Happy Thanksgiving! In honor of Turkey Day, SI takes a look at Kristaps Porzingis, Karl–Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor and why their teams should feel grateful to have them.
Thanksgiving is a time for scarfing down delicious food, spending time with friends and family and, of course, being thankful for what you have. The latter applies to NBA teams, and specifically to those witnessing promising early returns from the first–year players they drafted back in June.
So for the Thanksgiving iteration of Data Dimes, the PointAfter team focused on rookies making their organizations thankful to have drafted them all those months ago.
The Rookie of the Year race appears to be a hotly contested, three–way competition including Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis and Jahlil Okafor. All three of them have shown flashes of brilliance early on, but what numbers define the best rookies two months into the season?
Due to a combination of the bright lights associated with a big market and his pure talent and potential, Porzingis generates quite a bit of hype and excitement around the NBA community as well as a cult following among the New York Knicks faithful. The smooth-shooting, 7'3" Latvian native has experienced some inevitable rookie growing pains, but he’s also frequented highlight reels with powerful putback dunks while posting some impressive numbers.
On Nov. 21, for example, “Zinger” scored 24 points (on 8-of-12 shooting), grabbed 14 rebounds and added seven blocks in a 107–102 win over the Houston Rockets. That’s a heck of a box score to compile even for All-Star players, much less for a 20-year-old with so little NBA experience.
Believed by many to be a raw project who needed plenty of seasoning when he entered the 2015 draft, Porzingis is proving skeptics wrong. In fact, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott said in early November, “We just thought it would take him some time. Obviously we’re a little wrong about that,” per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.
Comparing rookies to established players is usually a fool’s errand, but early comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki no longer seem farfetched. Porzingis shoots the ball with confidence from all over the court.
Porzingis has also raised eyebrows in the realm of recording double doubles. He has seven of them thus far, but a fellow rookie edges him out through Thanksgiving.
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And while the double double output is impressive, Towns also leads rookies with a 21.92 PER and averages 15.3 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game going into Turkey Day.
Even notoriously tenacious competitor and T-Wolves veteran pack leader Kevin Garnett has sung the praises of Towns. “You can’t teach beast,” Garnett told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan. “It’s either in you or it isn’t. You can’t just go to the store and buy a six-pack of beast. It don’t work like that.”
Agreed, Big Ticket.
If you add the collective impact rookies have via points, rebounds and assists per game, then No. 3 selection Okafor leads his first–year brethren with 27.7 combined.
“Big Jah” averages 18.4 points per contest (tied with Dwyane Wade and Kemba Walker for No. 26 in the league). He’s been able to stuff stats into the box score, but playing for a hapless, winless Philadelphia 76ers team ultimately will hurt the Duke standout’s Rookie of the Year chances. Shooting 48% from the field, which ties him for 14th out of 19 qualified centers, also doesn’t elevate Okafor’s case.
Nevertheless, Sixers fans can be thankful for what the 19-year-old brings, provided the previous big man Philadelphia picked No. 3 (Joel Embiid) hasn’t played a single NBA minute due to nagging injuries.
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