Franz Wagner boogies up to No. 1 spot

With the end of the year approaching, the NBA is struggling to stay afloat as teams and players alike deal with health and safety protocols and other issues related to the coronavirus.

Over 200 players have entered the health and safety protocol in the month of December alone as 10 games have been postponed as a result. Teams have called up over 80 players from the NBA G League to replace those in the protocol, creating opportunities for under-the-radar guys.

With several players sidelined, the rookie class has seen more action this month with some unlikely guys receiving more playing time and larger roles as of late. In addition, the usual cast of rookie standouts have also continued to perform at a high level.

To make sense of it all, we took a look at the best recent performances of these first-year players and ranked them in the latest edition of the Rookie Wire Power Rankings. The rankings are not for Rookie of the Year purposes but, rather, to illustrate the best players week to week.

Note: Players with at least 5 appearances since Dec. 15 were eligible for this week’s Rookie Wire Power Rankings.

Omer Yurtseven, Miami Heat

Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: N/A

Stats: 4.4 points and 4.6 rebounds

Yurtseven, who went undrafted last year out of Georgetown, has been thrust into the rotation with the Heat down several players due to injuries and health and safety protocols. The 7-footer has responded and is averaging 8.3 points, 11.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists and one steal over his last seven games. He leads the rookie class in rebounding and is sixth among all players during that span. He is far from a finished product, and is constantly learning in his increased role, but he has shown why the Heat like him.

Jonathan Kuminga, Golden State Warriors

Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Last Rank: N/A

Stats: 4.9 points and 1.5 rebounds

The Warriors recently turned to Kuminga with players out of the lineup, and the seventh pick has put together some strong performances. He is averaging 9.6 points and 1.3 rebounds over his last six games with a career-high 26 points coming in his first start on Dec. 18. He plays with a physical style on both ends of the floor that enables him to get what he wants at times, and that should only improve as he plays more. His role will continue to fluctuate this season but the team certainly has to be excited about what it has seen so far.

For more coverage on the Warriors, visit Warriors Wire

Bones Hyland, Denver Nuggets

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Last Rank: N/A

Stats: 8.5 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists

Hyland responded after a recent benching by dropping a career-high 24 points to lead the Nuggets to a win over the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 17. He earned himself some respect from the team with that performance following a team violation as he has established himself as a key player this season.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Oklahoma City Thunder

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: N/A

Stats: 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds

Robinson-Earl, who was the 32nd pick, has emerged as a key player for the Thunder this season and has been arguably the top second-round pick this season. He is averaging 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds on 42.4% shooting from the field in 32 games, including 24 starts. Unfortunately, the Thunder will be without his services for the foreseeable future after entering the NBA’s health and safety protocol. He had been playing some of his best basketball of the season prior to the recent news, but will likely pick up where he left off soon.

For more coverage on the Thunder, visit Thunder Wire

Josh Christopher, Houston Rockets

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: N/A

Stats: 6.2 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists

Christopher checks in for the first time this season after seeing a larger role as of late with the Rockets among the teams dealing with players in the health and safety protocol. He entered the rotation this month and is posting 10.3 points, three assists and 2.8 rebounds over his last eight games. To illustrate just how young the Rockets are, Christopher was among five rookies on the floor recently as the team continues to build toward the future. The recent playing time certainly bodes well for Christopher and he looks to be gaining confidence and consistency each time he takes the court.

For more coverage on the Rockets, visit Rockets Wire

Herb Jones, New Orleans Pelicans

AP Photo/Derick Hingle

Last Rank: N/A

Stats: 8.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.3 steals

With the Pelicans missing several key players due to injuries and health and safety protocols, Jones has stepped up as of late. He is averaging 12.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists over his last six games and is coming off a career-high 26-point performance on Tuesday in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. His recent play has helped the Pelicans win six out of their last eight games as the team looks to be on the right track. He has been known to be a lockdown defender but his offensive game appears to be turning the corner and that could be scary moving forward.

Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 8

Stats: 9.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists

Sengun has emerged as a key piece for the Rockets this season, averaging 9.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists. He has dazzled at times with his passing and ability to impact games on both ends of the floor. He plays the game with such patience that allows himself to read the floor and make the right decision by keeping the ball or passing it off. As he showed against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday, and countless other times, his footwork is something to behold.

For more coverage on the Rockets, visit Rockets Wire

Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder

AP Photo/Garett Fisbeck

Last Rank: 6

Stats: 10.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.1 assists

Giddey on Sunday produced just the second double-double in NBA history without scoring after recording 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over the New Orleans Pelicans. He trails only Evan Mobley of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the most double-doubles by a rookie this season and is seemingly a threat to post one on a nightly basis. Unfortunately, Giddey will be sidelined indefinitely after entering the NBA’s health and safety protocol on Tuesday. He is a big part of how the Thunder play so his absence will certainly be felt.

For more coverage on the Thunder, visit Thunder Wire

Chris Duarte, Indiana Pacers

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 5

Stats: 13.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steal

Duarte has emerged as one of the top rookies this season and a key player for the Pacers. He has scored in double figures in five straight games and is averaging 15.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists over that span. Duarte is back in the starting lineup as the Pacers work to find some consistency this season. He currently ranks second in total scoring and third in field goals among all first-year players as he only figures to keep getting better the more he plays.

Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 3

Stats: 15.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals

For the first time this season, Wagner takes the top spot in our bi-weekly power rankings and the eighth pick certainly earned it. He exploded for a career-high 38 points on Tuesday in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, becoming just the third rookie in team history to reach that mark in a game. His 38 points were the most by a rookie this season as he has now scored in double figures in 17 straight games.

Wagner is now tied with Scottie Barnes of the Toronto Raptors for the lead in scoring average among all rookie players. He already leads the class in total scoring with 547 points and looks to be entering the conversation for Rookie of the Year. It seems as though Barnes, Evan Mobley and Cade Cunningham have emerged as the top front-runners for the award, but No. 22 in black and blue may have something to say about that.

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