-around play.
Following a season-ending injury to star point guard Cade Cunningham early in the season, Ivey quickly began to see an accelerated workload and has proven that he’s been able to handle it.
Within the rookie class, Ivey ranks 1st in assists per game, with 4.6, 3rd in points per game, with 15.2, 4th in steals per game, with 0.9, 7th in three-point percentage, shooting 33.2% from the field, and 10th in rebounds per game, with 3.9.
However, with his accelerated workload, Ivey has exposed a number of the weaknesses in his game. The first is his number of turnovers, as he leads all rookies with 2.8 per game. The second is his field goal and free throw percentages. Despite his formidable three-point percentage, Ivey has struggled shooting the ball this season, as he shoots 42% from the field and 72.5% from the line.
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