We’re a little over a quarter of the way into the 2015-16 NBA season, and I don’t feel like it’s hyperbole to say that this is already one of the best seasons of all-time for rookies.
I don’t think there was much doubt that the 2015 NBA Draft was going to yield a handful of serviceable players, but unlike most drafts, we’ve seen multiple players have not just marginal, but huge impacts on their teams from day one. While Jahlil Okafor’s averaging an impressive 17.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, the two stars of the crop have unquestionably been No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns, and Latvian sensation Kristaps Porzingis.
Towns & Porzingis have tallied 10 double-doubles in 1st 25 career games – first time for multiple rookies from same draft class since 1992.
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) December 16, 2015
The two big men will face off tonight when Towns makes his Madison Square Garden debut as the Minnesota Timberwolves take on the New York Knicks, and even though some will be focused on Andrew Wiggins and Carmelo Anthony, the two bigs could be battling each other for NBA supremacy for years to come.
Let’s take a look at what we’ve seen from the duo to this point:
We start in Minnesota with Towns, who made a late push for top prospect status after Okafor was seemingly the consensus choice from late 2013 (at least) through March 2015. Even though it was Okafor’s Duke squad that took home the NCAA Championship, the Kentucky product showed off that he had the size, athleticism and skills to be a defensive anchor for a successful team, with great ability to pass, and even stretch the floor with outside shooting.
Through his first 24 games, Towns is averaging 15 points and nine rebounds per game, shooting 53.6 percent from the field while averaging 2.2 blocks and posting 10 double-doubles. Respectively, those numbers rank him second, first, second, first and tied for first among rookies. Towns impact on the defensive end is already being felt as well, as his 103.9 defensive rating (per NBA.com) has helped the team improve from posting the leagues’ 30th best defensive rating (109.6) last season, to 19th (103.5), according to NBA.com.
Again, Towns was expected to come into the league and be able to be a difference maker on the defensive end relatively quickly. I think the most surprising thing about his game has been the ease in which he’s been able to score, in multiple ways. We’ve seen putback dunks, hook shots, and alley-oops, but it’s his perimeter game that had scouts and fans alike falling in love heading into the draft. And if he’s able to continue to evolve as a stretch big who can anchor a defense, he could rule the world for years to come.
Speaking of stretch bigs who can anchor a defense and rule the world for years to come, Porzingis has pretty much been the Eastern Conference’s equivalent of Towns, possibly even better. The prospect who most NBA executives thought had the highest ceiling, but also the highest risk of the upper tier of prospects, Porzingis was this season’s rookie labeled with the famous Bruno Caboclo “two years away from being two years away” onus.
Needless to say, the Knicks’ big man looks like one of the most NBA-ready rookies, posting a line of 13.6 points (third among rookies) , 8.4 rebounds (second) , and 1.8 blocks per game (second), with a shooting line of 44/35/84, and 10 double-doubles (tied for first). Similar to Towns, Porzingis has made an immediate impact on the defensive end, posting a 102.2 defensive rating (per NBA.com), and helping the team improve from 28th in defensive rating (107.2) in 2014-15 to 16th (102.2).
Playing in New York has given Porzingis a spotlight that some thought he wouldn’t be able to handle. Instead, he’s displayed incredible grace and poise, essentially posting (sorry Cleanthony Early, your 27 minutes should not count when looking at individual impact for the team) the second-best net rating on the team (per NBA.com). Like Towns, Porzingis’s ability to combine length with athleticism makes him such a unique player. You’ve seen the monster putback dunks, but I mean, have you ever seen a 7-foot-3 person do something like this?
Make no mistake, both Towns and Porzingis play for teams that are still far away from competing in important games. However, the impact that both are making has been significant, especially considering they’re first year players, and just 20 years old.
It isn’t too early to declare the Timberwolves and Knicks the winners of the draft. So keep an eye on tonight’s game, as it’ll be the first matchup of a rivalry that will undoubtedly one day become more meaningful.