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NBA: Five rookies catching the eye

The 2022 draft class wasn't as hyped up as the 2021 batch, while focus has already turned to generational talents coming to the league next summer.

However, the overshadowed rookies from this year’s draft are already making an impact in the NBA.

The race for rookie of the year is already heating up, while there are plenty of names competing to be the rough diamond who dropped too far.

Below is a look at five of those rookies who have caught the eye so far, including one name who fell into the second round.

5. Christian Koloko

While he’s probably not in the top-five rookies for the season, Koloko has undoubtedly caught the eye. He was drafted at 33 by the Raptors last summer, with little expected of the second-round pick. However, the 7ft 2 centre stands out as the tallest player on a Toronto side which was already huge.

While he needs to offer more offensively, the fact that Koloko has started eight of the Raptors’ first 14 games this season says a lot. He’s offered a lot defensively, posting six blocks in a game against the Chicago Bulls - in which he also scored 11 points.

Koloko isn’t in the Rookie of the Year running, but he’s showing potential to be a top defender in the NBA. He plays for one of the league’s best development programs, filling a much-needed role. Given that the Raptors have been searching for a big man since Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol departed, expect Toronto to turn him into a solid player at least.

4. Keegan Murray

The Kings have made a respectable 5-6 start to the season, but the future of their franchise rests in the hands of Keegan Murray. After years of draft misses, the Kings have done well to land Murray with this year’s fourth pick. He’s averaging a solid 11.9 points per game, while his three-point shooting is further along than anticipated.

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Murray has also produced on the defensive end, posting 0.9 blocks and steals per game. He has the potential to be an effective two-way player and his ceiling is high. He has slipped out to 22/1 to be named Rookie of the Year this season, but he’s still got a big future in the league.

3. Jaden Ivey

The Detroit Pistons took Ivey with the fifth pick in the draft and they’ve given the guard plenty of opportunities so far. He’s started 13 games for the Pistons, averaging 31.4 minutes per night in a young side which is gearing up for a big future.

Ivey is projected to be a key part of that, especially based on his good start. He’s averaging 15.8 points per night, while he has the best assists-per-game average of any of the class of 2022 with 3.8 per night.

Ivey’s only real issues are his high turnover rate and his 44% shooting percentage. However, that’s to be expected when you give a young player so much freedom.

2. Bennedict Mathurin

The Indiana Pacers landed the sixth pick after a tough 2021/22 campaign, missing out on the consensus top four or five players. However, that hasn’t proven to be the case so far this year, with Mathurin making a huge impression.

He already caught the eye shortly after the draft when he questioned if LeBron James was truly better than him. Those quotes were mocked, but the Canadian is proving himself in the league with 19.9 points per night for a Pacers side who have a surprise .500 record.

The big plus for Mathurin is his 83% free-throw record. That’s often seen as a real signifier of a player’s shooting upside. Given that he’s already hitting 2.8 threes per game, he’s on his way to becoming a real sharpshooter.

1. Paolo Banchero

Currently 1/8 to win Rookie of the Year is Paolo Banchero, who was a surprise number-one pick with Jabari Smith Jr the reported target for the Orlando Magic. It caused a stir when they took Banchero and the young forward hasn’t looked back since.

He was pulled from Summer League after proving too good for the Las Vegas event and he’s already posting huge numbers. He’s averaging 23.5 points per game for the Magic, with 8.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists per night. He’s getting a lot of room to work through his weaknesses, as seen by the fact that he has three turnovers per game, higher than any other rookie this year.

Banchero is shooting at a solid 46% from the field and 76% from the free-throw line, but his dominant performances and great numbers put him head and shoulders above the rest of the new arrivals.

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