Pac-12 Freshman Ladder: Early December Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 7th, 2016

I don’t know how long Scott Howard-Cooper has been writing his Rookie Ladder column for but it has long been one of the more underrated features in basketball writing. There is nothing complex about its structure as a traditional weekly power ranking of NBA rookies. Yet basketball fans are always drawn to the new, which is why the Rookie Ladder column exists. The appeal of rookie coverage is true in college basketball as well. You don’t see the Pac-12 handing out a “Second-Year Player of the Year” award, do you? The season is now old enough that sample sizes are starting to become meaningful. Also, I am nothing if not a ruthless (but self-aware) copycat. So here is our best imitation of Cooper’s excellent feature – the inaugural Pac-12 Freshman Ladder.

Lonzo Ball (USA Today Images)

Lonzo Ball Leads the Pac-12 Freshman Ladder (USA Today Images)

  1. Lonzo Ball, UCLA. In our top-secret algorithm that determines these rankings, winning matters, if only a little. UCLA is undefeated and that is why Ball edges past Markelle Fultz on this list for now. Bolstered by a surprising ability to knock down threes (43.5% 3FG), Ball has been one of the most efficient offensive players in college basketball (67.5% eFG) while also affecting every possession without having to score. He has turned the ball over 12 times in the last three games, but the Bruins are so lethal offensively with the freshman running the show that UCLA will live with those mistakes.
  2. Markelle Fultz, Washington. Fultz is playing a different role at Washington than Ball is at UCLA but his playmaking skills are just as advanced. Fultz’s assist rate (37.0%) and turnover rate (17.6%) compare favorably with Ball and his shot-making responsibilities and usage rate mean that he is scoring more as well. His defensive numbers (4.1% block rate and 3.4% steal rate) are also superior to his southern California counterpart. One could reasonably argue that if Fultz were running point in Westwood and the Bruins were still undefeated, he would be the clear alpha dog on this list.
  3. T.J. Leaf, UCLA. Kentucky found out the hard way that Leaf deserves his own recognition away from Ball’s prodigious shadow. His effective field goal percentage (72.1%) ranks among the top 20 in the country; he’s made exactly half of his 18 three-point attempts; he is among the top 250 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage; he can protect the rim; and, he doesn’t turn the ball over. If he could shoot better than 66 percent from the free throw line, Leaf would probably deserve a higher spot on this ladder. He may deserve that anyway.
  4. De’Anthony Melton, USC. Melton has been one of the better stories in the league thus far. He was not a consensus top-100 recruit despite a decorated high school career, but he is now the only player in the country to average at least 15.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 5.0 SPG and 1.0 BPG per 40 minutes. He was advertised as a defensive stopper and a glue guy coming into college but . he has been much more than that. An excellent decision-maker with sneaky athleticism, Melton has emerged as an efficient offensive weapon (58.5% eFG) and underrated playmaker as the Trojans’ alternate point guard.
  5. Lauri Markkanen, Arizona. When Markkanen committed to Arizona, we were warned that he was going to be a very good player. Now that the season is a month old, it feels like many people still haven’t fully appreciated how good the Wildcats’ freshman has been. The seven-footer is something of a less athletic but more skilled version of UCLA’s Leaf. He is shooting better than 42 percent from downtown, making nearly 90 percent of his free throws, hardly ever turns the ball over, and his offensive rating (138.9) ranks among the best in college basketball. His defense has been suspect and his rebounding comes and goes, but otherwise Markkanen has as much long-term NBA potential as any player on this list.

    Lauri Markk

    Lauri Markkanen Appears to Have a Bright Future Ahead (USA Today Images)

  6. Charlie Moore, California. Moore put himself on the map with 38 points in Cal’s second game of the season, and although he has normalized since, he is still the team’s second-leading scorer at 18.1 PPG. For such a small guard, Moore gets to the free-throw line a lot (6.1 fouls drawn per 40 minutes) and he shoots nearly 85 percent once he gets there. His long-range marksmanship (40.0% 3FG) isn’t half-bad either. He has been a much needed second banana behind Ivan Rabb for head coach Cuonzo Martin.
  7. Rawle Alkins, Arizona. Entering the Gonzaga game, Alkins probably would have been ranked behind his more heralded freshman teammate Kobi Simmons. But Simmons laid an egg against the Bulldogs and Alkins contrastingly played his best game of the season (16 points,  seven rebounds, two steals). The Brooklyn native hasn’t been particularly efficient or active on the glass, but his scoring ability, defensive instincts and willingness to play within the offense highlight his potential. He is likely underrated on this ladder while the season is still young.
  8. Kobi Simmons, Arizona. Simmons hasn’t been the athletic playmaker (10.3% assist rate) many expected, but he has taken good care of the basketball and has put his athleticism to good use scoring instead. His size and handle make him difficult to stay in front of and he can finish at the rim (62.5% FG). Plus, he is using his length to disrupt passing lanes and force turnovers. He is a dubious shooter and his passing skills need to expand, but the tools are clearly there for Simmons.
  9. Malachi Flynn, Washington State. Flynn likely won’t receive a lot of publicity playing in Pullman this season, but he has been quietly excellent for the Cougars. He has already assumed most of the point guard responsibilities from senior Ike Iroegbu and is making the most of his chance, shooting better than 42 percent from behind the three-point line and 75 percent from inside it. He has been better off the ball than as a distributor and his turnover rate (27.7%) is unsightly, but he has been a bright spot in what is already looking like a lost season at Washington State.
  10. Payton Pritchard, Oregon. It has not been a fun start to the season from a shooting perspective for the Ducks’ local product. Pritchard is shooting just 25 percent from downtown (where 60 percent of his shots have come from), and he is turning the ball over way too much. But he has shown the ability to become a talented passer and is still learning his role within a veteran-laden offense. Assuming his shooting improves, Pritchard should stabilize his spot on this list.
mlemaire (324 Posts)

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