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NBA Rookie Power Rankings 3.0: Heat’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Warriors’ Brandin Podziemski crack top 5

In Sports
January 09, 2024
Miami Heat guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., left, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Chet Holmgren and Victor Wembanyama remain atop the rankings, but it’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Brandin Podziemski who have been the biggest surprises this season and have entered the top five. Both players were selected outside the lottery — Jaquez going No. 18 to the Miami Heat and Podziemski No. 19 to the Golden State Warriors — but have been instant-impact additions.

Scoot Henderson, the No. 3 overall pick, had a slow start to the season but has emerged as one of the best passing rookies, averaging five assists per game for Portland, and Utah’s Keyonte George has shown more versatility as a scorer, putting on a great performance in a recent win over the Miami Heat.

Here’s an updated look at Yahoo Sports’ rookie rankings for the 2023-24 season.

Draft slot: No. 1

Previous rank: 2

Wembanyama became the sixth player in NBA history to reach 100 career blocks in his first 35 games Sunday night when he recorded five blocks in a close loss to the Cavaliers. In the game before, he went head-to-head with Giannis Antetokounmpo and gained the respect of one of the league’s best players.

“He’s special,” Antetokounmpo said about Wembanyama after the game. “He’s going to be an extremely good player. He plays the right way. He plays to win. I’ve never seen anything like him.”

Wembanyma finished with 27 points, nine rebounds and five blocks against Antetokounmpo and continues to exceed all expectations coming into the league. Wembanyama leads all rookies in blocks (101), points per game (19.3) and rebounds (314).

Draft slot (2022): No. 2

Previous rank: 1

The battle for the top rookie honor continues to be a two-man race between Wembanyama and Holmgren, and they are changing the way the center position is played with their tall, lanky frames and versatility. When asked about what he’s proven so far as a rookie, Holmgren gave a very honest answer.

“I haven’t proven s**t, I’ve played 30 games,” Holmgren said. “Still got a long way to go.”

While that might be how he feels, Holmgren has proven quite a bit in his first season. He’s more than just a rim protector who averaged 3.5 blocks in December and has showcased his offensive depth with his shot selection. He can take players off the dribble and knock down 3s, and he has an elite mix of moves off the block and a solid midrange game. Holmgren had one of his most complete games in a win over Boston on Jan. 2, when he finished with 14 points, seven assists, four blocks and only one turnover in 33 minutes.

3. Jaime Jaquez Jr., Miami Heat

Draft slot: No. 18

Previous rank: 6

Jaquez had his best game of the season in a win over the 76ers on Christmas Day, when he led all players with 31 points, 10 rebounds and two steals. He’s one of the most aggressive rookies on offense and looks like a seasoned vet alongside Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is to just keep playing confidently,” Jaquez told Yahoo Sports. “That’s your biggest weapon here in the NBA, [it’s] confidence, and when you have a team that constantly gives that to you, it makes it a lot easier to go out there and play and trust in yourself.”

Jaquez also got the nod from LeBron James in a win over the Lakers on Jan. 3, when he hit a tough shot over the NBA legend.

““I’m going to have that video and I’m going to show that to my kids when I have kids,” Jaquez said after the game.

Jaquez helped hold James to 12 points and forced two turnovers while scoring 16 points and dishing out eight assists.

Draft slot: No. 12

Previous rank: 5

Lively continues to be a perfect match with Luka Doncic, particularly in the pick-and-roll. He leads all rookies in screen-assist points (201) and is fourth in rebounds (220). Lively suffered a minor ankle injury in a recent game against Portland and was sidelined against Minnesota. Lively recorded four double-doubles in the month of December and continues to bring much-needed rim protection to Dallas, averaging two blocks per game last month. He’s efficient in the paint and knows when to make a play at the rim or dish it off to a teammate. Prior to his injury against Portland, Lively had four assists, three blocks and two steals in 19 minutes.

5. Brandin Podziemski, Golden State Warriors

Draft slot: No. 19

Previous rank: unranked

Podziemski started eight games in December and doesn’t look like a rookie alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. He’s adapted well to Steve Kerr’s system and initially saw his minutes increase with how well he was rebounding the ball but has recently been more effective offensively. He’s aggressive at the rim, his floater in the lane has improved and even though his outside shot remains a work in progress, it’s obvious he’s finding confidence in shooting (he attempted eight 3s in a loss to Toronto on Sunday). He didn’t shy away from the bright lights on Christmas Day and had one of his best performances of the season, finishing with 13 points, nine rebounds, six assists and five steals in a loss to the Nuggets.

Draft slot: No. 2

Previous rank: 7

The Hornets have lost 11 straight games and haven’t looked the same since losing LaMelo Ball in late November to a right ankle sprain. Miller has continued to be an impact perimeter player and went 6-of-10 from behind the arc (finishing with 20 points) on Dec. 29 in a loss to the Suns. He’s third in rookie scoring (14.7 points per game) behind Wembanyama and Holmgren and second in 3-point attempts (60). Miller looks stronger with the ball and has played more physically as the season progresses. He had tough defensive assignments recently against the Lakers, Suns and Nuggets and, at times, lost track of his man but was always able to recover with his length and size. He should continue to improve defensively as he adds weight to his 6-foot-7 frame.

7. Keyonte George, Utah Jazz

Draft slot: No. 16

Previous rank: 9

George has been a factor all season dishing the ball but showed his upside as a scorer in a win over the Heat on Dec. 30, finishing with 21 points, with almost all of his buckets coming in the second half. George went 5-of-8 from 3-point range and added six points and two assists in 28 minutes. George leads all rookies in assists (140) and has become a key player in the second unit.

Draft slot: No. 14

Previous rank: 4

Hawkins is leading all rookies in 3-pointers (64) while shooting 36% from behind the arc. His minutes have been sporadic in the last month, as the Pelicans have gone 10-4 since the in-season tournament. Hawkins went 3-of-3 from 3-point range and had 13 points in just six minutes in a loss to the Clippers on Jan. 5.

“Every time he gets an opportunity, he takes advantage of it, whether it’s in Birmingham [G League affiliate] or with us,” head coach Willie Green told reporters after a win over the Kings. “He is going to be a key fixture on our team.”

Draft slot: No. 3

Previous rank: Honorable mention

It took a little bit longer for Henderson to settle in after starting the season with a right ankle injury, but he’s found his stride in the last month. Henderson flirted with a triple-double in a win over the Spurs on Dec. 29, posting 22 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. His passing is what stands out the most, averaging 5.1 assists per game, and he’s starting to find his rhythm offensively after a slow start. Henderson has four double-doubles in the last month and was a runner-up for Western Conference Player of the Week to start the new year.

Draft slot: No. 5

Previous rank: 3

The Pistons finally won a game after losing 28 straight, and if fans and the organization are patient with Thompson, he could be a dynamic perimeter player alongside Cade Cunningham. He leads all rookies in offensive rebounds (78) and has been more of a factor offensively as a playmaker in the last few games, dishing out four assists in the team’s recent loss to Denver on Sunday.

Honorable mention:

Anthony Black, Orlando Magic

Bilal Coulibaly, Washington Wizards

Toumani Camara, Portland Trail Blazers

Nick Smith Jr., Charlotte Hornets

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