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Juicy Fruit Rookies

NBA Rookie Ladder presented by Juicy Fruit: Deandre Ayton and Trae Young rejoin Luka Doncic at the top

Juicy Fruit Rookie Ladder FTR.jpg
NBA Rookie Ladder (NBA.com Illustration)

To keep tabs on this season's rookie class, we'll be showcasing the NBA Rookie Ladder presented by Juicy Fruit throughout the season.

Rather than taking a season-long approach, however, our rankings are based on who has performed the best over the most recent two-week period. We want to open opportunities for other first-year players to shine.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the five rookies who have impressed the most since Christmas Day.

1. Luka Doncic, G/F, Dallas Mavericks

Stats since Dec. 26: 21.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game

In his second game after Christmas, Luka Doncic set a new career-high in a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans with 34 points (10-16 FG, 7-10 3PT).

A couple of days later, Doncic carried the Mavericks to an impressive win over the Oklahoma City Thunder with 25 points (9-19 FG, 4-11 3PT) and seven assists.

When asked about Doncic afterwards, five-time All-Star Paul George had nothing but praise for the Rookie of the Year favourite, saying he has a "pro, veteran-level game" and is a "special talent."

The Mavericks have been a little up and down since - they've lost four of their last five games, including a blowout loss to the Thunder following that impressive win on Dec. 30 - but Doncic continues to put up big numbers across the board in a way that has Dallas competing on a nightly basis.

If the Mavericks can get back to their winning ways, it's going to be hard for the media and coaches to keep Doncic off the All-Star team.

2. Deandre Ayton, C, Phoenix Suns

Stats since Dec. 26: 17.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game

Luka Doncic isn't the only rookie to have had a big game over the last couple of weeks. On Dec. 29, Deandre Ayton scored a career-high 33 points (16-20 FG) and pulled down 14 rebounds against Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets.

Ayton scored 24 points in the second quarter alone, doing so on a hyper-efficient 12-of-13 shooting from the field.

While it came in a losing effort, the Suns were even with the Nuggets in the 39 minutes Ayton was on the court. The No. 1 overall pick also made some history in joining Hakeem Olajuwon as the only rookies in Basketball Reference's database to have scored 20-plus points in game while taking at least 20 field goals and making over 80 percent of them.

Ayton had another strong outing in his next game, scoring a team-high 25 points (9-17 FG) against the Golden State Warriors. Like Doncic, however, his recent surge hasn't resulted in many wins for his team, as the Suns have lost eight of their last 10 games.

3. Trae Young, PG, Atlanta Hawks

Stats since Dec. 26: 15.8 points, 7.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game

It's been a while since Trae Young was on this list.

Following a tough month of November, in which he shot 35.5 percent from the field and 19.8 percent from the perimeter over 16 games, Young got his game back on track in December and ended the year on a strong note.

First, Young recorded a 16-point, 11-assist double-double in a road win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The next night, Young got the better of Collin Sexton for the second time this season, leading the Hawks to victory with a team-high 21 points (8-16 FG, 2-6 3PT) and nine assists.

Having finished with 13 points and 10 assists in Atlanta's recent loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Young now has 12 double-doubles on the season, the second-most in this rookie class behind Deandre Ayton (25). He also has nine 20-point games, putting him behind only Luka Doncic (21) and Ayton (13) for the most among first-year players.

The consistently isn't always there for Young, but it's easy to see why the Hawks believe he's their point guard of the future when he's on.

4. Jaren Jackson Jr., F, Memphis Grizzlies

Stats since Dec. 26: 14.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game

Jaren Jackson Jr. continues to be a bright spot for the Grizzlies. His best game as of late came against the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 2, when Jackson tied Blake Griffin for game-high scoring honours with 26 points and tied Andre Drummond for game-high rebounding honours with 10 boards.

He was at his usual efficient self, making eight of his 11 field goal attempts, both of his 3-point attempts and all eight of his free throw attempts.

Unfortunately for Jackson, it wasn't enough for the Grizzlies to get a much needed win. It's been a trend lately, as Jackson has strung together a number of strong performances in the team's six (and counting) game losing streak.

Another trend? Foul trouble. Jackson is averaging 4.7 fouls in only 26.0 minutes of play in his last six games.

Seeing as it's something that plagued Jackson during his one year at Michigan State, it's worth monitoring for the remainder of the season, regardless of whether or not the Grizzlies are in the Western Conference playoff race.

5. Wendell Carter Jr., C, Chicago Bulls

Stats since Dec. 26: 11.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game

Wendell Carter Jr. logged only 13 minutes in Chicago's loss to the Orlando Magic on Jan. 2. He missed all five of his shot attempts and was a whopping -21 in just over a quarter's worth of action.

When asked about why the No. 7 overall pick barely played in the game's second half, Bulls head coach Jim Boylen said, "sometimes you learn by sitting too. Maybe have some introspection. Maybe you realize 'I have to play my minutes better when I'm out there.'"

How did Carter respond? By scoring 15 points (6-9 FG), grabbing eight rebounds, dishing out three assists, coming up with three steals and blocking one shot in an overtime loss to the Indiana Pacers a couple of days later. The Bulls outscored the Pacers by seven points with their rookie on the court, giving Carter the second-best plus/minus on the team.

Carter was playing well leading up to his benching, too. He recorded back-to-back double-doubles, going for 17 points (8-10 FG) and 13 rebounds against the Washington Wizards followed by 16 points (6-10 FG) and 11 rebounds against the Toronto Raptors.

Honourable Mention

Kevin Knox, F, New York Knicks - 12.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.7 assists per game

Rodions Kurucs, F, Brooklyn Nets - 9.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists per game

Kevin Huerter, G/F, Atlanta Hawks - 10.6 points, 3.9 assists, 3.1 rebounds per game

Collin Sexton, G, Cleveland Cavaliers - 13.7 points, 4.0 assists, 2.7 rebounds per game

Mikal Bridges, F, Phoenix Suns - 7.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists per game

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