The 2022-23 NBA Rookie class is full of talent. With household names like Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith, and Jaden Ivey at the top of nearly every oddsmaker’s list and Chet Holmgren out of the running this year; who are the sleeper candidates to win this year’s NBA Rookie of the Year award?
The Utah Jazz are in rebuild mode. Although Ochai Agbaji is currently buried in the backcourt depth chart, we can expect the Jazz to make more moves before the season begins. If Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, and Bojan Bogdanovic end up elsewhere, then the path could be set for the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player to earn a spot in the starting lineup. Agbaji was voted a consensus First-Team All-American and the Big 12 Player of the Year in 2021-22. The 22-year-old guard is a career 37% three-point shooter at Kansas, averaging 18.8 points per game in his senior season. With the right amount of playing time, Agbaji could thrive in Utah.
Shaedon Sharpe is one of the most intriguing rookies coming into the league this year. After missing the entire season for Kentucky, Sharpe declared for the draft and was still taken at seventh overall by the Portland Trail Blazers. This alone speaks volumes about Sharpe’s potential. If the young wingman can find a spot in the rotation alongside Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, and Gary Payton II, then he could make a run for the ROTY award. Sharpe has incredible offensive abilities, but there are reasonable concerns about his conditioning after a year away from the game. If Sharpe plays a full season and nears the top of the rookie scoreboard, he’ll draw a lot of attention towards the year’s end. Especially if the Trail Blazers are in the playoffs.
The Washington Wizards selected Johnny Davis ninth overall. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year could have a great opportunity to share the floor with Bradley Beal. Newly acquired Will Barton may begin the season as a starter, but Davis has the talent to take over that role eventually. Davis averaged 19.7 points per game last year in Wisconsin. He also impressed scouts with his rebounding (8.2 per game in 2022) and defense (led Wisconsin in steals in 2021). If Davis and Beal flourish en route to a playoff push, the former Badger may walk away with the award.
This one may be a stretch, but don’t write off Malaki Branham. The 6’5” guard spent his lone year at Ohio State making the Big Ten All-Freshman Team and Third-Team All-Big Ten. Branham was named the Big Ten Freshman of the year. He shot 41.6% from beyond the arc and 49.8% from the floor. Although there is a lot of young talent in San Antonio, including fellow rooking Jeremy Sochan, don’t be too surprised if Branham makes a name for himself.
Bennedict Mathurin had a short but decorated career for the Arizona Wildcats. After making the 2021 Pac-12 All-Freshman team, Mathurin exploded onto the scene in 2022. He made the First-Team All-Pac-12 and All-America Second teams. Mathurin was also named the Pac-12’s Player of the Year and the Pac-12 Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. A career 38.3% three-point shooter with tons of athleticism, Mathurin hopes to pair with Pacers point guard Tyrese Haliburton to form a dynamic duo worthy of contention in the eastern conference. For now, they are on a tanking team that has plenty of playing time available for their future stars. Mathurin will benefit greatly from this, possibly enough to win the NBA Rookie of the Year award.
For more on the 2022-23 NBA Rookie class, check out five underrated rookies to keep an eye on.