NBA rookie rating: Jalen Green in the Rockets caught fire; Bons Island’s 3-point shooting is crucial for the Nuggets

One of the best parts of ending a regular NBA season – or perhaps the worst, depending on your preferences – is that we can see how tank teams have emptied the bench and will play with many guys we haven’t seen before. The Portland Trail Blazers have been doing this for weeks. The same goes for the Indiana Pacers and the Oklahoma City Thunder have what seems like a whole list of young guys they essentially just change every couple of nights.

Playing with some of these undefeated players and G-League pillars may not always be the most beautiful basketball, but it at least allows us, as spectators, and teams as talent appraisers, to see if they have rough diamonds. We’ve seen a few newbies last week take advantage of the increase in playing time, and perhaps for some it could translate into a bigger role next season.

Let’s move on to this week’s rankings. Remember that they will only reflect a beginner’s performance only weekly, not a collective season. This is not a rookie standings of the year. Having dealt with this, let’s look at the most successful newcomers to the league.

Green was in tears to close his rookie season, which was marked by four games in a row of 30 points over the past week and a half. As the Rockets came out of the playoffs, they gave Green more freedom in attack and allowed him to act a little more. As a result, we saw the most dominant version of Green throughout the season.

Against the kings Green got everything he wanted. His cunning handle took center stage, using a variety of crossovers and swings to catch the defender on his heels and either pick him up to the rim or pull up to jump into the mid-range jumper. This past week has shown what a completely untied Green looks like, where he flies to the rim after defeating his defender, launching threes – and making them – with absurd speed and his ability to work on the ball or out of it.

For those looking at the Houston record this season and considering Green’s stats empty calories in a team heading to the lottery, that may not mean much. But Green entered his rookie season incredibly raw and we saw a legitimate progression from No. 2 overall. He shot at the ball with ridiculously ineffective speed to start the season, but over the past month he has caught fire, throwing 48 per cent off the field since early March and 40 per cent out of 3-point territory. He turns the ball less, is more aggressive as a rebound and is much more likely to find his teammates for passes. Green will finish his first season on a high note, which is great news for the Rockets team, which wants to build around its young budding star.

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Barnes continues to build his business for the rookie of the year to ensure that the race will have before the final game of the regular season. Last week, he supplemented his resume, becoming the first newcomer in his class to score 1,000 points and 500 rebounds this season. He is also the first rookie after Luka Doncic and only the 22nd rookie in league history, averaging 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists per season. And he is the only newcomer who is in the top five in each major statistical category this season.

After meeting with the Raptors on Sunday, former Toronto great Kyle Lowry praised the newcomer.

“He’s a great talent,” Said Lowry. “His passion and effort, he’s a special talent. He’s going to be one of those guys who heads the franchise and the cornerstone of the franchise. He fits in perfectly here, how hard he plays, how passionate he is about the game. He’s just going to keep getting better.”

Everything Lowry said was on his nose. There was no rookie this season who was asked to do as much as Barnes does for Toronto this year. He has helped Toronto win games at both ends of the floor, his versatility as a defender guards all five positions and his ability to create scoring chances with or without the ball in his hands. Against the Magic last week he scored 19 points, eight rebounds and seven assists and clearly demonstrated why you should always put on his body when a kick goes in favor of the Raptors.

Five of Barnes ’eight rebounds were made in the attack glass, which he turned into six points. His ability to aggressively hunt for rebounds in attack is the main reason that Toronto ranks second in the league in the number of second-chance points per game (16.4). That’s what the Raptors may need in the playoffs, especially if they face a team that bounces the ball badly.

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In a season when the Nuggets are missing two of their top three players, Bons Highland has stepped up work to give Denver the necessary spark plug from the bench. Throughout the season, he quietly set decent figures for the Nuggets, but in March, his production rose sharply. In 12 of 15 games, Highland scored double-digit goals, averaging 14.3 points, 4.3 assists and 3.0 rebounds, throwing a ridiculous 51 percent off the field and 47 percent from depth. He joined Nicola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. only beginners in franchise history to average double-digit points in points for an entire month, when shooting more than 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from long range.

He has such a clean kick in the jump and great confidence, which combined means that he is never afraid to go and get his own kick. Highland moves incredibly well without the ball in his hands, throws defenders and flies outside the ball to create a space where Jokic will no doubt find it for an open view of the perimeter.

Nearly 60 percent of his throwing attempts come from behind the arc, but he is also able to put the ball on deck and remove the defender from dribbling. He has a cunning handle and speed to hit smaller defenders, and although his finishing speed around or mid-range is pale compared to his long-range shooting figures, he has these skills in his back pocket to take advantage of when the Nuggets need it .

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Mitchell really showed himself in the last part of the season, especially since he was promoted to the starting lineup. His transition is what really stood out last week, performing miscarriages in the corner with the subtlety and precision that always found his teammates in his pocket.

Although the Kings haven’t gone that far this season, Mitchell’s development is a bright spot, and it’s something you can build on next season from Sacramento. His improvement as a facilitator could make the Tyrese Halliberton trade a less outrageous move, especially if De’Aaron Fox, Damantas Sabonis and Mitchell can play together.

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Sar is one of the few Thunder newcomers who made the most of the opportunities he was given in a team that essentially waved a white flag this season. Last week, he scored 24 points in a shocking victory over the Phoenix Suns. Sure, the Suns haven’t played with Deandre Eitan or Devin Booker, but, hey, a win is a win, and Sar can say he scored 24 points on the team with the best score in the league. Sar scored his 24 points coming off the Thunder bench, and wasted little time on it as he went 9 out of 12 from the field and 5 out of 6 from the depths.

Honorary mentions: Lindy Waters III, Oklahoma City Thunder (17.0 points, 4.7 rebounds); Keon Johnson, Portland Trail Blazers (15.3 points, 3.0 assists, 2.7 rebounds); Terry Taylor, Indiana Pacers (13.7 points, 5.0 rebounds)

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